Take a tent, some proper British summertime weather in a screw top bottle, some homemade cake and a few mad runners from Sheffield and plonk them in mid Wales; Llanwrtyd Wells to be exact, and make them run around some amazing scenery for 20.65 miles chased by horses. And that’s your idea of a fun weekend you said? Yes, that’s my idea of run I mean fun, my first “Man V Horse” event.
Club member Jenny (who won the Female race last year may I add) spoke very highly of the race and so I wanted to have a go, it sounded exciting, different, challenging and fun, yes fun I said. Fun. Oh Hai!
The race started back in 1980 when two blokes disagreed about whether a man would beat horse over a certain distance, of course this all happened over a beer in the pub. And then 33 years later there is a person-to-horse ratio of around 400 to 50. Runners could choose between doing the lot – 20 plus miles or with a team of 3 who would do 7ish miles each.
Go ahead and chase your dreams and your freedom Run, run wild wild horses – Atmosphere – Wild Wild Horses
Friday night arriving at the camp site in Llanwrtyd Wells we were greeted by a warm welcome of Welsh rain. The Welsh rain comes out to great every possible visitor and welcomed us with big huge clouds of wet kisses. Don’t whine just get on with it. And up went the tents. The event included free pasta party at the pub, rice and lasagne – carb overload by all means but hey we were running 20 miles the following day, or we thought we were running 20 miles until the following morning.
Of a 25% chance of rain, 100% was guaranteed to fall in our campsite that night, with Mr Gale Force Wind paying us a visit too – however my bargain ‘Wild Country’ tent held up in the midst of the gorgeous British weather and I felt cosy and happy listening to the drips and the wind howling around my little cosy home.
So race day greeted us with drizzle, drizzle and more drizzle. Just drizzle a little rain over a runner or two and you get a deliciously tasty freezing human being. And that’s before the start. So, at 6am I found myself curled up under my tent porch making a cup of tea and hot milk over a big bowl of muesli – I was so hungry I could eat a horse. Neighhhhhhh..
Camping: the art of getting closer to nature while getting farther away from the nearest cold beverage, hot shower and flush toilet. – Unknown
Some of our ‘neighhhh’ bours were already up in their running gear by 8am I was still drinking tea in my waterproofs keeping warm albeit not very dry. I was dubious to whether my shorts would make any sort of appearance today though 90% sure my gloves and hat would.
The race had been postponed till midday due to flooding and re-marking of the course. In addition the normal finish across the river had to be altered to go over the bridge due to safety reasons; which now added another 3/4 of a mile to the route. Who on earth would really get a kick out of running 21 miles with horses?
But sometimes the British weather can be in our favour and around 10am the clouds began to blow away, and miracles did happen as Mr Sun got his hat on and came out to play. So did the shorts and the t-shirt. Yes!!! The sun was shining and we were about to run 21 miles. So up to the village we wandered (town, sorry its a town – the smallest town with a population of just over 600). The start was outside the pub. We were running under ‘team donut’ part of ritual for those that had done this 8 times before, despite most of us being from Sheffield Running Club. For some this was our first time being a donut – which donut would I be I wonder? Custard? Sugar? Jam? Malt? Yes malt loaf donut that’s what I will be. And yes I have spelt it correctly.
Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do? – Matt Groening – Amby Burfoot
So we all lined up listening to Mr man with his briefing who decided we were still starting at 11am desipte it being 11.50am. And at 12noon exactly we were off started by a wave of a welsh flag by the little petrified girl who won the design for the t-shirts. The horses started 15 minutes later and joined up with the runners a little way into the race, whilst we two legged animals strode along the road for around a mile or so before joining up with a nice trail. My fellow team members stormed ahead initially then three of us were running together for a while before two of them rolled away. I found my own little space nestled between two 6ft blokes and got into my own little donut groove. A horse chestnut donut groove.
The first bit of mud was just a bit of mud, then came the puddles, that was ok, I can do puddles too. Then came the streams, I can jump over streams that’s fine but lakes in the middle of trails? Swimming? I am not sure about this. Squish squash squelch as I found myself unable to balance and tip toeing through the mud. FFS get a grip girl and go with the flow. I felt like a big girls’ wet blouse as I tiptoed around the mud. I needed my head examining as I watched fellow team members Clare and Craig in front of me gliding through the muddy stream with elegance. Yes I said with elegance. I was envious as I managed to slip on a log and down I went. Oh come on its just a bit of mud and water. It will come off in the wash.
