Weird Sports is a semiregular feature I write for the Rec Services blog at Trinity Western University as a favour to a good friend of mine. Let us take a break from our Canuckness and appreciate that Canadians are a hockey-loving people and not the sort that love dumb sports like this one.
The first thing you need to know about the Welsh is that they have a strange fascination with the letter Y. The second thing is that they think they are more athletic than horses. This is bizarre, especially when you consider that, when man cannot run the prerequisite distance in the prerequisite amount of time, or jump the prerequisite height in the prerequisite iron footwear, he uses a horse. The horse, with his muscular quadripedal body, is better than the man. At least in specific, horse-appropriate athletics.
The Welsh disagree. And, in Llanwrtyd Wells, a small town in the parish of Llanwrtyd, in Powys (I told you they like their Ys), they compete with horses in the Man Versus Horse Marathon. Sometimes you hear about stupid ideas, and you wonder what sort of people would come up with them. The answer? Foolish people. Sometimes, drunk people. And, in special cases, foolish, drunk people.
Such is the case here. The Man Versus Horse Marathon began in 1980, when a Welsh landlord/tavern owner named Gordon Green overheard two men arguing in his publichouse. The notion: in a significant distance, across the country, a man was as fast as any horse. Mistaking this for a genuine hypothesis, rather than what it was (sweet, beautiful drunk talk), Green decided to test it, and the first Man Versus Horse Marathon was organized. The title explains almost everything, but here are some additional details. The race covers 22 miles, making it an unofficial marathon only. True marathons are over 26 miles at minimum. The race takes competitors through some of the most picturesque scenery in Wales via farm tracks, footpaths, open moorland and tarmac. It's a rough terrain, which slows down the horses, but don't get too excited (hold your horses, natch): rough terrain slows down humans too. So, yes. Horses tend to win, but if any man can post the fastest time, he wins 1000 British pounds.
Here's the crazy thing: the horses don't always win. In 1985, cyclists were allowed to enter the race. This, I imagine, came after the Welsh were frustrated with eight years of their man-can-beat-horse hypothesis going unsupported. Still, it took four more years for somebody to beat the horse. In 1989, cyclist Tim Gould won the race. Thankfully, unlike baseball, they put an asterisk by anybody that wins while on supplements (in this case, the supplement is a bicycle), and Gould was unable to claim the prize money, which compounds annually. Finally, In 2004, Huw Lobb shocked the world when he won the race on foot, completing the course in two hours, five minutes, and nineteen seconds. In my favorite additional fact, a bunch of bookies lost money when they had to pay out on the 16/1 odds they'd given on a man winning. Why are people betting on this?
Here's Lobb, with my favorite quote, from the BBC: "It is a very unusual event with men running against horses." You think?
Lobb may not take the event that seriously, but others do. From Wikipedia:
The 2009 race was marred by controversy when the organizers deducted time spent in the 'vet checks' from the horse times in addition to the 15 minutes for the delayed start of the horses. The deduction of this additional time enabled the horse to triumph by 8 minutes, instead of being defeated by 2. Whilst the organizers at the time, claimed that the time spent in the vet check (which is not accurately monitored on a horse by horse basis) had always been deducted, this had not occurred in previous years. The fastest runner, Martin Cox, refused to accept the winners trophy in protest at the decision.
Yeah, the Man Versus Horse Marathon is a pretty big deal. If you want to know more, here is a quaint, eight-minute mini-documentary saying a lot of the same things I just said, but in a charming British accent.