Man V Horse

This event is ever so slightly addictive, I would seriously recommend it to anyone whether you like hills, horses and off road running or not. Don’t be afraid to get muddy and it is not even optional to keep your feet dry. Even if you don’t think you are up for the full 20 miles plus you can run a leg or two as part of a relay team. A fantastic weekend of camping, eating, drinking wedged between such a unique running event. Big thanks go out to Jenny and friends for organising/inviting a few stray Sheffield guys and to be part of the overall winning team for ‘team donut’ was just an added albeit very unexpected bonus admist picking up 3rd overall female. So let the adventure begin.

Myself and fellow club members Shaun and John meandered down in my little car to Wales, a couple of pit stops en route for tea and cucumber sandwiches and scones (more like rice and cold pasta and beetroot). A gorgeous sunny Friday perfect. Arriving mid afternoon we set up camp met up with Jenny and Craig then meandered onto the village for the free pasta party all inclusive with the £20 entry fee. An early-ish night for a good nights sleep was well in order for the event the following day.

The sun was shining bright even by 7am in the morning. Porridge and cups of tea on a little camping stove for breakfast gave us the power needed for our near on 24 miles of bliss chasing horses around the Welsh countryside. First we picked up our numbers and bread tags (safety checkpoint things very sophisticated out here you know who needs chips when you have bread tags?). Then we went back to the tents to faff about and get ready, here we come, get ready!

I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go. – Dean Karnazes

The event starts off in the heart of the village, this year supporting a record amount of both runners and horses. The event is made up of three ‘legs’ all the horses however must have four and be fit for purpose. Leg 1 is just under 7 miles, leg 2 is around 8 miles and leg 3 this year was just under 10 miles. The team ‘team donut’ formed 10 years ago by a combination of different runners was still going strong, with 6 or 7 individual runners and a relay team. Having this set up means the race is accessible to anyone. You don’t need to be a club runner, you don’t need to be fast you just need to feel the love.

Normally the route is just over 20 miles but this year due to land rights there had been some re-routing on legs 2 and 3 making it 23.65 so we were told at the start. By 10.50am we were all lined up on the start line and by 11am a mass swarm of runners were pounding down the narrow country road through the village. The first mile is all on road and more or less flat or downhill. The garmin beeped sooner rather than later for my liking I looked at it coming in at under 7.30 minute miling, too fast too fast but knowing the hill in the next mile would slow me down. I had a long way to go, many hours of me time.

I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain. I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn’t easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can’t and I can. Maybe that spot is called I will. – Kristin Armstrong

Soon we were onto the trail; immediatly hitting a major hill on rocky scree. People had already gone out too fast and were beginning to slow just as the sun began to really burning through. Up the rocky slope and my little feet were tiptoeing up yet people were overtaking me. I could already feel the heat so slowed down to a power walk to reach for my buff and slip it over my head. It really works having head protection keeping the sun off it and meaning I am cooler running even if I didn’t look very cool, do I care – no!

All the team donut people had this prior fun thing going that if we passed each other we would shout out a cheese. I passed Jenny on the uphill as she was experimenting with power walking, we had a conversation about Camembert and Brie before ploughing on. But soon Jenny was to pass me again as she flew down the hill along with another girl leaving me to pick up the crumbs of the Cheshire cheese not a stilton in sight.

The first water station was strategically placed at the foot of the hill and supplied me with enough water to get through the next few miles. With Jenny and the other ‘flying down hill girl’ in front of me I followed them every step of the way, avoiding the trips of the girl infront of me but splashing in the mud and puddles and loving every minute of it.

Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn’t sure he can accomplish. It can be running a mile, or a 10K race, or 100 miles. It can be changing a career, losing 5 pounds, or telling someone you love her (or him)… A lot of people never do something great with their lives. A lot of people never attempt it – Scott Jurek

Within 4 miles I hit the wide forestary trail meandering around woodland, suddently a shout of “horses coming up” bellowed out and the sound of hooves as 5 horses galloped past at such a speed, this was surreal, breathtaking countryside, runners and horses galloping past for 24 miles,almost bewildering sheer spectacular, made even more so by the sun beaming down from the deep blue skies stretching across Wales. Blindingly bliss. Nothing less.

Perfectly placed water stations were most welcome and I wasn’t afraid to stop and guzzle down a cup and fill up my little wo-man made holder which was supported by my gel belt and some rubber bands. I had been drinking coconut water for the first leg, supposedly more electrolites than energy drinks it was refreshing if nothing else. 59p from Tesco, every little helps and all that.

I left the wide trails and turned onto proper moorland and rough terrain, this was where I struggled last year, however I have got more confident on fell ground and didn’t fall. Instead I picked my way through the lumps and bumps. Jenny was way in front by now, I was loosing sight of fellow donut a bit like eating a donut really. I was blissfully in heaven, as more horses galloped past, I galloped past a few runners too. Feeling the love, feeling the love.

A perfect run has nothing to do with distance. It’s when your stride feels comfortable. You’re on your toes trying to push it. Suddenly you realize you can open it up a bit more. You know you’re at one with yourself and the environment. You’re a little more alive than before you started. – Sean Astin

Then for the downhill all still on fell ground. I was still behind Jenny and managed to catch her up a little. I so wanted to fly past her and shout “Double Gloucester cheese” in respect for the cheese rolling event that takes place each year by rolling down a hill with a lump of cheese. But the cheese just wasn’t mature enough to let go and roll down the hill. Jenny was nifty down the hills, she looked fearless. I used her technique to watch her carefully pick her way through rocks and streams and more bumps and lumps learning as I ran along.

The winds of Heaven blow between the ears of a horse – Old Arabian Proverb

Suddenly I found myself overtaking horses as they struggled to get down the fell-like terrain. I felt great, powerful and happy. Life is short!! Hug a horse!! I glanced up at the mountain of a hill that I had just decended down with a stream of ant like runners and horses powering down – what a sight admist the perfect blanket of blue sky. What a day!

Leg one change over came at the bottom of the hill and through the river we went splish splash – there is no way of keeping dry on this run. The next smaller stretch was on country roads, and I placed myself behind a very tall skinny girl who was chasing Jenny some way in front. I passed a few of the leg 2 slower runners which gave me a bit of a boost. Then the dreaded shoelace moment came – undone. I bent down to tie it leaving tall skinny girl and Jenny to stride way ahead. I readjusted myself and picked up my stride once again. Through a cattle grid someone shouted “Go Sheffield”. I had my club vest on despite running for “team donut” – I was just behind Jenny at this time and shouted to her “no they are not physcic”. We then chatted for a bit but not about Wensleydale, parmasan, Gruyere or Halloumi but about the other runners and the heat. Jenny told me the girl infront was very strong very leggy too in comparision to little stubby me but that wasn’t going to stop me as Jenny indidcated it was going to be “a long day” for her, I powered on thinking I may well see her again as she passes me later in the event shouting Zanetti Grana Padano, or Mascarpone.

I don’t have a runner’s body, but I have a runner’s heart – and that is all you need. – Army Sergeant

Through the forests I ran, feeling stimulated by the surroundings. I overtook little miss leggy with a big grin on my face, I may not be as leggy as you little miss leggy but it doesn’t mean I can’t pass you, and of course on the uphill section. Another uphill section? Hell yeah! Hills don’t go away they wait, they wait for people like me to love them and hug them. Hug a Horse and hug a hill.

Leg 2 had changed slightly from last year, some of the forestry had been chopped down allowing the sun to beat through making it seem hotter than it really was. Soon we were diverted onto a small rabbit path like trail, where I saw another girl in sight. We played at chasing each other for the next 4 miles or so. I would power up the hills she would float down the hills and catch me.I would power up the next hill, she would float down.

