Man Versus Horse 2017

  • 23.5 miles,
  • 4600 feet of ascent,
  • Non-stop rain,
  • Over fells, marshes, bogs, rivers, slate tracks, gravel tracks and plenty of mud…
  • Against HORSES!

In the smallest town in Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells, an endurance race pitting man against horse has been held annually for the last 37 years and it all started, predictably, in a pub…

The event started in 1980, when local landlord Gordon Green overheard a discussion between two men in his pub, the Neuadd Arms. One man suggested that over a significant distance across country, man was equal to any horse. Green decided that the challenge should be tested in full public view, and organized the first event.

The race begins from outside the Neuadd Arms in the town at 11am and this year it was pouring with rain with no sign of letting up. Essentially, in the race you are either running up a massive hill or running down one, there is a distinct lack of any flat in this race. The only thing that really varies is the terrain you are running on and there is a bit of everything from fells to slate tracks and quite a lot of mud, bogs and water-crossings.

Whenever I tell people about this race, the first question is usually about the horses. They start 15 minutes after the runners (for safety reasons) and this is taken off their times at the end. Do humans ever win? Well yes, but only twice in 38 races. To put things into perspective, this year the first horses came past me at around 4 miles in the race. The horses have a vet check half way round to ensure that the horses aren’t overheating and their heart-rate is at an acceptable level. I am guessing that these first few horses that come past early are going a bit too hard at it and probably get stopped at the vet check for quite a while.

I had managed a decent amount of training in for this race, building up to 19 hilly miles three weeks out. This is when I assumed that the race would (only!) be 21 miles with 3800 feet of climbing (as was in 2016). BUT… Man versus Horse posted on their Facebook page 6 days before the race that it would be 24 miles with 5000 feet of climbing!

It is very easy to get carried away in a race like this but bear in mind you climb around 600ft in the first two miles you realise early on that there is plenty of power walking to be done in this race. As I ran/trooped up this first hill I chatted with fellow runners, people seemed a bit keen to keep on running the whole hill and it was agreed that people wouldn’t think twice about walking this hill if it was 10 miles into the race. My goal for the race this year wasn’t to necessarily complete the run in my fastest time possible but that I wanted to complete the race still being able to run at the end, walking hills by choice but not by pain or exhaustion.

I felt good most of the way round. I ran to feel and kept my eye on my heart rate monitor as I didn’t want to blow up before the end. Last year, I was a wreak and it took me 1h20m to complete the last 6 miles and I didn’t want a repeat of this again. As I ran, I took in the stunning scenery, I chatted to fellow runners around me and tried to run fairly hard but no overdo it too early. I went through the first check point at around 7.5 miles in just over an hour and I was surprised how quickly it had come around.

The 2nd leg of the race was like the first, I kept my running under control ran and power walked on the hills that aren’t practical to run up. I felt good and I knew that Monica would be out on her leg of the BvH Relay team ‘Bare Neigh Kid Ladies’ so I perhaps pushed on a little more thinking that that might be a chance I could catch up with her.

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As I went through the 2nd checkpoint (third relay runner leg) I spotted Monica who had finished her leg a few minutes before. Monica had pulled her calf again and wasn’t really in a good way so I stopped with her for a couple of minutes before setting off on the third and final section of the race.

I knew that this leg was going to be the biggest challenge. It was the longest section of around 8 miles and there were a lot of lumps and one particularly big climb and decent at around 19-20 miles into the run. This big one consists of around 600 feet of climbing over 1.5 miles and then the same descent over 2 miles. I found the climb to be fine, I ran/walked all the way up and overtook several other runners on the way up. On the descent, I started to feel the effects of the race catching up on me… 2 miles of steep downhill running on my tired legs was starting to jar them a lot and my feet, hips and knees were finally starting to get painful to run as well as I would have preferred. At this point, a friend on the third leg caught up with me and I ran with him for a while. Once I had finally completed the downhill section there was another soft grassy steep uphill section the pain ebbed away a bit and I found my rhythm again and I was able to complete the race running, smiling and feeling sort of okay.

I completed the race in 3h29m26s and I beat 31 of the 51 horses that started the race. I was the 40th person to finish who was running to full distance. Overall I was really pleased with my run, I had beaten last years’ time by over 10 minutes, despite the race being 1.5 miles longer and hillier.

A horse won this year overall with a time around 2h26m and the first runner was home in around 2h50m.

