“If you live in Boston, Samuel Adams draft beer (Summer Ale) and Dunkin’ Donuts are essentials of life. But I discovered to my delight that even these indulgences can be offset by persistent exercise.”
Haruki Murakami – What I talk about when I talk about running 2008
The above excerpt is the first time I can recall hearing a connection between beer and running. It wasn’t even me reading the book at the time (though I have now). This was in 2009. My interest in craft beer was stirring and I was told of Murakami referencing Samuel Adams. Back then, I’d never seen their beer in Britain. In the book the author also talks about slaking his thirst after a lone marathon in Greece with glasses of Amstel.
That same year Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days for Sports Relief. In the televised highlights, we saw him accompanied on his journey with his own ice cream van and making frequent stops for cake, chips and beer before ploughing on. Obviously the British diet was designed for long distance running – we just hadn’t realised its true purpose until then. He’s now done 27 marathons in 27 days. Liquid nourishment has played its part.
Sitting at the window shelf of the Craft Beer Co near Covent Garden last year, I watched a group of delivery people unwind after a busy shift. It was hot and their faces were still radioactive from exertion. They weren’t regular postal workers but courier runners that cut through the crowds of central London and get to their clients faster than any vehicle can. They wore cubic heat-insulated backpacks either to keep the goods cool, hot or just to convey them. Each member looked like an athlete and bore the company logo on their lycra outfits. Together, they made pints of Beavertown’s Neck Oil disappear.
My wife completed a half marathon around Hyde Park in 2013. Once past the finishing line, we went to Tattersalls Tavern on Raphael Street. I’m often scolded for drinking too quickly but on this occasion, her pint of Staropramen sluiced down her gullet like floodwater down a storm drain closely followed by a second. I couldn’t keep up.
You can’t walk down a street or through a park in Britain without hearing that woman’s tinny voice off RunKeeper and the panting from her captive as he/she overtakes you on the pavement.
Running is such a challenge but beer’s so damned refreshing and tasty.
For running, my venue is not the outdoors but the temperature-controlled confines of the gym. This is my choice. I have zero patience for obstacles like prams, children, dogs, bikes, road labourers or, god forbid, other joggers who don’t move out of my way. I can’t bear pausing in my rhythm at pedestrian crossings or to be constantly looking behind my shoulder for speeding contractors’ vans. I prefer the gym.
I fix on my own corona’d eyes in the mirror opposite not through vanity but as a means of completing a circuit between me, my outward appearance and my body. It seems to improve posture. When the sweat starts dripping from my fringe to be subsumed by the conveyor belt, I start to picture a glass of beer. Normally my taste is for the cask beer engines but in these conditions, I envisage a cool glass of Kölsch, Pilsner or Saison – a bead of condensation tracing its way down the glass with the all the seduction of a shoulder strap being slipped off.
I seem to run better after an evening on the beer. There are carbs and fibre in there too. I’ve also noticed that on some occasions as I pound away under the tv screens, my sweat starts to smell like a brewery. I love red wine but it’s no good for running. There’s no body the day after – just a vinegar incision to the pit of the stomach, a feeling of emptiness, a mauve blot behind the retina and a muggy head which compromises balance. If you shut your eyes, you might fly off the equipment horizontally.
Everybody runs now. My wife and I run, our neighbours to the left run, our neighbours to the right run and our neighbours opposite run. All relatives of my generation run. Our dog runs.
But what I’ve noticed in particular is the amount of people in London’s beer community (make of that what you will) who run. I’m aware of this primarily through Twitter updates but it’s listed as a passion on bloggers’ websites too. Also, under the brewery railway arches of Hackney and Bermondsey, there are always drinkers in running gear. Swillers of beer never used to do this.
All it takes is a visit to the Great British Beer Festival or any other CAMRA festival to see what might happen if the calories from ale (and the ensuing munchies for salty carbs) are never burned off. You see these humans and they’re impressive. There’s a Homo sapiens at the core of each of those giant baubles of adipose tissue but I kid you not, I’ve seen a man of this stamp scale three tiers of racking to tap a cask on the top level – the scene looked like it had been directed by Peter Jackson!
Here I stress only the feeling and association rather than the medical facts – I’m unqualified to write about such things and to be honest, I don’t want to spoil things by researching the underlying health risks. I’m not trying to say that beer is an important component of running, but it’s the best possible reward and seems able to feed it. This is about the sensory experiences – they’re conjoined in a complementary way: the beer gives the fuel for the run, the run gives the thirst for the beer.