Q&A with Ricky Lightfoot: How I Triumphed at Man v Horse

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Photo credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency
Photo credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

Ricky Lightfoot has won Whole Earth's Man v Horse 2022 race.

One of Britain’s most unorthodox sporting events, the race pits human against horse over a tough 22-mile course which starts in the tiny town of Llanwrtyd Wells in mid-Wales.

Lightfoot is the first runner to have crossed the finish line before a horse in 15 years – Florien Holtinger was the last person to claim victory back in 2007. It’s also only the third time that a human has finished ahead of all the equine racers since the event began back in 1980.

The winner among the horses was Lane House Boy ridden by Kim Alman in 2:24:24 – two minutes and one second behind Lightfoot.

Sixty horses and riders battled it out against 1,200 runners over the brutal course, which takes competitors over hilly farm tracks, soggy dales and open moorland.

Lightfoot, who is a well-known figure in the trail running world and winner of the 2013 IAU Trail World Championships, told the BBC after the victory that he had been awake for 29 hours prior to the event.

He had woken at 06:00 BST on Friday, taken a flight to Manchester at midnight and landed at 04:00. He then travelled to Wales for the race start at 11:00.

Photo credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency
Photo credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

After the event, the 37-year-old told the BBC: ‘It's great to win the event and beat the horse.'

‘I called my partner and said: “I beat the horse.” And she said: “You're joking?” And I said: “No, I did.” She was like, “oh my God!”’

Alongside his fell running accolades, the Salomon-sponsored athlete is also a fire fighter and father of two.

He took home £3,500 in prize money and was back in work for 7:30 the following morning.

How to beat a horse over 22 miles

RW caught up with Ricky Lightfoot to learn more about his remarkable victory at Man V Horse

'At the beginning of the year I took part in a challenge called the Phantasm 24, to tie in with the launch of Salomon's new road shoe. It involved running six one-hour slots around a track in 24 hours – trying to cover as much distance as possible. I did quite a lot of flat running in the build up to that, and didn’t get out in the hills that much, which I think helped quite a lot.

Although it’s 4,500ft of ascent, there wasn’t one bit I had to walk really. There weren’t many sections you had to slow down – it was quite a fast race to be honest.

I live two miles from the coast in Cumbria, and on the other side I can be on smaller fells within a ten-minute drive. If I drive 20 minutes I can be in the really big stuff. Getting good at hills just depends on consistency: getting out into the hills regularly.

My head was everywhere to be honest on the start line. I wasn’t nervous, but wasn’t particularly focused on the race. I was kind of just listening in to conversations around me and there were lots of people pretty pumped up for it. The way people were talking, I was expecting everyone to smash it at the start, but within 400m everyone else slowed down and I maintained that lead throughout. I worked hard, but it felt a lot more like a training run than an actual race. I’ve run a lot more races when I’ve been absolutely shattered at the end.

There weren’t many sections you climb for longer than 10 minutes – it was constantly up and down. Coming from the Lakes, it felt relatively flat compared to what I’m used to.

Before the start someone pulled up next to me and I was asking him a bit of advice and stuff. He said the horses will be faster on the flat, fairly evenly matched on the ups, and we can beat them on the downhills. I maybe pushed a bit harder on the downs, but not so much because of the horses, more because of the competition behind.

It was pretty exciting. You rock up and there’s this massive buzz around this little town in the middle of Wales. It felt like everyone who lived there was out supporting, and even out on the course the support was amazing. There aren’t many races you can race a horse, so I found it exciting.

The only time the horse entered my mind was when I got past by one of the first horses, just after an hour. I had my head down, it was quite windy, and next thing this horse came absolutely smashing past me. But it slowed down on some of the technical stuff, so I caught it later on.

Consistency is a massive part of improving on hilly terrain. Even if you only have one hill nearby, do hill reps on it: anything from one minute to ten or 20-minute intervals. Get used to running downhill, too, because that’s where you can make a lot of time up. Someone might be a minute ahead of you going up, but if you’re a really good descender you can make that time up and some on the way back down.

I don’t want to do much weight training, but I’ve been doing core-strengthening exercises for years, because a strong core is a massive help, especially over uneven terrain. Recently I’ve been squatting, too, just with a light bar (10kg plates either side, so 40kg total). I’ve not been fell running as much as usual recently, for various reasons, but I’ve found that squatting more has had a massive benefit when I do get out into the fells.'


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