To that end, Smith and the BBC development team began trading rounds of samples and feedback with world-class long-distance runners Desiree Linden & Meb Keflezighi in an effort to fine-tune the beer for wider release. The resulting 26.2 Brew is a 120-calorie ale with nine grams of carbs, sodium (from the Himalayan sea salt) for electrolytes, and a citrusy coriander nose. It was available at Monday’s marathon in Boston, and will be available at half a dozen others on the US circuit this season, and distributed nationwide.
Christine Bowen, vice president of programming and partnerships at the advocacy nonprofit Running USA, connected Marathon Beer Company with organizers of several of those races. She cites “a rise in post-race festivals at the road races, where people are now crossing the finish line and looking to stick around and celebrate” as a key driver of beer’s newfound traction with the running set. The notion of the post-race party has been around for ages, but Bowen says it’s really come on strong in the last three years -- the same timeframe in which athleisure beer has exploded.
So why isn’t Mich Ultra absolutely dominating the road-running scene then? Well, it sort of is -- it’s part of the reason the brand has grown over 80% since 2014. Ultra casts a big shadow, to the extent that several sources were reluctant to name that beer on the record.
Yet there’s still room for new running beers. One explanation could be that “endurance athletes love the connection to the human spirit related to the event,” says Dr. Justin Ross, a Denver sports psychologist and semi-pro runner. The sense of personal achievement that comes with athletic accomplishment -- be it finishing your city’s 5K Turkey Trot, or qualifying for the elite Boston Marathon -- “creates a powerful identity structure” that makes you keen to “adopt materials and product experience that collaborate upon that identity.”
Landesberg came at it from a different angle. "At that finish-line moment, I think it's less about what people are drinking, and more about their values,” she said. “I've talked to athletes who say like, ‘Mich Ultra hits all of the components, I just don't want my photograph taken drinking one.’”
In other words, sipping a Sufferfest Taper at the Lake Tahoe Relay or a 26.2 Brew at the post-race party in Beantown may feel more special than a (comparatively ho-hum) macro would. “It’s another notch on the belt,” Ross offered.
Of course, no matter how legitimate and well-established athleisure beer becomes, moderation is key. If recreational runners -- the “99.9% who are not elite” -- frame their miles as a way to “earn” their beers, “that can be a pathway to disordered eating,” said Ross, who, on Monday, ran Boston for the second time. “We don’t need to be depriving ourselves of food and drink and then ‘rewarding’ ourselves” with it upon the completion of exercise. And regardless of how strenuous a race was or how much you think you “deserve” it, you really ought not have more than a drink or two, given the well-known dangers of overconsumption after fitness.
In other words, no matter how well-engineered a beer is for the modern runner’s enjoyment, it’s still beer. Smith and the Marathon Brewing team were reminded this firsthand when they jokingly pitched their counterparts at the Boston Athletic Association on handing out 26.2 Brew at a specially marked hydration station along the racecourse.
“We tried!” said Smith, who ran the marathon for the fourth time. “But there were some hurdles we just couldn’t jump over.”