It's one thing when trail runners latch onto something. Sure, we love our cult shoes that no one else has, in neon pink, if we can get them. We swear by the vegan tamales that you can only purchase from the local food truck at the abandoned gas station. We doubt that Fireball knows they're an aid station staple, but we keep bringing a box of it to every race anyway. Runners in general are notorious for quietly finding their weird, niche favorites, and never letting them go.
So you can imagine the surprise when the niche notices- and embraces - us back. That is the foundation of the ties between beer and running; breweries saw that those strange people in the woods were setting out with nothing but a pair of tiny shorts and a six pack. Instead of rolling their eyes and looking back at the baseball park customer base...they went, "Huh. Now there's an interesting market." Just like that, a one-sided infatuation became a full-blown, cohesive romance.
The runners kept chugging their beers, and the breweries started making beers just for those runners. There are brews specifically designed for the post-run experience, like Boston beer Company's 26.2, a beer geared towards Boston marathon finishers. Beyond that, entire breweries are dedicating themselves to creating endurance-minded crafts, such as Sufferfest Beer Company.
Not only did brew masters design products targeted at runners, but they also began conducting research and writing literature on the junction of malts and miles. Sure, Runner's World, Active.com, and Trail Runner Magazine have a robust collection of articles on beer and running. But cultural pieces on the same topic were written for sites like Good Beer Hunting, Hop Culture, and Bon Appetit. In early 2019, Bryan Roth even gave the relationship a trendy name- the "Ultrafication of Beer."
Being embraced by the brewery community promoted running, which enjoyed a popularity boost by association. Running was no longer "suffering for a medal and a t-shirt" or "hamstering on the track." Running had beer! Running was loose and fun and creative and rebellious (but in a nonthreatening way)! Together, running and beer enjoyed a symbiotic relationships; beer became associated with active, fit people, and running became a relaxed, accessible pastime.
But do the benefits stop at social and cultural gains? What is the actual science behind this classic combination? Sure, running and beer look good together; but are they, y'know...actually good for each other?
Practically every article that covers the nutritional science of beer start with the phrase, "IN MODERATION", and then proceeds to repeat this phrase every ten words. So, we will jump on the "don't sue us" train and make the following disclaimer:
All alcoholic beverages should be enjoyed in moderation. The definition of "moderation" varies, but generally alludes to one to three 12-ounce beers per day. Drinking while pregnant or on certain medications does not fall under "moderation." Drinking with liver diseases or conditions does not fall under "moderation." Drinking combined with other recreational substances does not fall under "moderation." Drinking while operating a motorized vehicle...you get the idea. Don't drink and dumb.
With that out of the way, we can dive into the wonderful world of science, splits, and suds.
Based on multiple studies (you can find them here, here, and here), there are some supported benefits to drinking post-run. Beer has been found to positively affect cholesterol levels by decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing the good. Additionally, the post-run beer protects bones from thinning by increasing mineral density. Most beers also contain small amounts of protein and soluble fiber, which support a stronger recovery. Finally, based on your drink of choice, your beer may be supplying you with multiple B vitamins, increasing cell metabolism and energy levels.
Now, let's talk about the bad. The same studies as above do advocate for a post-run beer over a pre-race beer, or even drinking while running. Generally, alcohol consumption in general can lead to dehydration, and during exercise, can impair metabolic processes, which is why it is best left for finish line celebrations.
Of course, listening to solid advice has never been a strong component of running culture, leading to a slew of official races that involve beer consumption mid-race. Almost every town in America has a beer-related race, from the brewery-sponsored marathons to the hallowed Beer Mile (which will have its own article, don't worry!). La Sportiva sponsored a unique Beer Relay race in Lyons, Colorado in June of 2019, with the option for two or four person teams. The race featured a 3 mile loop; each team member drank 12 oz of beer per loop. The team that finished the most laps in four hours won the relay; the four person category winners racked up 31.9 miles, and the two person team victors totaled 29 miles. Showing off the typical runner flair, team names included "Barrel Full of Drunkies", "One and Done", and "Alcoholics Runnonymous."
If you're looking for an alcohol-themed challenge closer to home, check out Tulsa's classic McNellie's Pub Run with the added Guinness Challenge (four miles of racing that must include three Guinness beers) on November 9th. There is also talk of a collaborative pub relay designed by TOTs and Tulsa Running Club, potentially coming soon to several local breweries near you.
What is your favorite post-run beer, and what are your thoughts on drinking mid-race?
Special thanks to the team at the Tulsa Community College Southeast Campus's Writing Center for reviewing and editing this article on a slow Wednesday in the office.
The Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, or more simply, Western States, claims to be the oldest 100 mile race in the world. Started in 1974, the race begins in Squaw Valley, CA and ends in Auburn. With more than 18,000 feet of ascent and 23,000 feet of descent, it is also recognized as a brutally tough technical race. As the official race website boasts, "Entry into this event should not be taken lightly!"