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There were a few other Bournville Harriers running:

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  • Nicola Sykes, Monica Baptista & Laura Gale made up the Bare Neigh Kid Ladies relay team who completed the course in 3:23:32 and won the first Female Relay Team.
  • Antony Stewart ran 5:03:53 but he took a pretty bad tumble early on and was happy to finish.
  • Aine Garvey was part of a relay team The Mane Event and completed the race in 4:24:45.
  • Kiri Elliott ran 4:07:34 and she was the 15th female finisher overall.

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#MyMile & Global Running Day

Yesterday was Global Running Day, where everyone all over the planet is encouraged to get out there and run at least one kilometre. I heard about this through Strava. On top of this, Strava also has a bit of a participation competition going on in June called #MyMile.

Essentially, you have to try and beat your own mile PB (or PR in Strava) and use the hashtag #MyMile in the title of your run. You don’t have to get your PB, just have a go and then you could win some free trainers from Wiggle for you and 10 of your followers.

With this in mind, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and go for my mile on Global Running Day!

I went out and ran just under 2 miles for a warm up to the Rowheath Pavilion dirt/gravel 400m running track in Bournville and I went straight into the mile. I know the track is close to 400m and that a mile is 1609 metres. All I had to do was run four laps and a little extra for good measure as fast as I could. The gravel track is a little rough in places, there was a slight breeze blowing down one straight and I also had to avoid a couple of dog walkers on the course. It wasn’t totally ideal conditions but I clocked 5:01 for my mile, which I was pleased with although being so close to breaking 5 minutes on my first real attempt caused the slightest of irritation. I finished off running just under 2 miles home as a warm down (after a little breather).

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I do not plan to do a whole lot more running over the next few days because I have my next big challenge at the weekend… Man Verses Horse 2017!

Let us begin

I had better introduce myself first and foremost.

My name is Mat and I like to run…. I could almost leave it there to start with but I’ll give you a bit of background too. Around the end of September, I was contacted by the reward site Running Heroes to be featured as their Runner of the week. I have just checked online and it appears they have removed most of the posts from their blog now but I still have my running story on my computer so perhaps this is a good starting point:

My Running Story: 

I began my running journey in November 2013 when my partner, Monica, convinced me to go along with her to our local parkrun, Cannon Hill parkrun in Birmingham. I dragged myself round in just under 30 minutes.

For the first 6 months, I would run once or twice a week, generally limited to 3 or 4 miles at most because I really struggled with painful knees and they would hurt at this point, so much that I would have to stop running and walk.

I saw an improvement in my fitness and my parkrun times came down.

I would say that at this point I would not have considered myself as a runner and I didn’t really have the motivation and I never believed that my knees would take to running.

In the last weekend of July 2014, Monica was asked by some of her running friends at the very last minute, just 18 hours before the race started, if she would like to join a team of 8 taking part in the Adidas 24-hour Thunder Run race. She agreed and we both went along for the weekend. She ran and I hung around with the other runners in her team and over the weekend I made some new friends and really enjoyed myself. By the end of the weekend I had made the decision that I was going to start running properly so I could actually run the event the following year.

We returned home on Sunday afternoon and the same day I filled out the forms online to join our local running club, Bournville Harriers. I can see from my training log that the week following Thunder Run I ran 3 times, the next week I ran 4 times and this continued on and on. I had become a fully-fledged runner! I also entered my first ever race in August 2014, a gruelling 5-mile hill race around Clent Hills in Worcestershire.

In October 2014, Monica found out that she had been successful in the London Marathon Ballot (her 1st marathon) and I agreed that I would train with her for this and I would aim to run a 20-mile race with her 4 or 5 weeks before the marathon. Just as we were getting into our training I was offered a charity place for the London Marathon with Mary Ann Evans Hospice in Nuneaton.

We trained together for the London Marathon and were both able to complete it. It was a really thrill to be part of something that I had only ever watched on TV and would have never imagined taking part in myself.

Since my first marathon, things changed for me again… I sort of stopped just running and started training! I now train regularly with our running club and I have completed numerous races. I did enter the Thunder Run the following year and enjoyed it so much that we entered again in 2016 and now we ae gearing up to enter a team into the 2017 event!

I like to run in team events with our running club, my favourite events are the Cross Country races that our club enters over the cold, wet winter months. So much that I have taken on the role of Cross-country manager as part of the Bournville Harriers club committee.

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(Image: Myself and Monica running the last leg of Thunder Run 24h 2016 together)