It was at around mile 13/14 that I began to have a blip, my body hitting the distance already? You’ve only done a half marathon I told myself, that isn’t far. Rather than get an energy gel down me I took to jelly babies all 5 of them in a multitude of colours whilst powerwalking up the hill. I passed a horse struggling with the heat and a couple of guys who were walking much slower. So I wasn’t the only one struggling at this point. The path meandered around flattened off and I broke into a jog and then a run to catch up and overtake the other girl and leave her to pick up sheep poo if she so wished. All powered on 5 jelly babies. No horsing around for me today.

What does not destroy me, makes me strong – Nietzsche

Another shoelace moment, damm that shoe, this started to annoy me as it came loose again and again. I was getting really hacked off with my laces now, it must have been the slippy water and mud as never had a problem with them before.

Leg 2 took us down some narrow woodland paths. Horses would come past “keeping left keeping left” they shouted as I chased one down to the road. If a horse stands on you its because your in the way. So move! Support from the pathside and roadside “well done guys – oh and lasses” – thank you I shouted! And plunged on. A forth shoelace moment came just after a chat with a guy about how amazing this race was, so I yanked it tight got angry and fired on.

Leg 3 was approaching as people gathered next to the next river splish splash crossing. Fellow donut and Jenny’s other half Craig had finished his leg and shouted “Go Helen” admist another shout out “Go Sheffield” giving me an extra impetus to keep going. Who needs energy gels when you have rivers, streams, mud, trails, horses, great support and jelly babies? Life is like a wild horse.

Runners will survive the zombie apocalypse – Author Unknown

The great thing about this event is that it is so unpressured, just 100% pure enjoyment, 100% pure run. Though I had my garmin on there was no point in looking at it or trying to do splits or anything,one minute you can be 7.30 minute miling the next 12 minute miling, and who cares with this sort of environment anyway. I hadn’t looked at my watch since lap 1, I didn’t care! Time was in the distance past.

Leg 3 was beautiful I could have been anywhere in the world, wide forestary tracks spread for miles and miles. The route was somewhat exposed as the sun burned down onto these little runners and riders. We were all spread out but enough to see others, pass some and be passed by others. One girl passed me at a real speed, I looked up she was just a leg 3 runner, she caught up her fellow running club friend chatted and off she went. I caught up with her fellow club member and we chatted a little bit and then I left him to ponder the next hill, whether that be up or down.

Through farmland fields and down onto rough tractor tracks, often hard to run on but still keeping my balance. A couple of guys even moved out of the way for me telling me I looked strong. Ha I didn’t feel it! But they must have been feeling worse as they too were doing the whole event.

I turned a corner onto a little road at around 19 miles and spotted a blue club top supported by dark / blackish hair, – John! Mr Philadelphia I shouted, Philadelphia, cream cheese as I ran up to him. John is an amazing road runner – clocking up 17 minute 5kms and 35 minute 10kms this was his first event of over 20 miles (supported by only one other at 18 miles) and as a lover for concrete definatly challenging for him. John weepily shouted “I can’t do this”; I replied “yes you bloody well can, four miles think of your favourite four mile race and run” – he just looked at me as I strided past leaving him to contemplate what I had just said. Clear your mind of can’t. Put all your excuses aside and remember this: you are capable of anything. I was expecting John to catch me up and run past shouting Feta feta..instead I just plunged up the next hill and got reimersed into the next hill. Hills a just figment of the imagination.

The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. – Haruki Murakami

Another hill another powerwalk, as I got my breath and realised I only had under 4 miles to go. This section was beginning to look familiar again as I remembered it from the previous year. Meandering through the fields Marshalls were all cheering me on telling me I had just over 3 miles to go. That’s just a park run that’s all. Not that I do many park runs.

