Man vs Horse

So when two blokes in the Nueadd Arms, in Llantrwyd Wells, challenged each other to race – one on a horse and one on foot over the welsh countryside, over about 22 miles, they had clearly had too much of the mountain air or too much beer…….or maybe both.

35 years ago there were two (three if you count the horse), this year there were over 600 hundred runners including relay runners, and over 60 horses (a record), surely not all of us could have been under the influence? Readers, you can make up your own minds as you go along.

24 miles, total climb of over 1700ft, 3 big hills and lots and lots of mud in 22 degrees, makes Chiltern Cross Country League seem like a gentle warm up. The start of the race is in the middle of this compact town (the humans have a 15 minute head start on the horses), and you begin a long slow climb that is initially a challenging warm up mile that turns into calf burning grind. That is the first two miles… Eventually, we are into the stunning Welsh countryside, at which point runners can combine long strides with winding climbs, until of course you hit the muddy ridges, streams rocks, and further gentle inclines – we are now at about mile 4.

At which time dear reader I took a tumble, cut leg and bruised ribs… On a football field I would have been cautioned for simulation…  But here, with hurt pride and blood streaming from my knee, I had to make it to the checkpoint at mile 7.

Mile 7 is the first changeover point for the relay runners, and vet check for Horses. I visited the St Johns Ambulance to get the knee patched up.  Then Hill two that just rises steadily for what seems like an age – this is the mark of the course, rarely flat, always technical, never time for the mind to switch off. The 2nd leg follows this pattern for a total of 7.5 miles until the next changeover and leg three.

In a normal year – the 3rd leg is a little shorter (about 6.5 miles) with an initial steep ascent, however the last two years has seen this section extended to 9.9 miles. At about 2 miles into the leg another runner asked dolefully, ‘How long to go?’ I obviously answered truthfully (mistake) it was met with a mixture of disbelief, anger and a grimace that told the full story and nearly drove her to jump off the mountain track we were running on. At 16 -19 miles in a normal marathon you may experience the wall; in man vs horse, this happened by about mile 13……. The middle 6 miles are a true physical and mental battle and one which just about prepares you for the final hill at 22 miles. On an initial view this is a gentle incline over a benign looking filed used for grazing sheep that is at least 1 mile long. At halfway up, this has sapped whatever will, even the hardiest of competitors may possess. However, at the top and sharp left turn we are entering the home stretch, a gentle incline down a gravel track to the river crossing (soothing for the tired limbs), and the sound of the finish. The last 400 metres feels like the climb of a lifetime, but even with heavy legs, everyone is able to make it look like a sprint finish for the cheering crowds.

Challenging it may be, but the race organisers and competitors make this, possibly the friendliest and most beautiful race I have ever done. The welsh countryside gives the most stunning views, meaning this is a massive tourist boost for the ‘smallest town in the United Kingdom’ and all the townsfolk make a huge effort and the party atmosphere continued with our group. Because the race is a Saturday this is a great opportunity to make a family weekend of this, as the countryside offers safety and beauty for the kids to explore and do what kids do while the adults indulge our rather curious pastime. So BBQ, a few beers, catch up with old friends, and we even managed to toast some marshmallows… Something for all the family, young and old…

A huge thank you to all the race organisers and our hosts at the cottage, and to the runners and riders who make this the event that it is…. for those who are interested this year the Horse won (again) in a time of 2:22:53 and the first man home was 2:42:49 .

Runners or riders, you should make this top of your bucket list.