Men and horses jockey for position over 22 miles

Every year, a small Welsh town holds one of the world's stranger marathons that pits humans against equine competition. It's not as far-fetched as it sounds, thanks to rather a lot of steep hills.

An elderly man's voice crackles over a loudspeaker in the town square. "Today is a very good day to beat a horse," he says. Before anyone calls the RSPCA, this is not a call for animal flogging. We are at Llanwrtyd Wells, in the Welsh valleys, which each year hosts a marathon pitting more than 300 men and women against 50 horses over a gruelling 22-mile course.

Gordon Green, the man on the loudspeaker, should know a thing or two about horse-beating conditions. The 75-year-old dreamt up the Man vs Horse Marathon in 1980 during an argument in his pub – he was the landlord – the Neuadd Arms. One punter insisted that, over a long and hilly enough track, a man could beat a horse. And so Green decided to put it to the test. Every year since, this small Welsh town has hosted one of the nation's strangest sporting events.

And the reason that this is a particularly good day to beat a horse? The weather. In 30 years, the horses have been beaten by men only twice – and on both occasions it was swelteringly hot. As the thermometer climbs into the twenties, excitement builds that man might just win again.

The run's route – which starts with a slope so steep that its green face overshadows the rooftops of the town centre – is so relentlessly hilly that most sane men and beasts would avoid having anything to do with it. Fortunately, sane people are in short supply. A representative from the Monster Raving Loony Party is doing the rounds in honour of Screaming Lord Sutch, who used to support the event, and most of the runners are blessed with healthy doses of eccentricity.

One Brighton couple has decided to confuse matters and run the race dressed as a horse and jockey. Ian Parsons, 42, sports a very hot-looking, furry horse's head, while his girlfriend, Evie Cicha, 35, stands on the starting line in full riding regalia, including a riding crop which she occasionally aims in her "horse's" direction. "This way I stand half a chance of beating the horse," giggles Cicha.

Others are taking the affair altogether more seriously. John Terry, 33, is here for the fourth time. Now he wants to beat his personal best. "I got within four minutes of beating the horse in 2008 and came 12th overall. That was two hours and 46 minutes: I'd love to beat that."

With a Cape Canaveral-style countdown of the last five seconds, the runners are off; pelting with impressive enthusiasm out of the town square and up the first hill. Just 10 minutes later, a clattering of hooves signals that the horses – ridden by amateur enthusiasts – are in the square and ready to begin the chase. The starts are staggered by 15 minutes to avoid too much trampling.

It took 25 years for someone to beat the horses. Huw Lobb, a British marathon runner, and took home the then cumulative prize of £25,000. Since then neither he nor the previous sponsors, William Hill, have been involved in the race. "I don't think they fancied putting in the money once they realised a man could win," laughs Green.

A third of the way around, at Abergwesyn, it looks as if the weather really has given humans the advantage. Staggering down the steep slope, looking about as competent as fawns taking their first steps, the horses demonstrate just how the human runners can make up time downhill.

But sadly, and perhaps thanks to enormous buckets of cold water being thrown over the mounts as they pass, the horses gallop down roads overtaking a stream of exhausted-looking and sunburnt runners.

The only man not burdened down by the heat is Haggi Chepkwony, a lean 40-year-old from Kenya who lives in Bristol. He runs a good five minutes ahead of the others with not so much as a bead of sweat on his face.

Runners and horses begin to jostle for position. An exasperated man on horseback shouts: "HORSE TO YOUR LEFT!" and a shocked runner stumbles out the way – so tired he looks as if he'd entirely forgotten his four-legged competitors.

At the finish line, a grassy enclosure just outside the town, excitement builds: Chepkwony may be on track to do what only two men have done before him in 30 years.

Striding over the finish line after two hours and 17 minutes, he smiles, then stands still and begins the agonising wait. To win he must be at the finish line for at least 14 minutes and 25 seconds before any of the beasts arrive, he explains. He has hardly finished speaking when there is a distant thunder of hooves. He starts: "Is that the horse?" and his face falls.

A minute later and his fears are confirmed as Llinos Jones, 24, and her mount, Sly Dai, appear over the brow of the hill. They have done the race 10 minutes faster.

Chepkwony, who still hasn't even had a sip of water, stares, crestfallen. "I guess I'll just have to train more next year," he says. Jones, meanwhile, is jubilant. She leaps from horse with a flourish, shouting to her gathered friends: "Where's the fucking Strongbow?"

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game