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October 27, 2011

Find the Right Girl (And Make Her a Wife)

Sometimes the things we write for the Monterey Herald are time-sensitive: local event coverage, race training advice, commentary on recent events, and so on. Other times I come across an interesting story and squirrel it away for a while, figuring I can revisit it when there isn’t anything else readily jumping onto the computer screen for me.

One such column follows below. It’s an overview of an event that first captured my attention a few years ago; it gave me one of those “You’ve got to be kidding me” reactions that initially seemed completely ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, actually became oddly fascinating. No less ridiculous, but definitely fascinating.

So with nothing else to write about last week, I finally went through my browser bookmarks and cobbled together something that hopefully reflects some of the strange appeal that I first felt when learning about this bizarre competition myself. Also, since this is the Internet, I found a cool companion video to give you a better sense of what it's all about.

And in case you’re wondering afterward … no, I don’t have any plans to try this someday.

Running Life 10/20/11                                                “Find the Right Girl”

Guys out there, listen up: Maybe distance running isn’t your thing. And maybe you’re not particularly suited for track races either. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams of athletic glory through running.

Maybe what it means is that you have to find the right wife.

More specifically, perhaps it’s time to find a female partner and try your skill at wife carrying, a sport where men race each other through an obstacle course of dirt, ramps, forest terrain, giant logs, and a 1-meter deep water hazard – all while physically carrying a woman along the way.

Both photos courtesy SundayRiver.com

Wives can be carried one of four ways: 1) traditional piggyback (considered very amateur, and traditionally frowned upon), 2) Santa Claus-style with the wife flung over one shoulder, 3) Fireman style with the wife around the neck and over both shoulders, or 4) the Estonian carry, where the wife hangs upside-down on the man’s back, with her legs around his shoulders and her face at his rear end.

Sure, it sounds funny, but wife-carrying is serious business. The 12th annual North American Championships just took place over Columbus Day weekend - giving you 50 full weeks to prepare for next year’s event –and the World Wife Carrying Championships (WWCC) have become increasingly popular every year. Competitors from all over the world square off in this unique test of fitness, strength, agility, and teamwork, and the winners are rewarded with the wife’s weight in beer.

That’s right … beer. So the heavier your wife, the greater the reward – but only if you win. And don’t think you can just marry some anorexic in order to gain a competitive advantage; the minimum weight of wives in the event is 108 pounds, and females weighing less are required to wear a weighted rucksack to meet the standard.

Wife Carrying Championships feature many similarly strange rules, and perhaps the oddest one is this: the wife you carry doesn’t even have to be yours. According to the official rules, “The wife to be carried may be your own, the neighbor's, or you may have found her further afield.” The only requirement is that she is at least 17 years old.

The World Championships originated in Finland and take place there annually. There’s historic context to all this: some say the event commemorates a 19th-century marauder whose gang raided small villages to steal food and kidnap the town’s women. Others think it recalls a custom of young men sneaking into neighboring villages to steal someone’s wife for their own, literally carrying them back to their own house. Sure, it’s barbaric, but realistically, there probably weren’t many other sports in early Finland aside from wife stealing.

As you might expect, Finns dominate the world championships, but there’s another country whose runners do shockingly well: Estonians, whose carrying method revolutionized the sport. Although it looks ridiculous, the Estonian Carry is remarkably efficient, and Estonian teams ran away with multiple titles before the rest of the world finally followed suit.

The Estonian carry is fraught with all sorts of embarrassment and/or danger; consequently, the WWCC page describes the ideal wife as, “composed of humor and hard sport on a fifty-fifty basis.” Seasoned racers recognize that the wife’s spirit and determination are often equally important to victory as the husband’s physical skill. Which brings us back to our original thought: if you’re not finding the success you seek in running, maybe the best thing you can do for yourself is to find the right girl.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad lesson for our non-running lives as well.

"2011 Wife Carrying Championships", from Maine Sun Journal (click to play):

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Tuck 10/28/11, 7:43 AM  

Excellent post!

iJuls 10/28/11, 2:44 PM  

Interesting. Widowed female seeks able bodied male who will carry her to and fro without dropping her. If he is successful, he will win her weight in beer and possibly her heart too. LOL

Seb @ Pedometer Watches 10/29/11, 8:44 PM  

A really fun post. My wife only weighs 88 pounds.

Pedometer Watches

Simon Mugglestone 10/31/11, 12:11 PM  

Great Post! I think the trick to winning this race is to find a small thin wifey!

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