It’s all for the sake of science.
At least that’s what David April, co-founder of the Fishtown Beer Runners, said about the No. 1 running club of 2013 named by Philadelphia magazine.
The destination of the Fishtown Beer Runners on Nov. 14 was Kelliann’s Bar & Grill on 1549 Spring Garden St. The bar was flooded with runners, drink in hand, toasting to their three-mile run that night. April stood on a stool among the sweaty chatter, looking down at the sweatbands and tightly-laced tennis shoes, and raised his glass – all in the name of science.
Started in Fall 2007, the Beer Runners meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. in Fishtown to start their three-to-five-mile run, ranging from about 65 to 100 runners, depending on the weather. After the run, members stop at one of Philadelphia’s bars for a beer.
“I decided to try to train for a 5K when my friend told me about a professor that did research about hydrating with beer,” April said. “We tried it and realized the study left questions unanswered.”
After their discovery, the men tested the study by stopping for a beer each time they ran together.
“Finally, I said to him, ‘This is bigger than us – we have to tell people about this,’” April added.
Enjoying a post-run beer is not just about a reward after a job well done or even motivation to get off the couch on a Thursday night. April said it’s about the science of beer and running, and that’s what makes it special for the Fishtown Beer Runners and for him.
The original study was conducted by Manuel J. Castillo at the University of Granada in Spain, in which he tested hydration levels using beer and water in 16 healthy male runners. After having the males run on the treadmill for an hour, the results between hydration with beer and hydration with water showed – well – nothing. Small quantities of beer neither helped nor hurt a runner when consumed with some water.
But the Fishtown Beer Runners still put this theory to the test.
“The beer is really the hook that pulls people in,” April said.
Working on his 11th marathon, April said people are usually skeptical when they first hear about the group.
“They think we’re not real runners at first,” April said. “But they soon realize we are not only serious about running, but we’re serious about beer. It’s about quality over quantity, and we appreciate that.”
The runners who join April and the Thursday night regulars are usually experienced runners, although the group attracts people for various reasons.
“I started running after a bad breakup,” said veteran runner Jenn Leung. “Philly wasn’t fun until this. It was always work and boyfriend. Now it’s Beer Runners – and sometimes work.”
Keith Tomaselli, who has been with the Fishtown Beer Runners for four years, said his running has vastly improved since joining the group.
“Running Broad Street seemed like a daunting challenge,” Tomaselli said. “And now it’s something I do every Thursday with the Beer Runners. I am a way better runner now. And a way better drinker now, too.”
Most of the runners in the bar that night said they were interested in the social aspect of running.
“It’s about the phenomenon of social running, too,” April said. He said he believes the intimidation factor for beginners is lower when running is discussed across the bar. “When you have a beer with an experienced runner, you form a bond.”
Liz Pagonis, a seasoned runner and member of the Fishtown Beer Runners for more than three years, said she joined in hopes of finding friends in fellow runners.
“Running can be an isolated thing, which isn’t bad, but this adds to your social life,” she said.
Matt Stanley, Pagonis’s boyfriend, said he was there because Pagonis convinced him to start running.
“I like the drinking part, really,” he said. “And it’s much cheaper than calling a cab to get to the bar anyways.”
“He’s the drinker and she’s the runner,” April joked. “It’s all about the balance.”
The group is apparently not hard to miss on the street.
“They all stopped at a red light and it was hard not to notice them,” said marathon runner and member Rachael Harr. “You can’t miss them. I had to ask what it was all about.”
Harr recently ran in the Philadelphia Marathon, completing the 26.2 miles in less than four hours. “Before, I hated running with other people, but the community here is amazing, especially with the big races,” Harr said. “Everyone is there cheering you on.”
In her efforts to reach a new personal best, Harr said she wants to make sure running is still a hobby rather than a lifestyle.
“I love running, but I don’t want to be so set on a goal that it takes the fun out of it,” she said.
In the group’s pursuit of conquering new distances and trying new beers around Philadelphia, April said the Fishtown Beer Runners have volunteered with organizations such as Philabundance and Back On My Feet.
“Word has spread so quickly about us,” April said. “It’s like we have brought a spotlight to Philly and to Fishtown.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.