Friday, June 19, 2009

Man v Horse

First words from Lesley: “I beat a Horse”!!!! Not just one, not two, but eight of the great hairy beasts, and they all had a complete set of legs! Careful consultation with race officials had me believing the horses would be tucked up in their stables by the time I limped over the line.

Here follows a rather more lengthy account from Richard of our weekend in Wales:

Saturday 13th June saw the Westgates at Llanwrtyd Wells for the 30th Man V Horse Marathon. I’ve been aware of this race for years but have never been tempted – I’m not keen on horses and it sounded a bit gimmicky; also at 22 miles it’s not a marathon. However Lesley seems to have taken control of our running diary and it was with considerable trepidation I found myself entered. Training has not gone too well this year and I had a week off work recently with a chest infection. My last long run was the Exe to Axe in April, where I recorded my first DNF, while Lesley finished fairly comfortably.

So on Friday, after a hectic day at work, and emergency plumbing work at home, we set off for Wales. Unfortunately for us Oasis were playing at the Millennium and the queues for the tolls stretched back for miles. At one point we though we would be too late for the free pasta party. With the M4 behind us things looked up and the scenery improved. However as I entered a roundabout an old fella in a beaten up old red car came flying down the road on my left, straight onto the roundabout, skimming past the front of my car like a meteor. Lesley, who had been looking at pigeons or something, looked up and screamed as the meteor threatened to extinguish two English life forms. She was so shaken she couldn’t speak for about five minutes, not a bad thing really – well done Taff!

Shame we were a bit pushed for time and we had to rush along the really scenic B4519 Upper Chapel to Garth road, through the Sennybridge Training area (military), trying to avoid suicidal sheep. By coincidence this is also the weekend of the Welsh Castles Relay and this road is part of the route with a finish at Drovers Arms and a start at the conservation centre. (Really thought you’d want to know that)!!

Arrived safely at the B&B and walked about 40ft to the hotel/pub for the pasta party. I opted for the vegetable chilli with rice, naan bread and baguette. Unfortunately the chilli was unbelievably spicy and I had to have extra rice to stop it burning my mouth. A bit of Guinness for good measure, an early night and I was ready for racing. Fit or not I had a race plan that would get me round in one piece and keep ahead of Lesley. I planned to run 30 minutes then walk 5 minutes, with a worst-case target time of 4 hours. On the day I stuck to this and had further walking bits when it was too steep, and even flat bits when I felt too tired and it worked as you will find out.

Racing always gets the adrenaline going and entering a race for the first time is even more exiting. Man v Horse is quite special as it is the largest horse race in the country – bigger than the Grand National! There are quite a few runners as well, some of whom opt to compete in a team of three as a relay run.

One of the best things about staying in B&B is the cooked breakfast; so on Saturday morning we were up early and ready to order by 7.30. Bearing in mind the race started at 11am I prudently decided not to eat too much. Having polished off a bowl of fresh fruit and yoghurt I nibbled at a round of toast and marmalade. I cut the cooked breakfast down to sausage, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and baked beans washed down with a pot of black coffee. And just to finish off, another round of toast and fruit juice. It was a shame to miss the egg and fried bread but us runners have to make some sacrifices!

After breakfast we lounged about. The start was 20 feet from our front porch, so we were very relaxed. Lesley went off to see the horses as they paraded through the square to their assembly point, while I wondered why my shorts felt a bit tight.

I know I should have listened to the pre-race briefing especially as there were going to be over 40 horses charging through the countryside sometimes in very close proximity to the runners, call me difficult, but I just wanted to keep moving, warming up and stretching. All too soon we were off; well the front runners were. I decided to start off in very last place. In fact you can see my yellow and black running vest and headband behind everyone on YouTube. It was a good, gentle start on road and I went past Lesley after four minutes. I prayed that this was the last time I would see her before the finish. We were soon climbing and I was sweating badly in the hot sun. Groups of runners became walkers, why the hell do they have to walk three abreast yakking!? A very minor gripe because it soon thinned out and everyone could run comfortably at their own pace.

From now on the exact sequence of events is very mixed and blurred; I try and recall but the memory cells get confused with the Exmoor Stagger, the Quantock Beast, the Haytor Heller, the Mendip Muddle and especially Race the Train. With about 3000ft of climbing it’s quite challenging and you get some unique views as parts of the route go over private land. In fact Man v Horse has just about everything you could wish for except a pebble beach! I do remember that before too long we were up on some lovely open moor which was in fact a bog. I am proud to admit that in over 20 years of racing I have at last lost a shoe in a bog! It was a bit embarrassing as I had just finished one of my 5-minute recovery walks and had gone back past a whole row of runners when my left foot sank very deep in the mud and came out shoe-less!

