Why Drunks Make Good Ultra-Runners.

You ran how many kilometres? It's a question I usually get in relation to being an ultra-runner. Ultra-running is competing in any distance above the standard marathon distance of 42.2k. I don't really count 50k as being the ultra distance, for me it starts at 100k, or 50 miles. How did I arrive at this insane sport? Being a recovering alcoholic helps. The attributes it takes to be an ultra-runner are quite similar to those of being a drinker. Let me explain:

The power of the puke.

Being a boozer usually involves a lot of vomiting, so does running 100 miles. Therefore I am at an immediate advantage over my fellow competitors in that I have had years of practice in the alley-ways of various bars around the world. After-puke banter in the drinking realm is normally related to eating is cheating. You cannot refuel mid-session and must wait until the mandatory fast-food binge at the end. (see fuelling)


Night owls.

Some ultra races are run at night, or very early in the morning. Being locked-in to pubs in rural Ireland and then having to walk 5 miles back to my house when most people were sound asleep, honed my ability to stagger around in the dark.


Never quitting.

In the way I used to say, “just one more beer,” I now say, “just one more kilometre.” Hardcore running means continuing when every part of your brain and body yells at you to stop. Alcohol addiction is the same; drink till you drop.


Always searching for the high.

It has been said that running is like a drug. That is actually true. The runners' high is like a synchronisation of body and mind into one graceful, fluid movement that sheds the runner of all the stress and clamour of modern life. Drinkers do the same by “unwinding with a pint.”--which is fine, unless of course you are me and the unwinding started at 7:30 am. There is a very good reason that people with depression are told to exercise frequently.


Alone time.

I was never a social drinker. Yes, I did drink with others, but I much preferred time alone with my booze. I also prefer running alone. It allows me to run at my own pace and to stop and take stock of my surroundings when I need to.


Running to/from something.

Most ultra-runners are absolute characters that could tell tales around the campfire till the sun comes up. A lot of them have deep scars from addiction/family/relationship issues. Drinkers are the same. A lot of running/drinking has to do with escape. Luckily, it's not why I run these days. I run because I can.


Living by the clock.

In the same way a runner is checking splits, the drinker is checking the time until the bar is closing. The similarity between finishing under a certain cut-off time and getting last orders in are close.



A good drinking session, like a wedding, funeral, Christmas party, or birthday, requires a fuelling strategy. In Ireland we talk about events like this for weeks in advance and one of the most important factors is lining the stomach. This involves a hearty fry-up of greasy sausages, eggs, bacon and other sorts of meats that the outside world deems hazardous for the health. Once said heart-stopping meal is consumed, it is essential to start easy, 10-15 pints of Guinness should be sufficient before moving onto whiskey, gin, vodka and Red Bull, Irish car-bombs, or a combination of them all. Then to finish it all off, one is required to eat the mandatory curry-chips/burger/kebab/deep-fried-chicken to absorb the booze before passing out on the sofa fully dressed. Running an ultra is not so different. A light, high-caloric breakfast is paramount. Followed by an energy gel every 30-45 minutes throughout the race. Electrolyte, calorie, and fluid intake must all be monitored with scientific zeal. One missed gel could unravel the whole show. Then there are remedies for when the stomach turns. This can be combatted by the pre-planned antacids you are carrying with you. Unlike eating is cheating (see puking), eating is a must in ultras. Doesn't really matter what you put in there, if the engine is hot enough, anything will burn. Post-race etiquette is passing out in the sofa fully clothed in compression gear.

All of the above has been tried and tested by a non-professional. Do not try it on the trails or in a bar near you.