It might seem like horses have a clear physical advantage in a race, but hundreds of people show up to compete against them, every year, in the traditional Man vs. Horse Marathon.
The history of this wacky competition dates back to a night in November 1979, when Gordon Green, a pub owner from Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, was arguing with local Glyn Jones about the physical capabilities of men and horses. Green was absolutely sure a man could win over a single horse in a race over a long distance, while Jones argued the exact opposite. In the end, the two agreed a real race was the best way to decide their argument, so the very next year, 50 runners and 15 horses competed in a 22-miles-long race through the hills and marshes of the rural Welsh town. Glyn Jones, riding the fastest steed in Llanwrtyd Wells, won easily, but the race proved so popular that Green organized it again, the following year.
Cyclists were allowed to join the Man Versus Horse Marathon, between 1985 and 1992, and in 1989 a man (on a bicycle) crossed the finish line first. The Welsh government finally banned cyclists in 1992, arguing that bike wheels damaged forest paths and man were back to competing against horses, on their own two feet. Believe it or not, we actually managed to beat the horses, twice even. The first was in 2004, when Huw Lobb, a British marathon runner, came first, and the second was in 2007. There (kind of) was a third human success in 2009, when runner Martin Cox claimed victory, but judges decided to give the title to a horse named “Duke’s Touch of Fun”, after discontinuing the time in which the mare was checked by a vet, during the race. Cox threw away the trophy and vowed never to race again.
Photo by Chris Prichard
Both men and horses have to prepare for the Man vs. Horse Marathon, and each have their advantages during the race. Humans are faster when climbing and when passing through marshes and water, but horses have the upper hand on flat ground and they always win in “shoulder to shoulder” bumps, so contenders really have to be careful.
Photo by Zuma Press
On race day, runners start at 11 a.m., while horses leave the starting line 15 minutes later. It’s not a handicap, organizers simply though bumping into hundreds of runners in a tight starting block would scare the horses and decided to simply subtract the 15 minutes from their final time. This year, the Man vs. Horse Marathon was again won by a horse, Shah, ridden by a 21-year-old geography student. She won a £1,050 ($1,700) cash prize and the respect of the whole community.