"DID YOU know," Jon Lyons, a sales rep for New York's Southern Tier Brewery, was saying the other night, "that the first person to run a marathon actually died at the end of the run?"
Yo, I'm as big a fan of Greek tragedy as the next guy, and I'm somewhat familiar with the fable of the heroic messenger, Pheidippides, who collapsed upon reaching his destination. But this bit of trivia was not what I needed to hear 10 minutes before sprinting into the deathly heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer evening.
We would be running far fewer than a marathon's 26 miles. Closer to 3 miles, in fact. Yet, the 40 or so fit, svelte runners limbering up on the sidewalk in front of a Fishtown rowhouse looked for all the world that they could make it to Athens.
Hard to believe that they were all ardent beer drinkers.
Or, more accurately, beer runners - an offbeat, suds-filled, semiathletic pursuit that has come into its own this summer in Philadelphia with a beer brewed especially for this weekend's inaugural Philly 10K road race.
Beer-running is exactly what it sounds like. First you run, then you drink beer.
It goes back at least 75 years, with the formation of the Hash House Harriers, which calls itself "a drinking club with a running problem." Today, there are hundreds of HHH chapters worldwide, including one in Philadelphia that runs weekly.
The activity reached new levels in the city, however, with the formation of the Fishtown Beer Runners. Two Fishtowners, Eric Fiedler and David April, founded it in 2007 after reading about a study by a Spanish researcher on the rehydration benefits of beer consumption following exercise.
Their first official run, to a Northern Liberties bar, drew four participants. Since then, they've loped to scores of bars throughout the city, attracting as many as 100 to their Thursday night runs.
There is no official membership or dues (though the club often collects donations for charity); its goal is merely to promote exercise and "the responsible enjoyment of quality beer."
Also, no Spandex.
After last week's run to the Trestle Inn, at 11th and Callowhill streets, April told me, "We get all kinds. Architects, nurses, teachers, coders. They come from all over the city."
And beyond. I met one guy from Chicago who, while on a business trip to Maryland, drove up I-95 to join the run.
The attraction is not just the running. Or the beer. Nor is it the competition, because there is no official timekeeping, and some "runners" may walk a few blocks.
Instead, beer-running simply provides a genuine sense of camaraderie. Strangers encourage each other, then raise toasts together. It's a club that fosters neighborliness and friendship.
"I've actually officiated at three weddings of Fishtown Beer Runners," April said. "I'm not just talking about hookups after a run, though I'm sure that's been known to happen. These are people who actually got married after meeting during a run."
Maybe it's something about the happy marriage of endorphins and alcohol - whatever, beer and running has taken off in Philly and beyond. The Torresdale section of the city now has a beer-runners club that heads to local bars on Wednesday nights, and there's a beer-running club in Passyunk that pounds the pavement on Tuesdays.
In Baton Rouge, La., beer-enthusiasts run with Ales N Trails; in Newport, R.I., they call it Run & Chug; in Knoxville, Tenn., the Flying Pints.
Lyons, who started a Facebook group called Run215, believes that there's a natural relationship between runners and those who enjoy good beer.
"People who are health-conscious are also the type who will drink craft beer," he said. "When you drink a beer after a run, it's restoring and refreshing. It just seems like a natural relationship."
As evidence, he pointed to Saturday's Philly 10K, and the release of its official beer, Philadelphia Runner's Ale, by Philadelphia Brewing. The run, which drew 3,000 registrations, sold out in just 70 minutes last May, perhaps partly because each participant gets one glass of the commemorative ale, described as a hoppy session IPA.
Philadelphia Brewing was a natural choice for the brew as it has sponsored a number of runs over the years, including an annual Fried Chicken Run from the Kensington brewery to American Sardine Bar, in Point Breeze.
Chicken . . . beer . . . running?
Don't ask. Instead, do as the Fishtown Beer Runners did at the end of their run to the Trestle Inn. Belly up to the bar and raise a toast to Dr. Manuel Castillo-Garzon, the Spanish researcher who outlined the benefits of a postexercise beer.
"To the Professor!"