The feel good factor of this race must have rubbed off on me as I actually found myself talking to other runners! There were even moments to talk to passing horse riders! Now anyone who knows me, knows how I am about as wary of horses as I am of dogs (one of my SWRR colleagues was kicked in the chest by a horse while out on the road and was injured for some time). However at Man v Horse the riders were very professional and the horses seemed at perfect ease with lots of runners about. It was about 40 minutes into the race that the riders and runners converged. I must say it was quite a sight – horses are quite large beasts close up and the sound of their hooves pounding the track was quite memorable. Imagine some of the steep gullies at Haytor and you get some idea of the kind of terrain that these beasts had to scramble up and down. These points were often the most narrow and yet there seemed to be no conflict between horse or runner. Horses passed literally within inches but somehow everything was OK. I must admit it felt good when I went past a few horses – some of which didn’t seem to go very fast downhill.

The relay changeover points, where there were crowds of noisy supporters, also acted as check points where individual runners handed in safety tags. The cheering definitely gave a boost and I was tempted to try and keep up with a “fresh” relay runner. However common sense kicked in and I kept to sensible pace with the five-minute walk recoveries. On one very narrow muddy path I heard horses bearing down on me at speed and with nowhere to go I just had to stop and turn sideways to let them past - they definitely weren’t stopping! Towards the end even the gentle undulations seemed like steep hills and walking and talking became order of the day. I could see I was well within my target of four hours and just wanted to finish in one piece. A few hundred yards from the finish there was the river crossing. I swear the River Irfon was at least 30 ft wide at this point and I thought I’d take it at a canter. Within seconds I was flat on my face underwater. Sitting up I felt a bit foolish and someone called out “I bet you meant to do that”. So I just sat there and started washing some of the mud off my legs! Lesley said the water was quite deep and came up to her shorts, but that’s not saying much. The rocks in the riverbed were covered in slime making it extremely “slippy”. Dave C would have had his health & safety clipboard out suggesting a less hazardous route using the nearby bridge. Having narrowly avoided being washed away in the torrent it was on to the finish paddock where a large, cheering crowd encouraged me to a show-off careering sprint to the line.

Fantastic. A few stretches then in to the tent for the free refreshments. After about half an hour Lesley finished looking fresh as a daisy, but she did have two small muddy spots on her vest! After relaxing in the sun for a while I started to feel very uncomfortable in the gut region and just made it to a toilet as last night’s hot, spicy vegetable chilli exploded – talk about ring burn. Feeling relieved we decided to make our way back to the B&B. However true to form my stomach now started feeling unsettled and I soon had another view of my recently eaten tomato sandwich.

The race went in a big circle finishing at the Victoria Wells Mountain Centre, about a mile outside the town. This centre has motel chalets and a swimming pool set in the countryside. Back at the B&B it was time to wash and rest then out for an early fish, chips, peas and salad pub meal with some more Guinness. To round the day off I thought we would have an early night but Lesley had other ideas. Towards the finish she saw what appeared to be a new handkerchief at the road side – waste not, want not – so we retraced about three miles of the route to retrieve this snot rag. We had a leisurely stroll across the bridge near where I had fallen earlier, and also saw donkeys in the mountain centre.

Well my loyal, patient but probably fast-dwindling band of bloggers I will hasten on and conclude our Man v Horse weekend. Sunday dawned with a shock. I had put on suntan lotion after donning my running vest – big mistake – the fierce sun had burned me through my vest leaving strap marks in reverse. Soon cheered up with a full breakfast and then a short journey back to the scenic road in the military training area. Lesley resumed her role as SWRR groupie following the Welsh Castles Relay. We parked up at the red-kite centre, and by chance met up with some familiar faces from Bitton Road Runners, including Ross who casually mentioned he was off soon to compete in the Austrian Ironman!! Shortly afterwards, oh joy of joy, the mighty SWRR club chairman then honoured me with his fingerprint in my Vaseline jar! He was optimistic mood as our A team were currently leading the vet section after day one. We saw leg 15 start, dashed back to see the finish of leg 14 at the Drovers arms, and then followed the leg 15 runners to Brecon, where we saw some great finishing including Andy Jones who was 5th. We also then saw some finishers at the end of leg 16.