The task ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you. – Author Unknown
Finally the muddy section was over as we moved onto more of a rocky pathway and a nice ascent upwards, this was more like it, I was ok at this, I like hills that go up. Much easier than hills that go down. Then I found myself skipping across bog infested moorland. This was fell territory and I could feel my lack of experience as not only runners came bounding past me on this terrain but then the first horse came thundering past frightening the F*** out of me. One, two three all racing for that first position. It was a great sight though, open moorland with horses and runners fighting to avoid any mud infested marshes.
Then came a big decent, a proper fell descent,a steep grassy hillside and I was petrified of felling, I mean falling, I didn’t fall, or fell though yet I felt like a complete failure, all my fellow donuts had gone rolling down the hill in proper donut fashion, way way ahead and I couldn’t see them for dust or icing sugar or little coloured sprinkles. I was stumbling down almost on all fours – a bad bad donut, a bad soggy mouldy donut.
Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole! – Oscar Wilde quotes – Amby Burfoot
It felt like every man and his dog and horse and even a few woman were passing me, charging down with no fear. No fear whatsoever. I didn’t have the grip both in my feet and my head. I was frightened of falling and not be able to “giddyup”. This was hard, so hard, my head was exploding and this was only 5 miles in. Everyone was overtaking me, why couldn’t I run down hill? No no no, I prep talked myself, told myself I would not give up, I would get through this and get to the bottom, it’s only a hill downwards, its only a hill.
Finally I was so pleased to reach flat and the finish of leg one as crowds gathered and people clapped. I tried to smile but I felt like I had a face as long as a horse, this felt like it was going badly, really badly. Are you feeling as rubbish as I was right now? If so here is a bit of a joke to cheer myself up:
What is the difference between a horse and a duck?
One goes quick and the other goes quack!
Please avoid building fell hills that go down next time. Thank you. A little bit of road eased me back into my own little mindset, and I got focus again, putting that bad patch behind me. I suddenly found myself over taking people, one, two three, eight, nine ten, a hill – upwards – yeighhhhhh, twelve thirteen, fourteen, yes I got my flow back, just like a horses maine wavering in the wind. I was back in the game in my rhythm in my own little world. Happy, smiling, back in the game.
Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best. – Meb Keflezighi, U.S. Oympic marathoner
I passed up through a farm and overtook a few other people including the relay people who were doing one of three laps. It was here I thought I spotted Clare in the distance striding on looking good, looking strong. More horses were threatening to overtake on narrow paths. I moved out of the way for them, and ran on – feeling much strong by now. This was the life just running, no pressure no downhill technical fell territory just little paths and the odd rocky bit here and there. There were no mile markers on this race though it was marked really well with sign posts and chalked arrows and plenty of water stops well spread apart.
Around 8 miles a big grassy mounded hill greeted me, with a stream of runners just going up and up and up. It was more appealing that a stream of water anyway. I was not scared of upward hills, my legs could do this. I spotted Clare again who was just in front now. We exchanged some conversation about scary horses passing us and then I took the passing and strode on myself. To be fair Clare was feeling more than a little horse that day due to cold and i am sure she could have done with some cough stirrup so full credit to her for running.
Running along our journey doesn’t only teach us how to keep moving forward through what life throws at us, it also makes us into the best version of ourselves. – Ashley Erickson, freelance fitness writer/editor
This was territory where where trails do not exist , just runners and horses romping through Welsh wet weather infested moorland. I spotted fellow donut Craig who was free falling down the next hill. I watched his technique with admiration and let myself ‘fall’ down the hill, allowing gravity to take my body weight – this is how to run downhill let the hill do the work – wooop I feel alive I am flying I love this! A few little words were exchanged to Craig as I passed him and carried on in my own little world.
Only the horses
Can find us tonight
Only the horses
Can bring us back home
Our tracks they will follow
They`ll hear us calling
And save us by morning light
Only the horses
Can bring us back home
Scissor Sisters – Only the Horses
And leg 2 was done. My first Garmin watch check as I looked down and saw I had run leg 1 and 2 in around 2 hours, – I was feeling good enough to take on the hardest and final leg. Good things comes in three’s. I gave Amy – another donut; a friendly wave, who was running leg 3 as part of the relay team her first leg 3 and the hardest leg. Amy was busy tying her shoelace at the time so I didn’t stop to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake with her.
