An interview with our team Coach Nicky Spinks, who is launching an exciting new race in Scotland for spring 2024.
Nicky on her first recce, back in July.
You just finished the Spine Race! How was the experience?
Prior to the race, I was really eager to get going, as the build-up has been six months or more. I had been happy to finish the Cheviot Goat in 7th overall (1st Lady), leading into the Spine Race, because a good race performance that you recover quickly from, is a good indicator that preparations are going well. There were highs and lows during the race, as you'd expect. Lots of it was really tough going from a motivation stand-point. I enjoyed running with Elaine Bisson towards the latter stages, pairing-up at the Alston checkpoint and finishing the rest of the race in better spirits together! I was happy to finish joint-4th but decided along the way that the terrain is REALLY not my kind of thing! On the way up Cheviot, I realised how I missed big hills on this course.
What do you enjoy about winter racing?
I don't like being too hot and being too cold can be dealt with by more layers. I love the colours, the scenery, the darkness and the temperatures. I find running in winter adds elements of terrain difference that you don't find in summer. The bogs can be frozen or snow covered or much wetter. This keeps me on my toes and I enjoy a good stretch of bog-hopping in a race like the Cheviot Goat and the Spine.
You are organising a new race for 2024, Bruce's Crown. What gave you the idea for this course? When I was extending my race distance and learning to navigate back in 2004, I entered a race called Heart of Granite in the Galloway hills. On the same day there was a race called Bruce's Crown, which circled the Galloway hills. I ran the Heart of Granite twice but not Bruce's Crown. The organisor then gave the races up and for many years I have toyed with the idea of resurrecting them. Moving to Pinwherry with the Galloway hills only 40 minutes away gave me my chance at last! I contacted the race organisor Colin Butler and he has given me all the details that he has.
I now run there often and know the Galloway hills much better, so I've tried to make the route a little less rough (which really only meant taking out the first summit that was originally in the race of Mulldonach) and changing the end so that it finishes by climbing The Merrick, descending down the Merrick Hill race route rather than using the much eroded tourist path. I ran the whole route in August 2023 in 15 hours on a self-supported recce.
Remote and rugged terrain on the Bruce's Crown route
What is the race format and how will it work (ie. what's involved)?
Having done the High Peak Marathon (HPM) in the Peak District I love the format of a team of four because it adds a dimension to the race where a good working team can be faster than a "fast on paper" team. I also wanted the race to be run in winter however with it being the Galloway mountains I was aware that too much of the elements (ie dark and bad weather) could be off-putting and cause the organisors more grief than really needed, so I've opted for April 5th 2024. There's also no midges in April!
Having worked with Woodhead Mountain Rescue on organising The Trigger race to raise money for the team, I contacted Galloway Mountain Rescue to see if we could work together in the same way. We have had a few meetings now and it's great team that are now working on all the different aspects of putting this race on. We plan to have two main feed checkpoints at forest track crossings and other support points on the hills.
Using the HPM format of teams of four, I will also use the staggered starts which allows the slower teams to have more time (ie 24 hours) to complete the 46 mile, 4500m route. We are planning to set the first teams off on Friday late afternoon, giving them the daylight to complete the first section and I envisage the faster teams setting off around 8/10pm.
It will be a self-navigation event and the use of gps will not be allowed. Our only concession to this will be that I will publish a "recommended route" -,ainly because the race is in April and time is short for people to recce this year. Entries are now open via the website www.BrucesCrown.co.uk. The race is £300 to enter a team of four runners. If anyone wants to recce then they can get in touch and I'll help out with advice on the route and logistics.
Who would this kind of event suit (what kind of experience/skills do you need)?
The event will appeal to anyone that enjoys team events or mountain marathons, and anyone who has competed in the High Peak Marathon. It is a true test of team work and is a natural circuit of the highest peaks in the Galloway hills , completed in just one day. The area is surprisingly remote and to access many of the hills would take you 2/3 hours alone, so to be able to complete the whole circuit just feels natural and extremely satisfying! When you get to Corserine in the East, you can look straight across at Merrick in the West, knowing you will be there in six hours or so!
The navigation isn't difficult as once you are up on the ridges, it's mainly about following the natural line where there are paths. We aim to make the race as accessible to everyone, while setting a good race for the faster teams.
Fantastic views and vast open spaces
You offer coaching through Girls on Hills. How does that work?
I am a certified Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) with the Fell Running Association and train groups, clubs and individuals for specific goals. I love supporting grassroots projects and have a passion for encouraging women to aim-high and achieve their goals. I coach runners for varied competitive events such as the CCC, UTMB, Everest Trail Race, Celtman, Race to the Stones etc. But you don't have to be an elite or even a good runner to join my list of 'athletes'. I also train beginners and individuals who have had a break and lost fitness, and who are working towards a new goal. I write 16-week personalised training plans for any level of trail racing goal for £160.00 (no set-up fee).
I will be working with Girls on Hills to provide support for those looking to learn or improve their navigation skills, find team-mates, and ultimately feel ready for a race like this. We realise Bruce's Crown might seem like challenging course and race format but we're here to help if you'd like to give it a try!