Tulsa area local, David Theriot, certainly didn't take his 2019 entry into Western States lightly. "There were two big physical challenges," he informed us. "One, getting the vert (vertical) I needed to tackle States." Since David resides in Owasso, it was tough for him to travel the thirty-plus minutes to Turkey Mountain, Tulsa's only real option for trail-based elevation gains. David specifically sites doing Lipbuster/Powerline repeats to increase his vertical endurance training. (Don't know what Lipbuster/Powerline are? Ask a TOTS member to show you!) David also used out-of-state races, weight training, and even the dreaded indoor stair climber to work through the physical challenges.
The second physical challenge David faced was heat training, especially for the potential 100+ degree in the canyon portions of the trail. To prepare for this, David used his last two weeks of training to sit in a sauna for thirty minutes after training runs. He called this experience, "Fun stuff!"
Of course, any ultra race presents mental blocks as well as the physical ones. For David, his biggest mental hurdle was, "questioning my preparation. I know I'm strong and usually step up to the challenge, but the questions lingered...I had a few injuries to train through, and that weighed on my mind more than my body."
Eventually, training ended and the true test was upon David. He describes the atmosphere at the start line as, "pretty exciting! I remember a woman next to me was giddy with laughter." David also recalls the camaraderie at the cusp of the race. "There were lots of high fives and fist bumps with strangers before the countdown....lots of smiles, introductions, and everyone sharing the experience."
David got a firsthand taste of the varying terrains and biodiversity that makes Western States famous, within the first ten miles. "We started with running through about ten miles of snow. I had never run in snow, so I was using weird leg muscles that were not accustomed to being used!" David also tackled the infamous elevation changes, especially around Devil's Thumb. "The climbs out of the canyons were brutal....long, steep, grinding vert." But David recalled the support and fellowship of other runners in such challenging segments, saying, " The good thing is that there was usually company, so you didn't have to suffer alone."
The grueling climbs and harsh terrain were balanced out by kinder segments of the course. "There were some really fun, runnable sections with fantastic views. I had to remind myself to look up....from time to time and take it all in."
David decided to bring only one crew member with him to experience Western States 2019- his wife, Jennifer Theriot. Jen was kind enough to share her experiences as the sole crew member with us, as well, starting with, "It was easier to crew than the Tahoe 200!" She noted that Western States was well organized and efficient, with "good instructions on how to get to each location." As for her being the David's sole support, she said, "I enjoy being the only crew member because I got to see him at all the rest stops, and I know how he is doing/feeling." She noted that the race did take a toll on him; "It was very obvious that this race was much harder than most he had run in the past."
While Jen was his only crew member, David wasn't alone or amongst strangers while out on the course. He ran into a few familiar faces pre-race, including Oklahoma running legend Camille Herron, and encountered even more acquaintances and friends on the trail. " It was definitely fun to get to run with Dave Mackey and other people I knew from social media." At one point in the race, David shared a few miles with another runner, and they came to realize that they had also shared a few miles at a previous race, the Tahoe 200. "Since it was dark, we had run a few miles together before we realized we knew each other. We got to reminisce and pass the time while running through the woods in the dark."
David not only successfully finished the Western States 100, but also managed to do so in a sub-24 hour period, earning him a well-deserved Silver buckle. David had kept track of his timing throughout the race, but was hesitant to celebrate before the finish line. "I was calculating through the race, but knew that anything could happen....that things could blow up at any time. The closer I got to the finish line, the more real it became." David finished Western States 2019 in 22 hours and 29 minutes. "The realization that I had accomplished the Silver Buckle gave me a surge of energy...I was exhausted, but so full of joy and excitement! The doubts have been obliterated and I had accomplished what I was there to do!"
David's joy is infectious, and will undoubtedly inspire other runners to tackle Western States 2020. For those runners, David suggests, "Get some vert training in....as much as you can without killing yourself!" He also points to his crew of one as a key to his success. "A good crew is great... I'm pretty self-motivated, but seeing my wife for a few minutes definitely helped lift my spirits."
An additional congratulations is in order, because David accomplished all of this as a newly-crowned grandfather! David's first grandchild, Josephine, was born just a few short days before the start line. Congratulations to Grandpa David and his family!
If you'd like to read a more in-depth reflection on David's Western States experience, you can find his article here.
In 2017, Outside Magazine posted an article with a headline that made me cringe; "Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports?" The article delves into the straightforward world of financing an endurance sport, such as racing triathlons or completing a marathon. But it also dives into the sociology and psychology of white collar workers choosing the pain, suffering, and long-term discomfort of an endurance sport as their after-hours hobby.
Looking around at our own Tulsa trail running community, you can see the pattern exists here, too. Our members include business owners, software developers, and mechanical engineers. So why do highly educated and well-paid office workers want to spend their free time getting lost in the woods?
What would possess someone to create an entire race series centered around a midnight start time? Midnight Madness race director Chris Schnelle sums it up: " a unique ultra run, in the summer, with the challenge of beginning at midnight, and the benefit of missing out on a lot of the hot July sun." But such a simple mission came with more complicated logistics and decisions than most racers realize.
"'It's amazing to see each one of these runners push themselves beyond what they thought was possible."