“If you drink alcohol more than two times per month, you are basically telling your body/coach/teammates that you really don’t care about becoming a better runner,” Tweeted Jonathan Marcus, a popular running coach and trainer in Portland, Oregon.
“I strongly disagree,” responded Natasha Wodak, Canada’s all-time fastest female marathon runner. “I drank two or three glasses of wine every WEEK in my build up to the Berlin Marathon, where I ran the Canadian record.”
Our readers are mixed on running and booze. Some can’t imagine giving it up while others, like myself, cut out alcohol during the final weeks of race training. Sometimes I think I quit drinking as much for the mental edge as I do for any actual health benefit, but I also may lose that mental edge in feeling stressed out, anxious, sleepless and deprived. Clearly if Natasha can have some Pinot before setting the Canadian record, and Lanni Marchant drank a beer the night before she broke Silvia Ruegger’s 28-year-old marathon record back in 2013, then I can drink a few beers in the weeks before Hamilton, trying to cross a marathon finish line under 3:25.
Dr. Greg Wells is my friend and the senior scientist in translational medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children, and training for his first half marathon in three years. “I have found that I don’t feel good when I drink and that my performance the next day both athletically and professionally suffers when I have even one drink the afternoon or evening before,” he says. “I will have the very occasional glass of wine, but only one or two per month.”
Is there not something to be said for booze, I asked him. Can it do anything good?
“I think that in general if you’re running for health and fitness then having a drink from time to time is not going to affect your running, but I also think that if you have performance goals then alcohol is not going to serve you well and you’re better to minimize it,” he said. “Also, there is no safe consumption limit so any alcohol at all increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
That’s a tough pill to swallow and, as usual, moderation is the key and there isn’t any simple answer to serve every runner. You need to find what is best for you and, while Natasha can drink wine in the weeks leading up to a major race, Eliud Kipchoge—arguably the greatest runner of all time—doesn’t ever touch a drop. I got Jonathan Marcus on the phone and asked him to explain his Tweet.
Does drinking really equate to sabotaging your race?
“More and more the science and evidence point to the fact that the optimal level of alcohol is none,” says Marcus, adding that while the running record book is lined with runners who famously enjoyed wine and beer, cyclists in the 70s also used to smoke like chimneys, and you never see that today. He predicts that booze will—or at least should—exit from our sport the same way.
“My big beef with alcohol is that most people drink it late at night and that impacts sleep and sleep is the number one recovery tool and so alcohol is counterproductive to the training process,” he says. “We want to ensure we have high-quality sleep when pushing our bodies; if you’re going to have one or two, it’s best to drink late morning or early afternoon—happy hour at the very latest, because the closer to bedtime you consume alcohol, the more you’re flirting with disaster.”
Champion runners both drink and don’t drink alcohol. Mediocre runners also fall along the same lines. Do you abstain from booze prior to your goal race, or do you see a glass of wine at the end of a day or a beer after your long run as a prize for a job well done?
Let us know what you think as this is an important conversation with no clear cut answer for scoring your best possible finishing times.