Run. Drink Beer. Sleep. Repeat.
Gordon catches up with Søren Runge, President of the Mikkeller Running Club.
Gordon | 30 Jan 2019
I’d been wanting to find out more about the Mikkeller Running Club (MRC) since I heard about its existence a couple of years ago. Drinking beer and running are two of my favourite pastimes but they aren't obviously compatible with each other. So I practically leapt at the chance to interview Søren Runge, the club’s co-founder and President.
When I caught up with Søren he was in the process of putting the finishing touches together for a music, art, food and beer festival in Copenhagen this August. Despite this he didn’t look like a man who had more important things to be doing than talk about running. Dressed in official MRC kit I got the impression that there was always time for beer and running.
Who is Søren Runge? In his own words.
“My name is Søren and I am the overall manager of the Mikkeller Running Club. I work at the Mikkeller head office here in Vesterbro in Copenhagen where over the last two and a half years the Mikkeller Running Club has become part of the company. It’s actually a company in the company and it’s my job is to run the running club.”
Søren is an old school friend of Mikkel Borg Bergsø, the former school teacher turned internationally acclaimed brewer and founder of the Mikkeller brand. Before beer, Mikkel was a keen runner but this didn’t answer the question of why a brewing company would start a running club?
“We started running together three or four years ago. When we started running it was not to make a running club. It was more like we needed to do something because we were drinking a lot of beers, eating well and we were putting on a lot of weight! [laughs].
We thought to ourselves this is not good, we need to do something about it! Since Mikkel used to run and I used to be a football player in my younger days we knew that running would make us at least lose some pounds.”
But it wasn’t quite so straightforward. As anyone who has embarked on a fitness regime knows it is all too easy to get distracted or disheartened and then give up.
“We didn’t have the self discipline to do enough running in order to actually lose the pounds. But we found that running with other people meant that you felt like you had to go out and do it. So we thought that if we had more than one friend [i.e. each other] to run with then my other friends would help me get out and run.
We thought let’s try and have a running club but let’s not forget about the good things at the same time. The idea was very simple. We posted on Facebook to see if people wanted to run and if people wanted to join us, then we would give them a free beer as a thank you.
That was how it began and I think the first time when we met at Mikkeller and Friends in Nørrebro in Copenhagen there were eight people out of whom two were family members!”
The results have clearly paid off. Søren looks as fit as a butcher’s dog and Mikkel had noticeably lost weight when I saw him at last year’s Copenhagen Beer Celebration. Unsurprisingly, what’s worked for them has also proved quite popular with others. To say the least.
“The people that were there said that this was nice, let’s do it again next Saturday. I think then maybe 30 people showed up and I think the third time we ran there was 100. That was when we got the idea that this could become something.”
Søren and Mikkel quickly established the ground rules. They were quite simple; you all went for a run together and would be rewarded with a free beer afterwards.
“We wanted to add some structure to the running but not let it become too serious. It should never be like a real athletes club where people are training for competitions and stuff. The main thing was that people would meet for beers and enjoy the fact that we all did some physical exercise.”
Starting in Copenhagen meant that Mikkeller had the bars and the beers and they knew that it would be popular. But they weren’t prepared for the positive reaction from the media and requests from people outside of Denmark to have their version of the MRC.
“There was a guy from Sweden calling and asking to be part of it? That’s how we started the different chapters and it’s taken on from there. For the company [Mikkeller] I think that it’s good to tell people that you need the beer and you need the running. Even if you are a great enjoyer of beer you can still do some physical exercise. You can be a sports person and enjoy great beer. Those things can go together very well.”
The MRC exists as proof that enjoying beer doesn’t have to be at the expense of living a healthy and active life. It’s a message that has continued to be popular with 500 people turning up at the most recent run in Copenhagen and 160 MRC chapters worldwide. Initially, there was an idea that there would always be a training run on the first Saturday of each month for all chapters. But Søren seemed fairly laid back about that being an actual rule.
“The other chapters join in with the spirit of this idea. For example, the Seoul group run every Tuesday with over 100 people turning up each week. But then I recently saw a picture of the Baltimore group and there were maybe six people there. We love every chapter and they are all very different. So long as you run and drink beers we are happy.”
It’s a bit like Park Run only this is for beer lovers and has a typically laid back Danish feel to it. I asked if, given the size of some of the groups, that everyone gets a free beer after their run?
“In Copenhagen the Warpigs Brewpub is our clubhouse so we ask the other chapters to try to find a clubhouse. This is a bar which is willing to hand out one free beer for all who take part.”
That could be a tough sell to a bar owner but Søren seems positive that giving out a free beer to the runners can actually work for them.
