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Man vs Horse: Quantocks Edition

by Jonathon Vaughan

On Saturday 7th October 2023 I took on the almighty challenge of Man vs Horse. Man vs Horse is an event where runners compete against horses over a challenging 23 mile trail run. The original event dates back to 1980 where the first race was in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. I competed in the inaugural Man vs Horse England race in Over Stowey, a small village in the heart of Somerset. The course was a beautifully scenic route through, up and over the Quantock Hills. The course varied between boggy woodland, gravel roads, rock slides and hills. So many hills.

It was a gloriously sunny day and I arrived early for registration to allow myself time to have a coffee, get myself ready and embrace the atmosphere. From the moment I arrived, the organisers, volunteers and supporters were extremely friendly and welcoming which made me feel that this was going to be an excellent event. In the build up to the start time of 10am I spoke with many locals and fellow runners and you could sense their excitement about the event.

The race itself started at the foot of the Quantock Hills and with Gordon Green the gentleman who founded the original race in Wales starting the runners off we all began the ascent with the horses soon to follow 15 minutes later. The first few miles of a race are always challenging, trying to settle into a pace that you can maintain for such a long period of time but this was all the more difficult due to the incline. From the off you could see the front group of runners pulling away from the majority and I had to focus on running my race.

After approximately 4 miles the first set of horses managed to catch up with me and it was quite the experience having these magnificent animals galloping past you. However, the first 6 miles through the beautiful woodlands seemed to go by quite quickly, having settled into a nice pace and feeling strong on the climbs. Although, I was very grateful to see the familiar faces of the 2 Emmas, Luke and families as I’d reached the quarter point.

The middle sections of long distance races always seem to be the most challenging mentally and this was much the same, The next 6 miles continued to go up but out from the woodlands on to the top of the Quantock Hills. The views were spectacular in the Indian summer sunshine and I made a conscious effort to try and appreciate them whilst I was running. After 11.5 miles I reached the first checkpoint and was feeling good. The physiological milestone of reaching the halfway point is always good as surely after all that climbing it is literally downhill from there.

Unfortunately not!

At the 13 mile mark I was once again greeted by all my work colleagues and their families cheering my name and offering words of encouragement whilst wearing t-shirts with my face embroiled across the front. I quickly reached checkpoint 2 where I re-hydrated and refuelled. The run from checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3 was very challenging. Running across the top of the Quantock hills in the midday sunshine without any cloud coverage and a lot of hills in the legs already. That section seemed to go on forever and again I gratefully received the support from the Wotton House gang when I reached the checkpoint.

With the third and final checkpoint ticked off it was 6 miles to the finish. By now I surely thought it must be a long descent to the finish line. How wrong I was. After 1 mile of climbing into a 1 mile descent I saw the support team one last time with 4 miles to go. By this point the fatigue and cramp started to kick in especially on the descents so my running started to feel more like a shuffle and the support more and more gratefully received.

As I started to count down the miles to the finish line and the optimism of an end in sight I turned a corner where all that optimism quickly evaporated as I looked up and saw the biggest hill of the day in front me.

As I was running I had the reassuring and resilient thought that I had trained for this and the reason I do these things is to challenge myself. I was getting what I wanted. I scaled that mini mountain and then as I reached the top I knew I had 2 miles to go to the finish line. I started the descent, battling off the cramp every step of the way whilst looking at my watch counting the distance. The final stretch of the run was through a wide open field to the finish line where I continued to work my way down the mountain and then finally as I was reaching the finish line I could see my support team running towards me.

I stopped my watch as I crossed the finish line (3:46:33) and made my way towards them. They greeted me with high fives and massive congratulations. It was lovely to be able to share the moment with them. They provided me with much needed water and then I made my way to the finishers tent to collect my beautifully crafted wooden medal before having more photos and congratulations.

Following the event the official results were released and I finished as the 9th fastest runner, 16th overall including the horses meaning that only 7 horses beat me - with me beating 24 of them on the day.

I will take that as a win!

Now the event is over I am looking forward to putting the generous sponsorship to good use, purchasing new equipment for the PE department at Wotton House!

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