If you have ever been in a conversation with me, then you most likely have heard me mention beer, running and trails—although not necessarily in that order. Usually it is the running and trails first, then the beer … but not always … that’s a different column.
If you listen closely enough when people talk, you will hear their passions come up quite often in normal conversation. Interjections of food references? That person is probably a foodie. After-work stories of how a dog ate homework? Most likely a teacher. Awkward public political badmouthing? Strong indication that person spends way too much time on social media either trolling or trying to convert people to their side.
My favorite topic of conversation after a long day in the mountains or after a gnarly trail race? Definitely, beer!
In my extensive experience—sure, you could call me a professional—lots of runners, in particular the MUTs*, are as dedicated to their craft beer as they are to their running. And, let me tell you, that dedication is strong!
In Boulder, Colo., The Rocky Mountain Runners gather every Monday to run up Green Mountain, and then pack 60-plus thirsty runners into Southern Sun Pub & Brewery, sometimes racking up beer bills approaching $1,000 (OK, there is some food on that tab, too). I have witnessed it with my own eyes … and contributed to the consumption myself.
In Colorado Springs, where I live, the Pikes Peak Road Runners (PPRR) Brewers’ Cup was formed in 2016 to get more runners to participate in PPRR races while promoting local craft breweries through camaraderie, sportsmanship and competition. So far it’s been a big hit. Now in its second year, the Brewers’ Cup has almost doubled in size since its inception, with 26 teams of 15 people each participating this year. Almost every record for local race participation has been broken, and runners (drinkers?) are filling breweries to maximum capacity afterward.
But why? What is the attraction to this carbonated elixir after running in the hot summer sun or in the biting cold of winter? Some say it is counterproductive to consume something that is said to dehydrate you after you have already dehydrated your body plenty from running. Others say you should replenish with chocolate milk to get your protein and calorie stores back up. But what memorable experience can you recall that started with the line, “Hey, let’s go celebrate with a cold glass of chocolate milk!” Mmmmm, nothing like getting your throat really phlegmy with bovine-udder juice to cap off a successful run.
Chocolate milk has nothing on beer!
I’ll be honest, the first thing I crave after a long run or hard workout in the mountains is a hoppy juice bomb of an IPA or a tart and refreshing Gose. It contains the key ingredients you need for recovery: antioxidants from the hops to keep those damaging free radicals at bay, carbohydrates to restore those that were expended while cranking up steep climbs, B vitamins so no need to take those supplements or get a shot. Plus, beer is typically up to 95 percent water, so hydration is happening at the same time. It’s a win-win! Sure, you might get a little buzz, but that’s just an extra benefit.
But beer is not just about getting a buzz; it is so much more than that. As I get older, I realize that a race itself might not be the main reason I am at a specific location, although it is definitely the reason for the gathering. I tend to look forward more to the after-party, to sharing a beer with fellow competitors and friends, to retelling the stories of the event and to quelling the screaming of our aches and pains with an imperial IPA. Rather than separating after a race to just dwell, in our head, about our sore legs, beer brings us all together to celebrate.
Or commiserate. Because let’s face it, running is not easy. In fact it is one of the most difficult acts I have ever carried out in my life. Sure, it’s a voluntary suffering. And you don’t have to suffer as much if you just slow down, but then you would be sacrificing a sense of accomplishment and self-fulfillment for a temporary respite from pain. BUT IT HURTS!!! Why would anyone want to suffer if they could avoid it?
Take this little test if you don’t agree with me: Find your closest hill or mountain and run up it as if you are running a vertical K. (What is a vertical K race? It’s a super-steep hands-on-knees “run” up the side of a mountain.) I guarantee that your body and your mind will scream at you to stop. Your rational mind will question why you are doing this to yourself and your body will just plain revolt by filling your legs with obnoxious amounts of lactic acid.
Beer can be an analogy for life. It can be thought of as the good times and brief moments of respite among the struggles. For runners, it is a way to decompress and relax after pushing your body and mind to their respective limits.
And, yes, if you neglect to practice moderation (especially after running), it may end badly. But having a post-run beer unites and allows for the free flow of stories, ideas and even embellishments to details, even if only in good fun.
Trail running is all about community, and beer has allowed me to imbibe in that community, connecting with people from other cultures and backgrounds when the traditional communication barrier of language is not always successful.
I’ve been fortunate to sit with competitors, friends, teammates and acquaintances and share a beer in awe of the surrounding mountains—usually after a run up them—such as the mighty Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland; the beauty of the Purple Mountains Majesties, commonly known as Pikes Peak from the hippie town of Manitou Springs, Colo.; the towering volcano of Mount Fuji in Japan; Fairfield Peak from the quaint town of Ableside in the Lake District, UK, with the infamous Martin Cox; the depth-perception-defying Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau from Grindelwald, Switzerland; the glorious glacier-covered grandeur of Mont Blanc from Chamonix, France; and “the mountain with its head in the clouds,” Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands—although that one also included Scotch!
So, next time you are grinding up that mountain or into your second or fifth hour of a trail run and your legs are screaming, remember that beer will taste even better and more refreshing at the finish line. And be sure to use the fancy stemmed glassware and extend that pinky while drinking good beer with good friends!
* MUTs = Mountain Ultra Trail runners … woof!