The Man vs Horse Marathon was started in Llanwrtyd Well, Wales in 1980 to settle a debate which is faster over long distance. Hundreds of runners go up against more than 50 horses and riders. In almost 40 years of racing, humans have only won the race twice; once in 2004 and then again in 2007. In the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for the horse to win by about 45 minutes. In the modern day, the horses usually win by about 20 minutes, but in some years it has been by just a few seconds. So Is this a fair race, or should horses stick to just horse racing and humans stick to human only running competitions?
Humans are quicker running up and down steep hills. Horses aren’t able to do this and the humans have the clear advantage here, however on flat terrain, the horses are much faster. With horse racing traditionally on a flat surface, the horses are unlikely to have been trained to climb hills or run across rough terrain, therefore humans have the superior advantage here.
If the weather is very warm, humans should win because horses tend to overheat faster. This is because humans have the ability to sweat to release heat, whereas horses have to pant to stay cool, much like dogs, and are unable to pant whilst they are running. For this reason, race officials have instilled a 15-minute break for horses in the race to make sure their body temperatures are at a safe level. In theory, humans only really have an advantage over horses when it comes to long distance. A human is able to store and release energy with every stride by using their ligaments, muscles and tendons.
In 2004 and 2007, the only time to date that the human has beaten the horse and the rider was when it was an incredibly hot and sunny day. The average 80kg human has a surface area of two square metres to shed body heat, whereas a horse who would average 500kg has a surface area of five square metres, meaning they need to lose around two and a half times more heat than a human.
Given that humans can prepare better for the conditions of the race than the horses and are able to sweat out heat much more effectively, humans have an advantage. However, horses average speeds up to 48 km/h. The fastest man ever recorded, Usain Bolt, reached 45 km/h.
Each species has advantages and disadvantages in their favour, making it an interesting race, but given humans have only won the race twice, and this was on very warm days, the horse prevails most through the overall conditions, even though science suggests humans are better prepared. We should see a fairer spread of results for this reason in the future. In time maybe the race will gain in popularity, and then we may see being covered by horse racing betting sites. So there maybe a time when anyone will be able to visit Unibet, for example, and have a number of betting markets to choose from, just like any other event in the sporting calendar. But for now, we will have to be content with enjoying and betting on the animals competing in horse racing.