Trevor Soll and his buddies are good at drinking beer. They’re also very good at running. And mixing the two, they believe, results in a very, very good time. Thirteen years ago, they devised the Wineman Duathlon: runners down a beer before and after each mile in the six-mile race. It’s no small feat. But when Soll and his friends started the event in Regina, they were world-class triathletes. Today, the annual race attracts both Olympians and weekend warriors looking for a challenge. Others are just looking for a buzz. “They don’t run,” concedes Soll, now 36 and the owner of a sporting events company, “but they sure can drink.”
Aside from introducing two new distances—a sprint (three miles, four beers) and an “AA” length race (13 miles, 14 beers)—the Wineman hasn’t changed much. It still starts in Soll’s backyard, now in Edmonton, and involves one-mile loops through his neighbourhood. The prize is still a cheap bottle of wine. On a chilly Saturday near the end of October, nearly 50 people have gathered for the 5:30 p.m. start. “I’ve probably done 25 races this year, and this is my favourite,” says Trevor Durie, 34. “Everybody’s got a gift, and drinking and running might be mine.”
Paul Tichelaar, a 27-year-old triathlete who competed in the 2008 Olympics, is also feeling confident: “I didn’t run as much this year, but I had a lot of beer, so I’m coming into this race very prepared.” Four-time champ Shawn Muldrew, a 45-year-old software designer who races at the Masters level, is also in fine form. “In my twenties, I drank a lot. In my forties, I’m doing a lot of running,” he says. “It’s like a lifetime of training.”
The racers, who include 10 women, don’t stretch much, except to plant their six-packs on the ground. Tichelaar, however, “warms up” by drinking a pumpkin pie spiced ale from a local microbrewery.
When Soll reads out the rules, one thing is clear: the Wineman is not for wimps. For starters, you consume a beverage that’s at least 341 ml and four per cent alcohol. Repeat after each one-mile loop. Beer may be shot-gunned (punch a hole in the side of a can and drink, fast) or funnelled; it may not be spilled excessively and must be consumed in the backyard. You may run, jog, walk, crawl or “slither on your belly like a snake.” You may not “purge”—pee, or puke—during the race or within 30 minutes after finishing.
After Soll yells “Go!” the only sound in the backyard is “glug.” Their first beers down, racers toss the cans into a recycling bin and speed off. After the first lap, Harry Moore, a University of Alberta student, is in the lead. Muldrew, the veteran, is a close second. They pound their second beers and take off.
For most participants, trouble hits at lap three or four, because, even if the body is strong, the stomach is weak. At this point, drinking involves a lot of heavy breathing and burping. “The stomach gets full, so you have to burp to get rid of the gas,” says Muldrew. “Everything depends on that.”
Beer doesn’t seem to slow the elite runners down, but others end up almost forgetting they’re in a race, because they’re standing around drinking with friends in the backyard. Feeling full and gaseous doesn’t help and, as Durie puts it, “The lines on the road look a little curvier in the later laps.”
Is drinking and racing unsafe? Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary, says, “If this is what it takes to promote healthy aging and keep people running, I’m all for it—just not for every run!”
For Muldrew, every sober training run pays off. He sets a new Wineman record: 36 minutes, 55 seconds. More than half an hour later, Moore is still working on his last beer. The sips are short; the beer is long. But as he said, in a more coherent state after lap three, “This is a sport that rewards experience. Being only 21, I know that my best Wineman-ing days are ahead of me.” By now, competitors and spectators—all more wobbly—are ready for a party. Soll has a bonfire going, a hot tub bubbling, and food to help soak up the booze. Not that it will help much. As one racer says, the ideal Wineman snack would be “a sponge.”