The rain from the previous night and the horses had made the paths and trails quite treacherous but it just added to the rough and readiness of the race. I battled through another stream which was supposed to be a path; Been there.. jumped that, may as well swim it this time. You can lead a horse to water but how do you lead a runner to water? It was by now, a glorious Saturday afternoon with the sun shining down on the valleys, did I say I was almost too hot? No!.I managed to over take a tail, ears, mane and legs at one point – oh its a horse, I had over taken a horse. Neighhh?
I’ve never been in a ditch so low that a run wouldn’t pop me out of it. – Marc Parent, Runner’s World columnist
Then I found myself running alone; just me and the stream. I felt almost lost, as no other runner was in sight. No arrows, nothing just the sound of my feet striking the stream. Doubt crept in my head to whether I had gone the right way. Any which way? I stopped and looked round; no one around. I carried on and finally saw a lovely yellow arrow sign so I ran towards it, ran past it and went in search for the next yellow sign. I was now playing find the yellow sign. And another, and another and another. There is just as much horse sense as ever, but the horses have most of it. Beep – that was my Garmin but I didn’t care. It just meant I had run another mile whichever mile I was on, it didn’t matter I just splashed on. Don’t need to know your time. Don’t need to know how long you have been running. Share your journey #run
It’s not about how fast you go. It’s not about how far you go. It’s a process. – Amby Burfoot
The stream lead to another stream, around a bog and onto a main road. I recognised a mill from driving on the road previous day; not far to go then – what 3 miles or so as my Garmin beeped again. I didn’t look at the watch instead I took this opportunity to take my final gel and a bit of water to give me the power to climb the next hill. I was still overtaking people, exchanging words of encouragement to each other. One lovely guy told me I looked strong and to go for it and with that in my head I climbed on up putting one leg in front of the other, feeling the run inside me.
Turning into a very large field I could see a mound of ant like horses and runners at the top; it seemed to go up in a gentle but forever lasting way, the “long slope of death” it had been described, only a few miles from the end yet most people were walking up the hilly field. I managed to keep up the running whilst a couple of horses trotted beside me for a few seconds then shot away from me leaving me to trot on my own. Reaching the top I looked down and saw a mass of runners coming up the hill, I had got up there, the only way is down now.
The finish was surely near as I descended at a steady and comfortable pace. A boggy bit so near the finish was so boggy that a Marshall had to direct us round the edge – yes it was that boggy. Bog Off! So round the bog I went and down onto the road. A few runners were in front of me I focused myself knowing there was only about a mile left – and began to over take again, coming up on the right, and one and two and three, and then there was just me.
Believe you can do it. Think no other way but Yes you can. – Author Unknown
The river crossing had been abandoned so we had to take the bridge route another 0.65 miles to run. This was getting tough as my breathing was getting deeper and my head told me it was near the end, and up hill, up hill to the finish stride through it just up there on the left, keep going keep going and the finish was in sight What’s that coming over the hill. Is it a monster? Is it a monster? No no no its a donut, its a donut.
I didn’t even see the clock as I crossed the finish line and someone put two medals around me and took my final checkpoint tag. I had completed this epic 20.65 mile race with 3200ft of climb in 3 hrs 13 minutes and 40 seconds. Jenny ‘the rhubarb Jam Donut’ had managed to unstick herself from the mud and come in at an amazing 2nd Lady position in just over 3 hours and was waiting patiently for the rest of us donuts to come rolling in. Meanwhile I was busy scoffing my face with free sandwiches, juice, tea and malt biscuits. Oh Yum.
After all the donuts had returned to their packets we waited around in the glorious sun scoffing the free food and drinking too much tea awaiting the medals, for Jenny had won 2nd Female. To our overwhelming shock Jenny, Craig and myself had managed to bags third as a “team”. Nice work guys, and to everyone else who ran the third hardest single legs or all three legs with snotty colds, midge bites et al.
I would thoroughly recommend this event to anyone who likes to mix up their running, who doesn’t mind a bit of mud and just wants a really fantastic weekend away partaking in a very unique event. It is only £20 to enter and with that you get free pasta party the first night, free breakfast on the Saturday and free food after the event as well as a really well organised race with a perfectly marked out route. Hungry as a horse for next year?
The miracle isn’t that I finished; it’s that I had the courage to start. – John Bingham – The Penquin
Distance: 20.65 miles
Position: 39th out of 245 finishers
Gender Position: 6th
Elevation Gain: 3,223 ft
MaxElevation: 1,632 ft