The other day I hosted Sarah Kiriliuk and Luc Zoratto for a frank conversation about Canada’s new risk guidelines regarding alcohol and the two-drink-per-week limit for safe consumption. The conversation, since the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, made their recommendation has been divisive and vocal, illustrating how large a role alcohol plays in our lives.
“Good times we celebrate with alcohol, tough times we mourn with alcohol, it’s been ingrained with us for so long,” said Zoratto, a Boston Marathon finisher who has been six years alcohol free. His daughter is 3 years old and he posts often about drinking and running on his Instagram handle, @marathon2sobriety. “Alcohol is pervasive in society, but I’ve also seen a huge change in the perception of alcohol around the new guidelines and I don’t think it’s about ‘sober vs. not sober,’ but rather just being mindful: why do we drink? This week has been good for paying attention.”
Sarah Kiriliuk is the founder of SomeGoodCleanFun and a runner who once held a benefit jog called #DanforthStrong two days after the 2018 shooting in her neighbourhood. Luc calls her a celebrity in the alcohol-free world, and Sarah has strong views. When I mentioned that some runners, including Olympians, have defended their drinking, she said: “That says something about the pervasiveness of alcohol that an Olympian would defend a carcinogen.”
She has begun a campaign that she calls Rethinking Drinking.
“When you stop and think about it, it’s not necessarily that what you crave is wine, but rather you want someone to rub your feet,” she says. “We’ve normalized alcohol through ingrained messaging: ‘have some wine, it will solve all your problems.’ But we know that’s not true and it’s important to remember that and find healthy solutions to our problems. The idea is to eliminate involuntary actions.”
Kiriliuk, who stopped running two years ago though vows to return—she says her running became punitive, and she associated it with punishing herself and looks to explore that relationship—says runners doing Dry January may want to extend their streak into February, and beyond. (As a runner currently practicing Dry January, I found her words rang true).
“You don’t need alcohol to enjoy an engagement and it’s just about ingrained re-programming about how we live and behave,” she says. “To be clear: the new Canadian guidelines say that zero drinks is the best for you, and two drink-per-week is low risk—there is still a risk of cancer with alcohol consumption, it’s only that the risk goes down with the less you consume.”
Luc says that it makes sense for the running community to pay special attention to the new study.
“In the running community, I think we all want to be healthy. We’re all in the same family,” he says, “At the very least the new guidelines are positive because it tells us all to take a second, pause, and think about our relationship with alcohol.”
With many races now offering a free beer at the finish line and run crews famously enjoying post-long run brews at brunch—one of the most famous and largest global run clubs is the Harriers, who bills itself as a drinking club with a running problem—it could be time for runners to examine their relationship with booze. “You work hard and you need to reward yourself, I get that culture,” says Luc, “but why do you need that drink and what’s the going to do for you? I think it’s just about asking yourself questions, which is always something healthy to do.”
Runners are health conscious by nature and we train, and abstain and work hard, because we have goals that we’re trying to achieve. We all want to feel good and enjoy success, both in and out of our running shoes. The attention around the new alcohol guidelines help highlight the alcohol conversation for our community. People love drinking. Runners included. Everyone needs to make their own decisions, but all we’re trying to do is promote the conversation. Be conscious of your choices. Celebrate your free will.
“When it comes to drinking, just like sugar or anything else, it’s all about making healthy choices,” says Sarah of SomeGoodCleanFun. “This is not a conversation about sobriety, this is a conversation about wellness and health and that’s important for everyone—whether or not you run.”