Lace Up Those Drinking Sneakers

Draft Picks by | Sep 2012 | Issue #68

During a beer mile, a runner runs a mile on a track and chugs a beer before every lap. Anyone who had a friend on a college cross-country team probably already knew that. As you can imagine, the beer and the running don’t always mesh together well.

In recent years, however—in developments that are a long way removed from the beer mile—running and craft beer have buddied up. Some breweries sponsor races; others actually hold their own events. And some breweries form their own teams in other races and compete in name of the brewery. Running and drinking beer, one a presumed healthy activity and the other a presumed unhealthy one, have begun to coexist in some interesting ways.

Many beer drinkers are runners. Brian Aldrich, a beer blogger who runs in the Smuttynose Brewery’s annual 5K, says he started running to balance out his beer habit. He said races like the Smuttynose event provide the carrot at the end of the stick to finish a race. “About 99.9 percent of the runners in a given race will not win a prize, but everyone gets beer,” Aldrich says.

Good beer gives runners an incentive to race, but breweries have an incentive to put on these events as well. There’s often a charity aspect to road races. Harpoon Brewery started their annual 5-Miler because one of their founding investors was diagnosed with ALS. The race was a chance to raise money for his treatment, while also giving people a good time. “I never liked the idea of charity events that weren’t much fun, and are kind of expensive, but you should do it anyway,” says Harpoon co-founder Rich Doyle. “That drives me crazy.”

Harpoon, Dogfish Head, Stoudt’s, Smuttynose, Dunedin, Rahr & Sons and Wachussett breweries are among those who put together road races. “When I look out at the crowd after the 5-Miler, I think in some ways that is the best snapshot of the year,” says Harpoon co-founder Dan Kenary. “People are having a great time.”

There’s undoubtedly a social aspect to brewery-sponsored road races, but it’s also different from the approach of groups like the national organization Hash House Harriers, who describe themselves as a “drinking club with a running problem.” There, the goal is to drink large amounts of light beer that won’t make you too sick to accomplish some kind of athletic feat, like running, biking or rock climbing. Craft beer is not in the equation. But when breweries get involved, respecting the beer takes precedence.

“The emphasis is on quality, not quantity,” says Arlon Chaffee, co-founder of the LOCO running club, which organizes the Smuttynose race. “It’s a brew meant to be savored as a post-race reward.”

In 2007, Spanish researchers concluded that drinking a beer after exercising can have a restorative effect. In the study, the hydration effects for subjects given beer instead of water were “slightly better.” The study inspired a group of craft beer-loving runners in Philadelphia to start their own beer-and-running club, all in the name of proving that beer—quality beer—is the perfect post-workout drink. The Fishtown Beer Runners not only host regular charity events, but club founder David April and two club members were invited to Spain to meet with the professor who conducted the 2007 study. April sat on a panel discussing the study’s impact—and then, of course, there was a beer run.

“The Spanish Brewers Association have taken my suggestion and are sponsoring beer runs throughout Spain,” April says. “They have invited me back this September for the launching of Beer Runners Barcelona, and in October for Beer Runners Madrid.”

Clearly, moderation is the key to reaping any kind of health benefits. But the incentive to run is a health benefit in itself, as is enjoying an activity with a large group. “Even though people think running is a solitary activity, the truth is that runners are mostly very social,” says Peter Belanger, a member of the Lancaster Road Runners and director of the Stoudt’s race in Adamstown, Pa. “Running can also conjure up a mighty thirst, so it seems natural for runners to satisfy two needs at the same time.”

Notch Brewing’s Chris Lohring took it one step further, organizing a team from his brewery to run in the VERT Race series in Cambridge, Mass. “For me, beer is the reward for a run,” Lohring says. “And I think most runners feel the same way.”