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The hotter it is, the closer we come to the ever elusive goal of besting the horse—which supports the evolutionary "born to run" hypothesis
Jul 12, 2020
Back in the summer of 1980, the barkeep of the Neuadd Arms Hotel in the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells overheard two men arguing about one of those hypothetical questions that inevitably come up after a few pints of cwrw. Who would cover a long distance over mountainous terrain more quickly, they wondered: a human or a horse? The bartender, a man named Gordon Green, was intrigued—and the event he set up, a 22-mile challenge known as the Man Versus Horse Marathon, has been running annually ever since.
The answer, it turns out, is that horses are pretty clearly faster, at least under the conditions that Green created. Only twice in the race’s history has a human triumphed. The first time was in 2004, when Huw Lobb—a former college teammate of mine, as it happens—finished in 2:05:19 to edge out a horse named Kay Bee Jay by just over two minutes. Lobb was no slouch: he was a cross-country ace who ran a 2:14 marathon the following year. He collected a cool 25,000 British pounds (about $45,000 at the time), because the pot had been growing by 1,000 pounds a year since the race’s inception, waiting for the first human winner.
(Aside: that year’s edition of the race also featured the unveiling of a memorial to Screaming Lord Sutch, the founder of Britain’s Monster Raving Loony Party, who was the event’s official starter until his death in 1999. Now you know.)
Lobb’s victory came on a hot day, as did Florian Holzinger’s subsequent victory in 2007—a significant detail, according to a new study in the journal Experimental Physiology from Lewis Halsey of the University of Roehampton in Britain and Caleb Bryce of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust. Halsey and Bryce gathered historical data from three endurance races that pit humans against horses, including the Man Versus Horse Marathon, to test the idea that humans are uniquely adapted to run for long distances in hot weather...
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