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New documentary on Nicky Spinks at the Barkley Marathons

The doc follows the British ultrarunner on her quest to become the first woman to finish the infamously difficult race

Back in March, the British runner Nicky Spinks, 52, was considered the most likely of the seven women registered for the Barkley Marathons to become the first-ever female in the race’s 33-year history to finish. Along with Canadian Stephanie Case (a Barkley veteran who had attempted the race in 2018), Spinks had to bail on the second of five 20-mile loops. Her sponsor, the British gear company Inov-8, in partnership with Summit Media, has produced a documentary on her attempt, entitled Last Women Standing: The Barkley Marathons 2019. Here’s the link:

Spinks is the first person ever to complete doubles of all three classic British fell-running rounds, which link numerous peaks in a circuit (the Paddy Buckley Round, the Ramsay Round and the Bob Graham Round), among many impressive accomplishments in her fell-running career. She crewed Damian Hall to a fifth-place finish at UTMB in 2018.

RELATED: Barkley Marathons: no women left, Calmettes leads

The Barkley, designed and presided over by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, takes place on the mountainous, briar-infested, labyrinthine trails of Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee. The course is not marked, and GPS watches are not allowed, so runners are dependent on paper maps. Only 40 people are invited to participate each year, and first-timers like Spinks rarely do better than two laps.

Why is it so difficult? To understand that, you have to understand something of Laz Lake’s character. The man is a strange combination of aging ultrarunner, cypher and cackling sadist–but with a heart of pure gold. He directs a number of other ultras, all of them in Tennessee, and all of them as popular as they are difficult. But none is as difficult as the Barkley.

Spinks collecting her bib for Loop 2. Photo: Inov-8

Frozen Head is known to experience unpredictable and extreme weather, and Case and Spinks were unprepared for the extreme and rapid drop in temperature that occurred between loops one and two. Navigating, fuelling and having the right gear are all challenging aspects of any ultra. In an interview with SGB Media, Spinks said her hands became so cold that she couldn’t open her food packets, which meant she was both cold and underfuelled, which scuppered her race. (And to give you an idea of just how dire a situation this can be, Case, who has a similarly long list of ultra-trail accomplishments to her name, entitled her race report “How I Became a Loser, Quitter and a Failure in Under 24 Hours.”)

RELATED: Gary Robbins has started training for Barkley 2020

Spinks on Rat Jaw on Loop 1. Photo: Inov-8

In 2017, American ultrarunner John Kelly and Gary Robbins of BC ran much of the race together, but race rules dictated that they run the final loop separately. Kelly finished, and Robbins came close. But close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes. Robbins made a wrong turn, and though he finished the mileage, he returned to camp from the wrong direction, and was “tapped out” (eliminated) when he got there.

This year, Kelly entered the race again, but shocked the field by tapping himself out after two loops. Jared Campbell, a three-time Barkley finisher, rolled an ankle badly on the first loop and DNF’d early. Robbins was injured this year, but on June 27 he got a clean bill of health, and proclaimed on Instagram that he was starting to train for another attempt in 2020. Was he serious? Time will tell.

Sign up now with inov-8 to watch the free online film premiere on Tuesday, November 19: www.inov-8.com/last-women-standing