To Your Health!
Ironically, many recreational runners who religiously restrict and monitor every detail of their diet and lifestyle are often quite unhealthy. “These compulsive or obsessed weekend road runners or marathoners could use a beer to relax now and then,” says sport psychologist Dr. Costas Karageorghis. “Their identity is so wrapped up into their running that they tend to ignore injuries and push dangerously through pain. Also, any type of setback or drop in performance sends them into a perilous cycle of depression. And this is in addition to the extremes of pre-race anxiety they routinely experience. Drinking socially, therefore, could reduce stress for them and, I believe, act as a performance enhancement mechanism.”
Sport sociologist and the author of A Women’s Guide to Running, Dr. Annemaire Jutel, agrees that the intensity some runners bring to their running needs to be balanced, and in this way beer can become a compatible running partner. “Runners often practice their sport with austerity–as though self-discipline and denial would lead them to higher achievements. Their asceticism may take the form of obsessive mileage counting–it doesn’t matter how sick, tired, or busy I am, 50 miles is the goal for this week, so by golly, I’ll get there! Day counting–no way am I going to break my streak–calorie counting, skin pinching, weight measuring, pleasure depriving.
“…Where does it end, and does it even help? This is the context in which beer gets a bad rap as an accompaniement to running. But in France, athletes are likely to drink with their meals. John Walker, the 1976 Olympic 1500 meters champion from New Zealand, and the first man to run under 3:50 for a mile, certainly drank as hard as he ran. Enjoying a few quiet ones probably has no detrimental effect on anyone’s running. But drinking large amounts may lead to poor results: both on the track or road and in life.”
Likewise, sports nutritionist Dr. Liz Applegate, says, “Don’t assume that the carbohydrates loaded in beer will help with recovery or energy (glycogen) stores. On the contrary, beer gets most of its calories from alcohol. If beer is consumed after a run, the alcohol actually interferes with the recovery process by hampering glycogen re-synthesis in the muscle and liver. This can leave a runner less prepared for a subsequent workout. Also, alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means urine production goes up, and a loss of body water causes dehydration and a drop in performance.”
Applegate’s prognosis on beer and running isn’t all medical scare tactics. “There are ‘healthy’ beers for runners; darker beers, particularly, contain more of the phytochemicals that protect against age-related diseases.
“But this is not a license to drink a six-pack of beer,” Applegate continued, before reciting our current age’s moderation mantra. “It’s best to consume beer at meals, and for runners, after they’ve recovered from exercise and properly rehydrated with water and other energy replacement fluids and foods.”
In a time when runners were less aware of diet and nutrition, beer was a staple. “I ran 200 miles a week and drank three to four pints every night, and that was the same for every runner I knew.” So says Dave Bedford, Britain’s legendary distance runner from the 1970s and now race director of the London Marathon, one of the biggest races in the world. “Those beers helped me relax, and I believed that I was running so much that I must be burning it all off anyway. Today’s runner, though, is much more health conscious. We know, for instance, that most runners training for our marathon drink beer regularly, but reduce their beer intake in the final months before the race, then quickly resume their normal drinking habits afterwards, usually immediately at some post-race party.”
Jessica Cohen, in sales and marketing at the New York Road Runner’s Club, organizers of the New York City Marathon and more than 300 other road races for runners of all shapes and sizes, offers a similar view. “Running does definitely go together with beer. At this year’s marathon, we commissioned a commemorative New York City Marathon Pale Ale from Saranac Brewers, and it was a huge success, both at our pre-race pasta party and our post-race celebration. We consider finishing the marathon a true accomplishment, and beer accompanies that really well, we think.”
But weekend road runners aside, what’s the place of beer in more professional running settings? In Eugene, OR, known as Track City USA because of its moderate climate and abundance of off road serene running spaces, dozens of elite-minded runners congregate to train together and push each other towards world class standards while simultaneously consuming large quantities of beer. “Everyone I knew drank a lot of beer,” according to mid-1980′s Eugene resident and sub four-minute miler, Martin Hemsley. “You’re young and resilient and so you believe you can burn it all off. And from what I’ve heard, that attitude hasn’t changed today.” Interestingly, guys in Eugene aren’t making a huge impact on the world distance running scene anymore. In this era of dominance by African runners, most of whom are Muslims and so don’t drink, perhaps beer can get in the way.
However, running clubs in England that cater for all abilities and also provide opportunities where beer is still the focus, aren’t likely to sacrifice the pleasure of a refreshing beer in the name of high performance. “Wednesday nights after our pack runs, which include one hundred or more runners, we open the bar in our clubhouse and it’s all fun and merriment,” according to John Baldwin, secretary of Blackheath Harriers, founded in London in 1869. “Out on the run guys tend to break up into small groups depending on their ability and how fast and far they want to run, but back in the clubhouse everyone comes together over a draught, usually a natural hops English bitter, and any distinctions between serious and less serious runners soon fades away.”
Many road races in America today are as much a festive beer carnival as they are anything else. The Falmouth Road Race, for example, held every August on Cape Cod and as important to the local economy as the Fourth of July and Labor Day, is considered by many to be the best road race in America. Its organizers invented its odd 7.1-mile distance because that was how far it was between two bars, the Captain Kidd in Woods Hole and the Brothers Four in Falmouth.
And beer remains a significant right of passage for those high school runners who continue to contest the season-ending spring ritual, the Beer Mile. This entails four laps of racing around a track with a short pause every lap to guzzle a beer.
Obviously, a Beer Mile is not the experience that today’s mature runner is looking for. It does go to show that health, performance, and friendship take on new and important meanings when they’re part of the time-honored association between beer and running.