Of the Oregon Beer Growler
The runner’s high. You’ve likely heard of it. Maybe you’ve even experienced it. This exercise-induced state of euphoria has eluded many, however. Some are much more likely to find that joy and exhilaration at the bottom of a pint after pounding the pavement. Happily for those casual runners who are moved to sign up for the occasional 5K primarily for the after party, there’s a new series of regularly scheduled runs tailored just for you.
The Oregon Brewery Running Series offers the all of the trappings of an official competition: a finish line, a guy with a megaphone who yells ‘Go,’ and even bibs you can personalize with colored markers in order to look legit while huffing and puffing around Portland’s neighborhoods. But the experience is pressure free. There are no personal timing chips or gold medals. And true euphoria hits at the end when you’re surrounded by fellow runners congratulating each other for completing the route back at the pub.
Despite Portland’s abundance of breweries, the series didn’t originate here. It all began five years ago in Minneapolis and expanded to Oregon after a Minnesota transplant recognized the program his friend had launched back home would fit perfectly in the Pacific Northwest. “I mean, the beer capital of the world; arguably the running capital of the world,” described Nathan Freeburg, events and marketing manager of the Oregon chapter. “I said, like, ‘This is where we need to have the Brewery Running Series.’”
Freeburg’s motivation to bring the beer run west was also, he admitted, a little self-serving. “Moving out here was really hard because I was staying home with the kids and not working a normal office job. And I was very involved in the running community back in Minnesota, so it’s just like this is how I’m going to get connected and plugged in. Throughout my life, running has been such a critical focal point of my own social life and community,” he explained.
So the running guy found himself a beer guy to help round up breweries that would serve as the start and finish of each route. That’s where Drew Klinsing’s inquisitive taste buds came in. The self-described foodie in his friend group, Klinsing’s longtime hobby has been exploring all things edible in Portland. He’s the go-to for dinner recommendations and would make a pilgrimage to the Oregon Brewers Festival even when living out of state. Freeburg, having relied on Klinsing’s advice for date night destinations in the past, reached out to see if he’d be interested in a partnership and together they brought six breweries on board last fall. There are now four seasons of runs that last for four straight weeks with breaks of about two months in between each segment.
During a recent event held at Lompoc Brewing, some 70 participants — most in tank tops and nylon shorts in preparation for temperatures that promised to soar into the upper 80s that day — searched for a sliver of temporary shade near the pub’s back patio awaiting Freeburg’s announcement that they could take off at 11 a.m. Unlike a massive event like the Starlight or Shamrock, the course remains open. Cordoning off streets would cost thousands of dollars, which isn’t feasible when there aren’t also thousands of runners paying registration fees. But that simply means abiding by the rules we were taught as preschoolers: look both ways and follow directions. There’s actually an added benefit of maneuvering through an uncontrolled environment — you get to experience different neighborhoods and interact with people in a way that an event with tens of thousands of bodies crammed together doesn’t allow. For instance, about a mile into the Lompoc route along North Williams Avenue, participants carefully hopped over a garden hose stretched across the sidewalk as the homeowner sprayed the willing with skin already glistening from sweat. Nearby, a toddler motivated passersby with claps and high-fives from the edge of his yard.
“A good way to think about it is like a craft run,” explained Klinsing. “So Shamrock is like a mass run. What we’re trying to do is a craft run where it would be craft beer and we’re also partnering with local craft artisans.”
Beyond supporting those entrepreneurs, another objective of the series is charity. Two fitting organizations benefit from a portion of the entry fee: Portland Parks Foundation and Oregon Brewshed Alliance, which works to protect forests and waterways. “Because we know that Portland cares about social justice — it’s an important thing that our community is a part of as well,” said Klinsing. “People don’t just want to run for no reason. It’s fun to run for beer, but it’s also fun to run when it’s giving back to our community in a meaningful way.”
But perhaps the most significant outcome of the program so far is the community it has fostered. At the Lompoc run, most attendees had sweated through more than one of the 5Ks in the past and many had a handful of runs under their elastic waistbands. A few had finished nearly all in the series. Freeburg and Klinsing have found that bonding comes more easily to strangers who’ve shared a journey — even a short one — and can then talk about it over a beer. That’s why the group size will never swell to several hundred people. The average turnout of 125 isn’t too big to hinder those interpersonal connections from taking place, but that number is just big enough so that you feel like you’re part of something larger than yourself as the collective energy builds.
“One of our goals for this is around that sense of community and fun and togetherness,” Freeburg said. “We’re going to stop doing this if — it’s a bit hard to measure — but if people don’t hang out after, it’s probably a good sign that they’re not having fun. They don’t feel connected. If there’s not much repeat business, that’s probably another indicator that we’re doing something wrong.”
Based on the lingering crowd at Lompoc, there’s no danger of that happening anytime soon. And many participants seem to discover that if they can complete one 5K, they’re ready to take on another. Active events that incorporate beer like this one may just end up taking an important, yet often unfulfilled, role as health advocates in craft brewing culture. After all, it’s hard to beat that sense of accomplishment when reaching the finish line — no matter how long it took the first time out.
“One thing I love about running in general is that everyone has different goals. Everyone can achieve — like whether or not you’re finishing a 15-minute 5K or a 55-minute 5K — that could be the fastest you’ve ever gone. And in some sense, you have the same sense of, ‘I did this. This is amazing,’” Freeburg said. “And it really doesn’t matter your skill level.”
Runner’s high, achieved.