The last section albeit one hill was more or less down hill, and aptly informed by another marshall. I was now in the fast lane and on overtaking mode as I passsed another runner here and another runner there, here’s a runner, there’s a runner, neigh naigh neigh naigh nuuuuuuoooo.

Just before 22 miles a runner stopped at a bend, I looked at him he replied “I am going for a slash” it was then that I tripped and went over on my ankle. Owch! I shook it off moved it around and plodded on down through the stream, mud horse hoove grooves and horse poo. Nice.

The aptly named hill of doom – a slight incline of meadow didn’t seem too bad. I took on my last shot bloc just to take my mind of the incline, put one foot in front of the other up the long stretch of grassy weedy fields. Though not steep it went on a bit and perhaps mentally tough because runners could be spotted at the top floating down every step nearer the finish. The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.

Running, much like life, has its hills and valleys. On any given run, and particularly in most marathons, we come across easy stretches and seemingly impossible challenges. I have learned to just keep going. The tough moments never last, and the easy stretches are always a joy. The same is clearly true in life, if we just keep going we’ll get to that finish line with water, massages, and bananas! – Will Starr

The last stretch was indeed down hill but downhill on fell ground so care was needed especially as concentration was going skewwiff – easier said than done after 23 miles. Just before the road a big man or wo-man eating bog appeared. Even though a marshall told us to keep left to the fence a 6ft guy infront of me plunged into it waist deep. Ha! Me being a girl was not going to follow but instead grabbed hold of the wire fencing and wrenched myself over it in the most unfashionable way possible but hey I didn’t get eaten by the mud – go me!

I hit the road and one of the marshalls shouted “Catch ‘em up girl, go get them” referring to the 3 guys powering down the hill infront of me, fueled with plenty of Horse power so I took this sound advice and powered down where I found that extra energy from 23.2 miles in I do not know but I managed to overtake all three leaving one straggler as I turned the corner and plummeted into the big wide river. Myself and another bloke waded through knee deep slipping on the mossy rocks under the gushing water. I managed to scramble infront of the bloke to be first one up the muddy bank and spotted two more runners puffing their way up the hill. A little bit of tarmac at the end burned my feet as my legs were tingling from the water but I still had enough energy to sustain and pass one guy and then taking a sharp left into the field I put in a big sprint to power past the last guy and across the finish line whilst the finish line guy shouted “Third Lady” – what? Gobsmacked.

A medal was placed around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand, I staggered across the field, and stared in a daze then poured the water over my head. It took me a while to feel human again and to delve into the free W.I sandwiches, biscuits and cups of tea, all free courtesy of the race. A post race massage for a tenner made my legs feel slightly lighter (and somewhat cleaner given they were smoothered in mud) and then more tea and tuna sandwiches. John came in some 12 or so minutes after me, followed closly behind by a very fresh looking Jenny. Craig was already waiting having returned from his second leg. Shaun was still out in the field. A few of the original donuts had finished in prime positions – 2nd Lady and 1st Male 40 for Jenny’s friends.

Every moment. Every step. Every breath. Every start. Every finish – real runners

Taking advantage of the gorgeous weather, we sat on the grass chatting and eating sandwiches and drinking tea. What else would you do at the end of Man V Horse? Eat a horse? That would be cruel. Shaun soon joined us got himself a massage and a coffee and we all began to feel more human again.

What a fantastic event and an added bonus for team Donut picking up a total of four awards, 3rd Female for me; I still can’t get my head around this 23.75 miles – in a time of 3 hrs and 37 minutes and 4 seconds with over 4000ft of climb and First team (first fastest 3 in a team cumulative), that was just a little bonus ontop of an amazing day out.

An evening of BBQ’ing, beers and drinking cups of tea at midnight next to a tent supported by malt loaf and chocolate beetroot brownies all wrapped up a perfect weekend with fantastic company stunning scenary and proper summer weather. And how did you spend last weekend?


Time: 3.37.04
Position: 2nd Female

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