As It Happens

He stayed awake for 29 hours, then raced against a horse — and won

Ricky Lightfoot is the third person ever to win the Man v Horse race since its inception in 1980. He said he's been wanting to participate in the race ever since he heard of the first winner in 2004.

Ricky Lightfoot is the 3rd person to win Man v Horse race since 1980

Man in running gear seen against the background of a sunset on a mountain terrain
Ricky Lightfoot, seen here in a photo from a training run, is the first person to win the Man v Horse race in 15 years, and only the third human winner in the race's history. (Submitted by Ricky Lightfoot)

Story Transcript

Ricky Lightfoot had wanted to test his endurance in the Man v Horse race ever since he heard about its first human winner in 2004. On Saturday, he finally ran in the race — and won. 

The 37-year-old from Cumbria, U.K., finished the race in two hours, 22 minutes and 23 seconds — two minutes and one second ahead of this year's fastest horse, Lane House Boy, and its rider Kim Alman.

"This is a race I've wanted to do for a long time," Lightfoot told As It Happens guest host Catherine Cullen.

"So, you know, to finally get the chance to do it and race the horse and see the horses come through and then actually beat the horse — I feel as though it's an amazing achievement."

Only two other runners have accomplished this feat since the race's inception in 1980: Huw Lobb became the first winner in 2004, beating the fastest horse by two minutes; and Florien Holtinger took the title in 2007. 

A rider is seen riding a horse in the foreground, with human racers following behind.
Participants in The Man v Horse marathon compete near Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys Wales on June 13, 2015. This year's winner, Ricky Lightfoot, said horses and humans take slightly different routes during the race, although there are a couple of overlapping sections. (Rebecca Naden/Reuters)

The Man v Horse race takes place in the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells, where the idea for it was conceived at the local Neuadd Arms Hotel in 1980, according to the event website

During the race, 1,200 runners compete against a team of 60 horses and riders over 22 miles (35 kilometres) of rugged terrain. 

Lightfoot explained that the runners get a seven-minute head start and run a slightly different route than the horses, although there are some points where the path is shared. "So after an hour, the first horse actually passed me and I couldn't believe it, to be honest. I thought, 'That's amazing how quickly the horse has run there,'" he said. 

"I feel as though it's an amazing achievement."​​​​​​- Ricky Lightfoot, winner of the Man v Horse race

No strategy, no sleep

Despite being an experienced trail runner, Lightfoot said he did not have a specific strategy for his first race against a horse. 

"The horses can't run downhill as quick as we can, but they can run a little bit quicker on the flat and on some gradients on the way," he said. "But when it comes to very steep uphills, they're not as fast as well. So, you know, I was conscious of that and tried [to] make the downhills work for me, and try and run a little bit faster."

Man in a runner's gear seen crossing the Finish line.
Lightfoot is the first human to win the race against a horse since 2007, when Germany's Florien Holtinger, seen in this photo, crossed the finish line before his equine competitor. (Action Images/Paul Harding)

Lightfoot was also dealing with an additional challenge: he was running the race on no sleep. He said he has spent the previous 29 hours awake, after a few of his flights got delayed on the way back from a family holiday.

Because of this, Lightfoot said his partner had trouble believing the news of his victory.

"I said, 'You're not going to believe it, but I've actually beat the horse.' And she says, 'I don't know how you've done it on no sleep.'"

As the race's first human winner in 15 years, Lightfoot collected a prize of 3,500 pounds (approximately $5,519 Cdn). But he said he's most impressed by his fellow competitors. 

"They're a big strong animal, for them running across that sort of terrain, to me it was just amazing."

Written by Olsy Sorokina with files from Reuters. Interview with Ricky Lightfoot produced by Chris Harbord.

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