Mat Pollard Reports:
4600 feet of ascent,
Over fells, marshes, bogs, rivers, slate tracks, gravel tracks and plenty of mud…
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 heartrate 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.
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.
There were a few other Bournville Harriers running:
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.
Mat also writes a blog at https://bvhrunner.wordpress.com/