The weird race in the middle of Wales, where a little over thousand runners try to outrun a few over sixty horses, must be one of the most intense runs I’ve done. Can a man outrun a horse? Yes, I’ve outrun 32 of them. Can a man outrun all the horses? Not this year. However, it has happened twice in history of the race.
Although not as long as some of the ultras I ran, this race has a similar raw feel. It’s you vs the beast, battling through the elements. Rain, mud, wind, rocks, sun, heat, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about the performance in the kind of fast, lean, road marathon sense. It’s more like a rough game in the woods or on fells. You push yourself, but not to achieve a PB on a straight, flat stretch of tarmac, which never changes. You push yourself over a playground of smells and senses – always unique and unpredictable, ready to challenge you in a different way – and come out knowing more about yourself.
A bit of History
Man vs Horse race has started (as many of these things do) as a result of a chat in a pub, OK, Neuadd Arms Hotel in Llanwrtyd Wells (Wales), back in 1980. Gordon Green, the landlord back then who overheard this chat, decided setup an event and so Green Events and Man vs Horse race begun. In its history the man won twice. In 2004 Huw Lobb (man) won with the time of 2h 5min and in 2007 Florien Holtinger (man) won with 2h 20min. The course is around 35km long with around 1300m of altitude gained over rugged Welsh terrain (think mud, farmer’s tracks and tall, wet grass).
How does it all work?
Start and timing
It’s a mass start. Individual runners and 1st leg relay runners start first. 15 Minutes later, the horses are off. This 15 minutes are then given ‘back’ to horses when they finish. What this means is that, if within 15 minutes of you finishing, a horse comes running through the finish line, it has won. The relay teams are composed of three runners; each doing a third of the course.
Runners stick to the right and horses stick to the left. You always shout ahead to let the man, woman or beast know you’re approaching and want to pass. I think horse has the biggest advantage on flat, gravel parts of the route and man has the advantage over steep uphills and technical descends.
The 35km course with around 1300m of climbing follows private farm roads and trails. It is slightly different each year and you also can’t try it out beforehand.
In general there are two larger hills to overcome and quite a few smaller ones. The first one is quite steep and it’s probably smart not to go all out on it. The second one is very tough, but as soon as you’re done with it, you’ve reached the half-way point (on the map to the right). The rest is easy undulating terrain, with a bastard of a spike just before the final downhill to the finish line.
The terrain is rough
It might not be as technical as running in the Lakes, but the course is not easy. Although a lot of it runs along private farm roads with hard packed gravel, the rest can get extremely muddy when it rains (as it usually does). The grass bits on top of the fells are uneven with tons of holes and the two or three technical sections of the course can be quite slippery. But this is also where the fun is (•
It’s a face race
Man vs Horse is a fast race. From the start to finish you push yourself. There are about 600 single runners and around 170 relay teams (you can do it as a relay of three people, each doing one leg of the race) and 60 horses. At almost every point in time, you are passing someone (or something) and someone (or something) is passing you (damn you relay runners!). It is a lot of fun, but you have to be quite focused.
The adrenalin goes to 11 When the horse passes you
It’s a very scary experience, hearing the gallop of a horse catching up with you for the first time. Hoofs hitting the floor behind you. Horse rider shouting “HORSE!” The beast’s exhaling deep and fast when it passes you. After a few, you get used to it, stick to the right and hope you will catch up with them on the uphill or that technical section.
I think one of the overlooked parts of this race is the amazing scenery you pass though. From slow rolling hills with views opening down the valleys to beautiful dense woods and of course the wet, tall grass fields. Sandwiched between Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons, this part of Wales is definitely worth visiting, even if only to race a few horses down a muddy trail.