Let’s take a moment to imagine a hypothetical situation. Let’s say that you are a resident of the United Kingdom, in Wales to be exact. Now, imagine that about thirty years ago you went to a pub in Llantwrtyd Wells, which you couldn’t pronounce even before you had a few pints to drink. Now, imagine that at that pub, some guy was boasting about his horse’s incredible athletic prowess; it moved like lightning on the cross-country course. Now imagine that the time this man was bragging about didn’t seem all that impressive to you – in fact, you were quite confident that you, Herculean behemoth that you are, could easily match the horse. Finally, at this point, envision the landlord of the pub offering you the chance to prove it…
Believe it or not, a drunken boast is actually how the Man versus Horse Marathon at Llantwrtyd Wells was first started in 1980. In order to settle an argument between two of the patrons in his bar, the Neuadd Arms, Gordon Green organized a 22 mile long cross-country race where men on horses compete against men on foot. In 1985, cyclists were allowed to compete as well. The race, although not quite as long as a marathon, covers much tougher terrain; the course uses farm tracks, footpaths, forestry roads and open moorland. In 1982, the organizers of the race made an effort to even the odds a bit, giving the runners a 15 minute head start.
It took twenty-five years for the first foot-runner to beat a horse. In 2004, Huw Lobb beat Zoe White on Kay Bee Jay by just over two minutes. Lucky for him, the prize pot to be awarded to a runner had been growing for the race’s entire twenty-five year existence – by one thousand pounds every year. So Huw Lobb walked away with 25,000 pounds, worth about 30,000 dollars Canadian. He was also up against the largest group of competitors the race had ever seen, with 500 runners and 40 horses. In 2007, horse lost to man a second time when Florian Holzinger won the race. The first man to beat the horse came in 1989, however, when British Cycling Hall of Famer Tim Gould finished the race three minutes before the quickest horse. Gould had been the top non-horse racer in the previous year’s race as well, but lost by 10 minutes. When he did win the race, though, he was awarded with 5,000 £.
A similar race first started in 1983, when Prescott, Arizona residents Steve Rafters and Gheral Brownlow placed a wager while in a pub on Whiskey Row, Prescott’s famous saloon district. The Annual Prescott Rally, however, has 12-mile, 25-mile and 50-mile versions of the event.
Although the foot runners were awarded a significant handicap in the head start, the fact that a man has beaten a horse more than once in a race that is over 22 miles long is nothing short of incredible. Apparently, beating a horse in a race is an aspiration near to the hearts of drunken men everywhere.