Choose your heros

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Nicky Spinks. My hero. Photo from The Guardian.

I’m very picky about my heroes. They have to be doing something I aspire to, even if it’s only in my head. They have to be ordinary, because it’s easy to be a hero if you’re famous, or rich, or both. They have to have overcome adversity in a superhuman way and, above all, they have to be modest. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a show-off superhero big-head.

This week I had the honour of meeting one of my heroes, or rather heroines. She’s a record-breaking runner who has just marked her tenth year after being treated for breast cancer. The cancer didn’t stop her running, by the way, well, not for long. She is pretty much unstoppable.

Nicky Spinks is an extraordinary woman. Like me, she came to running rather late, unike me, she’s very good at it. She started off with 5kms, 10kms and then half marathons. But these were on road, and as any discerning runner knows, roads are only good for getting to the off-road. Plus, Nicky is a farmer, spending most of her time outside in all weather and all times of day and night, so the fells are where it’s at for her.

There’s no medals or even tee-shirts, no cheering crowds en route, not even a finish tape, but touching the wall of the hall in the centre of Kewsick, marked Nicky’s record-breaking run of the Bob Graham Round. That’s 42 summits in the Lake District, in less than 24 hours. Not content with such a fantastic achievement, she decided she’s have a go at the double, that’s doing the whole thing twice, in less than 48 hours. Earlier this year, she did just that, bloody hell, she ran the whole thing once, then once again, in 45 hours, 30 minutes, setting a new record. Bloody hell.

Nicky came over to Leeds to tell her story at a small fund-raising event organised by a local running club. For a modest fee of £3 each, we heard her amazing story, how she ran for the love of it, ran well, ran hard and just kept on running into the record books.

Her account was remarkably humble, she talked about how she fitted her running around her very busy life as a farmer, even finding time to coach the juniors at her local club. When asked about her cancer, she said she’d stayed up-beat, even seeing the offer of reconstructive surgery as a positive, as to her that meant treatment was over and she was on the way to recovery. I wasn’t surprised when she told us that the doctors liked treating her because she was so positive.

She showed us a film of her run. In it, she is so matter-of-fact, allowing the camera to see her at her highs and her lows, brushing off a deep cut on her hand with an almost Monty Pythonesque ’tis but a scratch’. A scratch? I’m sure I could see daylight through that gash.

She ate whatever she could keep down under such exertion, bringing some of it back, while still moving, and assessing what she had and hadn’t digested so she could take on more food if needed. Cheered on by no more than a couple of dozen people, arriving back at the dead of night and touching that wall before sitting down in a damping chair to smile the satisfied smile of a record-breaker. A fantastic achievement.

I was totally inspired by this 48-year-old woman who’d worked and trained hard to achieve what she set out to do, quickly and quietly. I’m not sure if I could do what she has done, other than gashing my hand and being sick, but seeing her, listening to her, being in her presence, makes me at least want to head for the Lakeland Fells and run, run, RUN. Thank you, Nicky, you are my hero.

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