Drinker with a running problem

I’m a drinker with a running problem.

That’s what Brian Wenn at the Runner’s Shop told me, anyway.

And with wine-drinking taking priority over running, it’s been hard to swallow Monty Dortkamp’s advice in preparation for today’s Canberra Times Fun Run. I mean, no wine for a whole week before the run! No way, Monty. I didn’t mind skipping this morning’s glass but, well, Saturday wouldn’t have been the same without a decent red.

Anyway, what would Monty know. I’ve often drunk wine with him, but I’ve never seen him run.

And what about after the race? I won’t run as fast as I did ten years ago. Or, rather, I’ll run even more slowly than I did then. But at 44 surely I can try for a personal best at the bar afterwards. I mean ten kilometre’s a long way to run without a drink.

Even Steve Monaghetti admits to a warm red on a cold night. Could it’ve been a period of abstinence that did him in at Barcelona?

Ben Johnson’s name may be mud. But, my, wasn’t he fast over one hundred metres. His coach, Charles Francis, admits steroids helped a little. And he also says that Ben thrived on late nights and beer.

I guess sprinting’s what you’d expect of a beer drinker. The stuff’s so bulky, ten seconds is about all you can take before a pit stop.

Wine drinkers, though, take a more leisurely approach. Just as a good lunch lingers for six hours – each new course and wine deserves full attention – so a distance runner enjoys the slow unraveling of the course.

There are other parallels between long-distance runners and wine drinkers, too.

Wine buffs are discerning not only in what they drink, but in how it’s served, where it’s served, what it’s served in, what it’s served with, and who else is there.

Runners are just as fussy. They look the part (just as Grange looks more becoming in an Orefors glass than in a beer mug, serious runners colour co-ordinate from head to toe: from reflective sunglasses to Reebok runners).

If you don’t believe me, jog out to Deek’s drive anytime after 6 am on a summer’s Sunday. It’s a blaze of fashion, whizzing and wobbling by in a faint, pungent haze of sweat. More often than not, little bands run and wheeze together, gasping conversations over ten or even twenty kilometres.

Or watch one of the ACT Cross Country Club’s events and count the dollars on five hundred or so feet of varying ages and sex. You won’t find anyone loping around in canvas Dunlops. They’re about as welcome as Ben Ean at a dinner party.

Hang around after and listen to the conversations. They’re as studded with jargon as bizarre as you’ll find at any wine tastings. Just as tasters find berries, cherries, raspberries, and tar in wines made from grapes, runners warm up, warm down, achieve PB’s (personal bests), fall prey to DNF’s (did not finish), run ‘reps’ and enjoy the odd bout of Fartlek.

If you’re serving a ’62 Lafitte, you don’t just whip out the cork and splash it into vegemite glasses. You stand it in a warm place to reach room temperature, allowing the sediment to settle before ever so carefully easing the cork out and gently pouring it into a crystal decanter. Finally you serve it lovingly into fine glassware, then sniff and sip appreciatively.

Similarly, you won’t see Andrew Lloyd, Sean Creighton, Deek or any other top runners strap on their boots and roar off at top speed. Like old wines, they need to be warmed up first. Watch Deek sometime: gentle run throughs, a longer, slow jog, short fast sprints, and then into the long solid grind of the race.

Afterwards, distance runners ‘warm down’: first recovering from the race then heading off for a few easy kilometres. This, according to Monty, gets the blood out of the muscles and back to the heart.

Wine drinkers, too, have a warm-down phase, especially after a PB. When the dinner party’s done, you don’t down forks and rush off into the night. Coffee and cognac ease the drinker to a more comfortable level and afterward, sleep, and a slow start the next day round off the event.

Finally, whether a runner’s high or a wine drinker’s high is the better, I don’t know. But today I’m trying both. Pity the run has to come first.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1992 & 2007