Whole Earth Man v Horse 2016

Man v Horse is becoming an annual event for me. Since it is based in Llanwrtyd Wells, just 5 minutes down the road from Beulah where Lily grew up, this has been an event that Lily has grown up with, regularly taking part over the years. Llanwrtyd Wells is apparently Britain’s smallest town, and also the town that hosts the world bog snorkelling championships and the world MTB chariot racing championships. Everyone from around the area turns up for the day, either running or watching, and it is a great event and day out. Man v Horse is, as the name suggests, a race that pits man against horse, over a 22 mile, mountainous, off-road course. The challenge is for man to beat the first horse home – a feat that has only occurred twice in the 25 year history of the event. I first took part last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, coming in 10th human, and 24th overall (including horses and relay teams), however the conditions last year were awful, with torrential rain, and deep bogs thoughout which contributed to the cramp I got towards the end.

This year, leading up to the event the weather was looking promising. It had been dry for some time, however 24 hours before the race, it began raining and it didn’t stop until the morning of the race. Thankfully we had decided to stay at Lily’s parents rather than camp, so after a good night sleep, I woke up ready and excited for the race. It was dry, but humid. After picking up my number, Lily and her brother ran off down the course (with local knowledge they knew all the shortcuts!) and I went off for a warm up and made my way towards the start in the center of Llanwrtyd Wells. It was heaving, with runners and supporters mingling. As well as the solo runners, there were also the first leg runners from the relay teams. A relay team is made up of 3 runners – the other 2 legs had already been bussed off to the various changeover points around the course.

Shortly before the start, the horses were paraded through. They were due to start shortly after the runners for safety reasons. At 11am the gun sounded and off we went. Similar to last year, I decided to start at a conservative pace. The first mile is on road so it’s easy to go off too fast – you just have to remember the race is 22 miles long so pacing is key! It’s hard to distinguish who you are competing against – fellow solo runners or someone who was part of a relay team. The only indication is the colour of the number, but this isn’t always easy to see, so you have to take care not to increase your speed to try and keep up with the runner in front as they may be a relay runner.

Shortly after the start, the climbing began. Initially rocky climbs, but then a combination of forest road and grassy moorland. The majority was runnable, with the exception of some very steep rocky, boggy and thorny sections.

I was pleased with my pacing and how I started, however after only 5.5 miles, the ground began to shake and rumble, and the first horse came flying past! I was suprised how soon I had been caught. Last year I made it to about 8 miles before the first horse caught me. I guess the conditions this year favoured the horses more. Shortly afterwards, a few more came flying past.

The first relay changeover point was at 6.5 miles, and I had arranged to meet Lily here. I had given her a couple of bottles of electrolyte drink for her to give me at the various points I saw her, as well as a couple more gels to replenish my supply. I think lack of electrolyte last year was one of the reasons why I cramped up so badly. I also made sure that I took on water at ever water station around the course (about every 3/4 miles).

Around the 8 mile mark, we encountered the biggest hill yet. It was predominantly runnable, with a few walking sections thrown in. I made some ground on the guys around me, taking a few places, and being overtaken once. With the exception of a runner overtaking me about a mile from the finish, that was the last time I was overtaken in the race.

Through open moorland and forests we went. It was a great route, and thankfully since it was fairly clear, some of the views were stunning. I met Lily again at the 15 mile mark (second relay changeover), and it was great running through a funnel of runners waiting to begin their legs. It was a cauldron of noise as everyone was cheering you one, and after about 2 hours of running it was a great boost.

We were now in the last section of the race, with a steep climb coming up. Again, due to the terrain I had to walk some of it. I saw a handful of guys ahead of me, and I was determined to catch them. I felt good, so after reaching the top of the climb, I made my way after them. I soon started picking them off and over the next 3/4 miles I must have caught about 4 or 5 other runners. A few more short, steep climbs followed, and shortly before dropping off the last hill to the finish, there were more bogs! It was here where I cramped up last year. Thankfully, due to the fact I was in better shape at this point in the race, and that I had some time between me and the guy behind, I slowed down and picked my way carefully though.

There was one last obstacle before the finish, and that was a thigh deep river crossing. This was great fun, and the ice cold water was soothing on the tired legs.

In the end I crossed the line in 3:03:19 (this is actually 12 minutes slower than last year, but the course was significantly different this year, and a mile longer). I came 28th overall (including horses and relay teams) out of 857, and 13th solo runner out of 630. Lily and I will definitely be back again next year. It’s such a fantastic event, and one I thoroughly recommend!

View run on Strava

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