I was once fond of telling people, “If you ever see me running, please pick me up. I’m running from someone.” This is still a mostly accurate portrait of my feelings about running, but it’s not an indictment of my physical abilities, either. I ran track for eight seasons – indoor and outdoor – during high school, but, as a sprinter, the extent of my running was limited. The furthest I’ve ever run competitively was 400 meters. When high school ended 17 years ago (whoa), so did the running.
On the other hand, the beer consumption ramped up. Now, I write about beer and other spirits and it shows during bathing suit season, prompting my doctor to tell me, “Hey Matt, maybe log some miles on the track/road/treadmill, won’t ya?”
And so I laced up my shoes and hit the road. Turns out, those gym clothes – sweet for sitting on the couch – are decent for actually working out. My wife, in her internet savvy, found a race that best-suited my new can-do approach to health and sustained living: The Ipswich Ale Brewery 1K Road Race: The Race for the Rest of Us.
Both running and craft beer are no stranger to zealotry and thus have, perhaps, the worst internet message boards. It’s no wonder they get along. Craft beer races have popped up all over the country, from Maine to Missouri, Boulder to Bend. Breweries like Dogfish Head, Smuttynose, and Boulevard all have their suds poured at finish lines across the country.
In other words, sometimes the appeal for alcohol supersedes that of a runner’s high. But, a 1K is easy, and the post-race beer sounds great, especially if I could conclude my run and heal my burning calves with an Ipswich Oatmeal Stout, which is the best oatmeal stout on the market.
As a journalist, or even just a person, I needed to know what sort of pace I’d need to run to not fully exert myself, but to also not look like a complete fool. As a professional observer of human behavior, I knew that serious runners also need serious music to propel them through the tough stretches of a race. Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcasts would not do.
A 1K is the equivalent of 1,000 meters. 1,000 meters equals roughly two-and-a-half times around a track. Because the 1,000 is a race run by professionals and amateurs, my first inclination was to look online to determine a baseline for how fast this race would be.
The world record for 1,000 meters was set by Rick Wohlhuter in Oslo, Norway in 1974 in two minutes and 13 seconds, which means he could’ve listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and finished before Fogerty. Good male high school runners in my area finish the race around two minutes at 30 seconds. This puts the shittier runners somewhere around three minutes, and shitty is probably exactly where I’d fall on the “What Kind of Shape are You in” chart.
Then again, if you’re a shitty track runner, you’re also probably not that way because you spend Saturday nights pounding Busch Light cans; You’re also likely not a slightly overweight 35 year old with chronic pain almost everywhere. I was ready to aim for the four minute range.
Now it was time turn to the music for the run. As I previously mentioned, runners get a certain boost from the music they listen to while running. Usually from up-tempo, encouraging, empowering little ditties. Genre mostly doesn’t matter. Playlists range from Top 40 to Classic Rock; Hip hop to EDM. But runners want “Eye of the Tiger” more than “She’s Always a Woman;” Science has concluded that you run faster to Kendrick Lamar than Peter Cetera.
My intent was to make a one-song playlist, timed perfectly to begin as the race gun sounded and to conclude as I crossed the finish line into the arms of a paramedic or a bartender. Ideally, I was to finish before the song; Worst-case scenario was a punishment of silence. I wanted a song that would serve as my hype-man, so I opt for “New God Flow” by Pusha T and Kanye West from the latter’s 2012 compilation album Cruel Summer.
I was “trained.” I had my “playlist.” I had even bought new sneakers. I was ready.
The day of the race, it was pouring outside, with threat of a thunderstorm. This was, I suppose, either good news or bad news. Rain, it is said, is the ultimate equalizer in sports. It evens the playing field. Then again, during my training for the race, if I had seen an overcast sky or even just “partly sunny” on my weather app, the only response was always: “Screw it. I’m not running in this.”
At the race, outside Ipswich’s restaurant The Brewer’s Table, people were dressed in costume, which was a memo that this writer missed completely. There were Minions, Mario & Luigi, Forrest Gump, and Wonder Woman costumes. People even dressed their dogs. If I’d have known, I’d have come full Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson with a cigarette and typewriter strapped around my neck.
There was another journalist there interviewing runners, and taking notes and pictures. This was not time for Capitol-J Journalism, though. You’ve gotta run the race.
After check-in, we were encouraged to “carbo-load” with a beer, so I chose Riverbend, a traditional German-style pilsner. It had a nice earthy tone with the hops, but it was a little more effervescent and bright than typical pilsners. Not too bad, and at 4.6% alcohol by volume, a perfect beer to slug before running alongside a person dressed as a strip of bacon and a guy in a scuba suit.
The rain started to fall almost as soon as the runners were called to the starting line. I put my headphones in, cued up some Kanye.
It hit me. I’m the only one taking this run seriously. I was torn.
There was a part of me that wished to play it cool and blend in with the crowd; But there was another part of me that was competitive and wanted to just demolish these fools with their costumes and shenanigans. I decided to run with the first group up front, who were in decidedly better shape than I was. They didn't know that, though, because, as I said, this was not a race they were taking seriously.
We ran, following a Tapmobile, essentially around the block, passing a few restaurants and a convenience store with a hydration station. Folks cheered with beers in their hands. Some of the runners danced and cheered alongside them, slapping high fives along the way.
With the conclusion of Kanye’s verse in “New God Flow” approaching, the finish line came into view. I considered going full-out. Could I have given it one final sprint, and blown past the other runners, and the Tapmobile, and been first through the balloons and the checkered flags? Would that have been too much?
In the end, I decided it was. Instead, I opted to cruise through the finish line, brow unblemished by sweat, lungs intact, and head straight for the beer.
Why hurt myself?