You might think this was enough activity for a couple of old gits like us, but no, Lesley took us to the middle of nowhere, paid an extortionate £4 parking fee (why can’t outgoing motorists pass their tickets to incomers), and went to seek the largest cave mouth in Wales. This led on to a demanding trek with hundreds of steps, cut in steep gorges to see four famous waterfalls. The most impressive had a large curtain of water, with a narrow ledge which allowed you to walk behind the water. Then we went home.

For the record I finished in 3:31:24 and of 397 Riders, Runners and Relay Teams I was 201st. I beat 13 of the 40 Riders and 32 of the 103 Relay Teams. I was 116th out of 255 who ran the whole course.

Lesley finished in 4:00:38, beating 8 Riders and 12 Relay Teams. She was 180th of 255.

PS There’s a big money prize if a runner beats the first horse. Apparently a runner was first over the line but the organisers make a time allowance for the compulsory horse veterinary stop, and this pushed first man back to fourth. It seems this is always how it works but this info wasn’t included in the race pack.

PPS Llanwrtyd Wells is also home of the World Bog-Snorkelling championship and hosts other great events like a tribute festival to Screaming Lord Sutch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Run in the Wild 10k

Race report by Dave Carnell

Sunday the 7th June saw the inaugural running of the ‘Run in the Wild’ race at Cricket St Thomas in Somerset.

Generally bright and ambient weather on the day helped ensure this was a well attended event and would have meant perfect conditions had it not rained heavily overnight. I’m afraid it was, as they say, “a bit slippy underfoot”, which was not entirely to this particular runners taste. Some might call me fussy but, hey, I can’t help liking it a bit grippier.

The start of the race was also a touch dastardly, being as it was right next to the Black Swan Pub (running away was always going to be hard) and then going immediately into a protracted climb to probably the highest point on the course – cruel indeed!

This affront to sensible running was only softened by the downhill sweep that followed this section and enabled this moaning narrator to regain lost ground on some fellow runners.

In fact, this theme of up and down, was true for most of the course, which although very scenic proved quite challenging. So much so that it delivered quite a close race between runners with different styles and fitness. So much so that I spent the last mile or so in a tight race with Richard W, with neither of us realising that we were in danger of being hauled in by Lin and Martin L who were in hot pursuit.

Happily for me the last kilometre to the finish was all down hill and I think Richard assumed I would be able to get ahead so didn’t contest the position with too much enthusiasm. Much to the good as I was knackered and the tank was well and truly dry.

All in all, a good race and one to recommend for the future.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Maiden newton runners were out in force for this 9K event held by YTRRC in the Ninesprings park. a total of 7 MNR's line up for the start on what was a very warn morning, Di & Mike, Charlie, Andrew (full member after paying his sub to day), new boy Richard and the old timers Dave C and me.
After a race brief by Mr Chaffy explaining all the hazards we could come across on this two lap off road course which took for ever (big mistake giving him a microphone). Dave and I took off to close to the front and spent the first K trying to second guess each other race plan, having done this race last year I had a slight advantage over Dave knowing what was to come. I was planning to stick close and run at Dave's pace, but as with all my race plans they go out the window as soon as I cross the start line. taking advantage of Dave slowing on the second hill heading up towards the A37 for the first time I pulled away from him, being told by the Marshall on the road junction I was in 10 place I push on even more, gain a couple more places heading back in to the park. still worrying that Dave was going to come pass me at any time One lap over and heading back to the hills for the second time. At the top of the first climb I had glance back to see 3 runners a little way back, but none were in Crewkerne vests. that should have been the time to ease off, but with the thought of finishing in the first ten seem to push me on. the last 500metre's are all down hill, with one last look to ensure I was not going to be beaten to the finish line I managed to Sprint to finish in 8 place.

Collecting a well need drink I wait to cheer the rest of Team MNR over the finish line. I was soon joined by Dave, unfortunately I have forgotten the order of the next 2 was it Richard or Mick not sure, but then came Charlie Spencer looking like she had been for a stroll in the park, not a 9K race. She was followed by new member Andy and then Di, all back safe in just over the hour.

Dave and I were still hanging around when the results were announced (no we weren't hopping for a category award), not really listening to what was being said (Sorry Martin) we heard MNR being mentioned. Charlie Spencer had won first vet45, knowing the rest had left I collected the award for her (the only way I will ever collect one). unknown to me a Friend of a Friend of Charlies sister was at the event. several text messages later and Charlie was on the hunt for her well earned trophy (which involved a trip back to Yeovil), by this time it was being transported back to MN by push bike. Winner and trophy were reunited by the end of the afternoon.
Come on lets see if we can get in to double figures at race before the end of the year (not until after Martin has played his Joker)