Always the Bridesmaid at the Wife Carrying Race.
On Sunday 8th April 2018 for the THIRD consecutive year my wife and I made the 200 mile round trip from Northampton to Dorking to finish runners up at the UK Wife Carrying Race.
This year however didn’t pass without controversy both in our own personal race and that of another even more unfortunate couple as the eleventh edition of the event took place.
On what was a wetter than usual 380 meter course conditions were slippery. I can’t however blame the weather for affecting my own performance on the day as my trail shoes did the job in keeping me on my feet (and my wife on my back!) This couldn’t be said for two couples in particular though as one stumbled then crawled over the finish line for victory and the other slipped and fell in discomfort for a trip to hospital. Unfortunately it was the latter that the large media presence (and all the vultures who picked up on it) focused on.
This race is fun. It’s silly, it’s crazy and it’s the pure definition of quirky. It can also be dangerous though. You’re racing at high speed up and down a steep hill, jumping over hay bales and having water thrown at you at great force all while carrying another human being over your shoulders. Of course it’s not 100% safe and this is clearly pointed out on the event’s website homepage (as well as in the pre race email and briefing). In fact it really couldn’t be any clearer:
‘Wife carrying can be a dangerous activity, which can lead to any one or more of the following injuries: slipped disk, broken legs and arms, spinal damage, facial injury, skull fracture, hernias, and other sundry injuries and illnesses, and potentially including death.’
‘Grippy’ trail shoes were advised in addition to all of the above but disappointingly that didn’t mean an accident was avoided as a quick google search or a flick through the following morning’s newspapers will tell you and although we were bitterly frustrated to have not won (again) and obviously concerned for the couple involved it was perhaps not the worse year to have missed out on the title as the outcome of the race became a minor footnote where as in the previous few years the winners have been the highlight of media attention.
We’d put the training in, learnt from previous mistakes, adopted a new and improved holding technique and come aiming to win. This may sound very over the top to outsiders but anyone who has been to this event before will know just how competitive it gets forwards the front with a national title at stake and a winning prize of £250 towards costs for the World Championships in Finland.
In the last two years we had let a couple get a big early lead and although we closed it down dramatically we’d not managed to overturn it so this time round the plan was to get out faster and not let anyone get away. This plan was however scuppered within seconds as a Lithuania pair absolutely flew off and a husband and wife from America followed them with us in third. This order remained all the way up the hill of ever increasing elevation.
Once the summit is reached that marks the halfway point in which you turn back on yourself and head back down. My feeling was that the Americans were catchable but it was going to take a momentous effort to even get close to the Lithuanias. Little did I know that, from nowhere, another team were about to steamroller passed all of us as we got to the bottom of the hill and tackled the hay bales for a second time.
All I could do now was push with all I had left. Amazingly the couple that had lead all the way had now come to a grinding holt and we moved into third. As the water from the ‘splash zone’ blasted me straight in the face I continued to pick up pace and with only moments remaining we moved into our familiar position of second place.
All eyes were on the finish now and just as I approached it I saw the leaders stumbling. With every step they got closer to the ground and just before the line both husband and wife hit the deck with a thud. The wife’s momentum had taken her passed the two huge blue flags that signified the finish but the husband, who was sprawled out across the grass, clearly only had half his body over the line so I crossed it with my arms spread to signify that I was in fact the first person to finish while actually carrying my wife. This somehow seemed to be ignored though as all the camera crews and news reporters started to crowd around the floored couple.
My wife and I got our breaths back and deliberated what to do. Although the rules state ‘If you drop the ‘wife’ you must both take three steps backwards before remounting’, I knew there was no instant playback technology available, the race director was running the race himself so still out on course and it seemed the media at least had already made their minds up so we just waited for the presentation. Although pretty sure, without a reply we couldn’t be 100% positive that they didn’t cross the finish before impact with the ground so there wasn’t really anything we could do at the time so we just, somewhat reluctantly, applauded the announcement out their victory (after all they didn’t fall on purpose) and went home with another runners up finish to our names.
A few hours later footage from the race started to emerge online and one video from Britclip confirmed our suspicions to be true. Watch the whole video as it’s a great insight to the event, then forward to 4.20 in where their fall and our finish can be seen: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rhVGUPvpzzI
This still is also pretty conclusive:
This was an unfortunate end to what has, is and hopefully will continue to be a truly unique occasion of sport. A race that is everything one should be – fun yet challenging, enjoyable yet competitive.
We certainly don’t want the situations from this day to bring negativity on what is one of the world’s most unique running events. We write this review in hope that we can all take something positive from it weather that be to train even harder, to properly mark the finish line with an actual line or to wear more suitable shoes.
The wife who fell and was hospitalised sustained bruising and ligament damage. We wish her all the very best in recovery and good luck to the winners Chris and Tanisha in the World Wife Carrying Championship in July and we look forwards to a rematch next year.