A Wife On Your Back

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.

Wives can be carried one of four ways: 1) traditional piggyback (considered very amateur), 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.

Yes, 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 hugely popular. 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. But don’t think you can just marry some anorexic in order to gain a competitive advantage; the minimum wife weight 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 your own. 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 wife’s spirit and determination are often considered equally important to success as the husband’s physical skill. The WWCC page describes the ideal wife as, “composed of humor and hard sport on a fifty-fifty basis.” 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.

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