There is an old Welsh saying “it’s raining Old Ladies and Sticks”, and after a few weeks of glorious summer weather, when race weekend was upon us, it rained Old Ladies and Sticks.
Not to worry though, a spot of rain is the least of your worries in this race! Man V Horse is a fantastically bonkers race set in the Brecon Beacons, where it does exactly as it states. Man or woman, you race against horses.
Born out from a (presumably drunken) conversation in the town’s central building, the Neaudd Arms pub, a landlord and local decided the only way to settle a debate over who would win a race between equine or human in the local landscape, was to stage a race.
35 years in the now fabled winning prize pot (eligible only for victorious humans) has fallen into human hands only twice, This scooped the first ever winner, Huw Lobb a tidy £25,000. The money rolls over each year, and I believe this year it was £14,000.
Last year I ran as part of a relay team with partner Shaun and our friend Carl. This time Shaun and I decided to come back and run the whole thing with a much smaller hangover. On paper it sounds impossible to out run a horse, but when you see a horse gingerly trying to make it’s way down a craggy steep descent, or through a mud-bath of a bog, you realise the race is closer than it appears.
The course changes slightly annually (to protect the prize pot?) and this year it was just over 21 miles. Over 600 people had registered along with 66 horses and riders.
The rules are thus: Humans set off from the pub 15 minutes before the horses. This year, on the particularly hair-raising course sections, there were some short detours for the horses so they ran a longer race of 23 miles. The horses are very well looked after with a compulsory veterinary check half way to ensure their heart rates are not too high. Runners get water stops, and a heart rate busting 4000ft of elevation to power through.
As the starting klaxon went off Shaun and I cantered off up the first of a thousand hills with the plan to take it steady, aware of the elevation that was about to ruin our legs. Of course I went off like the clappers, at a pace that would slowly ebb away as each monstrous hill took a bit more out of my legs. I got a mere 4 miles in before the first horse galloped past. Only four miles!!
Rather satisfyingly the next few horses seem to run past, for us only to pass them again as they had a detour. Shaun seemed to take the ridiculous elevation in his stride and ever the gentleman, ran with me as I huffed and gurned up each hill. We also had a bit of a chat and with friendly Olympian Iwan Thomas who we ran with for a bit.
Somewhere around mile 15 on a very steep decent just as I well yelling “be careful!” to fellow runners, I slipped and fell very hard. Fortunately my arse and elbows took the full force of the slip on some granite (!) and no horses where around to trample me underhoof. I had to stop for a couple of minutes to recoup my dignity and dig my water bottle out of a muddy puddle. Bleeding from my elbows, my running became a bit more wary on the soggy downhills.
By mile 18 my legs were rather tired, but mercifully there is a lot of downhill in this section. Through the very last river crossing my legs totally shut down and Shaun had to deploy some good old army-style encouragement to get me through the last 500 metres.
We crossed the line triumphant over 33 horses.
Here you get adorned with a mighty fine medal, and directed almost immediately to a huge tent filled to the brim with ladies brandishing teapots, biscuits and enough sandwiches to feed a hungry platoon. All part of the modest £25 entry fee.
This race is one of my favourites, a real unique event. Writing this makes me want to go back and do it straight way. Such a fun, well organised race. In the mean time it was a rollover as a horse beat the first runner by a whole 10 minutes.
Huge thanks to sponsors Whole Earth for the tonne of peanut butter and all the volunteers.