“Exercise provides a wealth of benefits to brain and body, and is regarded as a protective factor against disease. Protective factors tend to cluster together — that is, people who engage in one healthy behavior, such as exercise, also engage in other healthy behaviors, such as maintaining a nutritious diet and getting sufficient sleep. In contrast to exercise, alcohol consumption is not typically regarded as a health-promoting behavior […] Surprisingly, several large, population-based studies have shown a positive association between physical activity and alcohol intake.” – from the Abstract to the paper “Exercise and Alcohol Consumption: What We Know, What We Need to Know, and Why it is Important,” — Leasure, Neighbors, Henderson, and Young (Front Psychiatry, 2015).
Not too many years ago, when he was still a fresh-faced 18-year-old, three-fourths of the way through his post-high school gap year, Tyler accompanied me to a road race. It was a 5K, hosted by the Asgard Restaurant and Pub in Cambridge. If memory serves, the race went reasonably well for both of us, but what I really remember from the day is that after we had cooled down, Tyler was greatly surprised to see how many runners were congregating at the beer tent and coming away with large cups of amber suds.
Innocent as he was, he had never seen anything like it: a crowd of skinny runners, those paragons of swift athleticism, finishing their races and restoring themselves with adult beverages, despite the fact that it was barely 10:30 on a cold, dreary Sunday morning in March. I don’t think Tyler was shocked by the immorality of it all, but I do think he was startled at this evidence of a hitherto unsuspected affinity of runners for beer.
Back in the present, for the last week or so I haven’t been able to turn around without being reminded of this mysterious association.
Item: out in the world of Flotrack, there was considerable buzz for a new beer mile world record. When I read that Lewis Kent had consumed four beers (one per lap) and finished his mile in 4:47.0, I experienced the odd sensation of knowing that I had a better chance of breaking the actual world record for the conventional mile (3;43), than I did of breaking the world record for the beer-impaired mile.
Item: last Thursday, I attended the awards dinner for the 2015 New England Runner Pub Series, a sextet of races ranging from three to five miles, each one hosted by a local public house. There was plenty of drinking at the dinner, as we celebrated all the running and drinking we had accomplished over the course of the year. Having finished all of the races, I earned a “Pub Series” windbreaker, and I wondered whether it would be a bad influence to wear it at my school.
Item: two days later, my club held its annual recognition party, at which we praise or tease each other for races run, and end up presenting everyone with beer. Unfortunately, I had a last-minute conflict that prevented me from going. As you can imagine, I was bitterly (no pun intended) disappointed by the loss of the the comaraderie and the drinking opportunity. The next morning, Terry thoughtfully presented me with a bottle of ‘Three Philophers’ at our Sunday long run.
Item: last week the New York Times posted an article on their Well blog (The Close Ties Between Exercise and Beer) discussing the link between exercise and alcoholic drinks. The conclusion: runners tend to drink more, and drinkers tend to run more. Anyway, the question is why? Is it because the reward centers in the brain are stimulated similarly by exercise and alcohol consumption? And that raises the question for me of whether running can be considered a “gateway” drug leading to beer-drinking? That would put a decidedly different spin on the role of a high school coach trying to instill a “lifetime habit” of running.
I have my own theories about why beer and running go together like, well like running and beer. I think that running is hard and after we’ve run, we feel like we deserve something for our trouble. At races, we can’t all get trophies, and after workouts, we’re lucky to get a pat on the back. But we can all get beer. Beer is our trophy, and it doesn’t end up in a box in the attic.
A final thought: if the link between more exercise and more beer is so strong, I wonder why advertising agencies don’t exploit that in their campaigns? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad that showed fit runners raising glasses after a race. In fact, people appearing in beer ads always seem to be playing touch football, but that doesn’t really qualify as exercise, does it? What about dedicated (but very social) runners and recreational drinkers? Why not show them?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there’s an untapped (no pun intended) market segment that’s going unserved.