“We hope that they get some media attention. And obviously they get new customers and we’re hoping that this is a win win situation.”
It seems to be working out that way. Some bars even give the runners food with their beer. I guess thirsty runners make good customers?
“Yeah, on the Saturday trainings we start at 11 and we run and then we come back for the beer. Usually, people are going home by 5, 6 or even 7 o’clock!”
Beer running clubs can be traced back to the Hash House Harriers of colonial Kuala Lumpur who saw running to and from bars on a Monday evening as being a good way to ward off the excesses of the weekend that was and earn a thirst for the week that followed. I asked if these had been an inspiration behind the MRC.
“I didn’t know about the Hash House Harriers when we started but obviously since I started this I’ve started looking into [the history of beer running]. We’ve also been running with the Copenhagen chapter of the Hash House Harriers. They’ve visited us. Every time I meet with these guys they tell us not to forget that they have the biggest running club in the world! That’s fair and that’s fine. They built this principle before we did and they have this same laid back relationship with beer and running.”
Although Søren smiles as he said this it makes me think that he’s up for that challenge. Despite the size of the MRC they are still serious about it being inclusive and not, err, serious.
“We welcome any runner. Whether you can run one mile or one hundred miles. The distance is not the main thing.”
It’s the community aspect that really stands out so I asked whether he’d seen the Beer Runners film [see footnote].
“Yeah, we had a run with them last year. We like running with other clubs and try to do with the running clubs like we do with the colab beers.”
If you are into running and beer then Søren’s job will already sound like the dream ticket. His role at the MRC means that he gets to travel the world to run and drink beer. The jammy git.
“I’ve been running with the people in San Diego where we have the Mikkeller SD brewery. When we had the grand opening we started with a Mikkeller Running Club. They didn't have a chapter there so we wanted to start a chapter that day. Around 250 people showed up with dogs and buggies. It was crazy! We were expecting maybe 50 people. It was so hot and people ran and we had the beers after and it was fantastic. It was also surprising to see how well informed people were about us. It was great. We also went to Portugal this summer for the second year where we do something called the Mikkeller World Beer Run which is a 5 or 10km run with beers along the way by brewers who are friends that we ask to brew beer just for the races. So you can only have that beer if you take part in the race. We’ve done that in Portugal twice and I am amazed by the support that we get.”
By his own admission Søren wasn’t a runner before this all started and he’s already clocked up five or six marathons (including one where he and Mikkel were fuelled entirely by beer!).
“It’s been good for me. It’s becoming a habit to run and drink beer and I lost the kilos that I needed to lose. Finally. It’s fantastic, a win win situation!”
At a time when people are well aware of the negative health implications of consuming alcohol there's a nice balance that running brings. You can have a healthy lifestyle and this can also include beer.
“In Denmark people would think I drink too much if I had a beer every day but now it is more normal and beer has a completely different status.”
Clearly this helps when the beer you’re drinking is good beer, made with quality ingredients by people with integrity and passion for what they do. The MRC even has its own beer. Well, wouldn’t you if you were a world class brewery? The inspiration for the recipe came from asking their Facebook followers what they wanted from a post-run beer. Words like fresh, fruity and refreshing were popular.
“I do like a very fresh beer like the Mikkeller Running Club Beer. It needs to be ice cold, fresh and fruity for just after a run. Then when you’ve been sitting at Warpigs or wherever for a couple of hours then I may switch over to something darker.”
For the nutrients. Clearly.
So where does the MRC go from here? It turns out that they’re also building a social network for people to share their running and beer experiences.
“I think in the future that this is going to be the gathering point for all the MRC's. You can like people’s runs. You can also post what you’ve been drinking. The app will help you balance between running and drinking beer. Every time you open it it will tell you to drink more beer or run more! You can post your running and races and all the beer you’ve been drinking.”
With that I think we’re both ready to go for a run and have a beer.
You can find out more about the Mikkeller Running Club at mikkellerrunningclub.dk, follow them on social media or download the app to see if there’s a chapter near you. If not you could start your own.
Run. Drink Beer. Sleep. Repeat.
Footnote: For those of you who haven’t seen this yet it’s the story of a guy who takes up running following the breakdown of his marriage. His runs aren’t for any other purpose than to get out of the house and socialise. He soon hears about a study by a Spanish professor who examined the effects of drinking a beer or two after a run and concluded that there were physiological and psychological benefits to be had. Cue the formation of the Fishtown Beer Runners who, each week, meet up for a run then go to a bar for a beer. Or three.
This piece was originally published in our 2017 Autumn journal. Thanks to Søren for the chat and photography from Mikkeller.