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On Your Mark. . .

Perhaps you caught the viral video of a British wine seller conducting a blind tasting of 25 wines at various stops as he ran the London Marathon. He stopped and blind-tasted a new wine from a crystal glass at every mile and still finished the marathon in 4 hours. Yes, 25 wines and a 4-hour time in the London Marathon – impressive, to say the least. As skeptical as you may be that someone could do that, there is a compelling and occasionally strange legacy of running (especially marathons) and wine.

Currently, the Olympic torch relay is making its way through France to light the Olympic Cauldron in Paris, signaling the start of the XXXIII Olympiad. Famed biodynamic winemaker Gérard Bertrand recently carried the torch through Narbonne in the Languedoc. According to some reports, one former marathon champion even prepared for running with the torch by training with a full bottle of wine, given its similar size and weight.

This intersection of wine and marathon running isn’t just a modern curiosity. A hundred years ago, when Paris last hosted the Summer Olympics, this blend of athleticism and oenophilia was already in full swing.  Alibaba AI, a sponsor of the 2024 Paris Olympics, went through troves of historical footage from the 1924 Olympics to create marketing material. A small but important detail had been lost to time with its grainy black and white technology - the colorized footage of the marathon reveals that many runners were not sipping water but gulping down red wine at refreshment stops along the race route.

To be fair, the first winner of the modern Olympics in 1896, held in Greece, is rumored to have paused mid-race to enjoy a cognac (or possibly table wine) – a libation that didn’t slow down the 23-year-old Greek shepherd, Spyridon Louis. However, mid-marathon libations took a rather potentially poisonous turn in the 1904 and 1908 Games, with runners drinking a concoction of cognac and strychnine. The belief was that the rat poison would enhance physical strength, and the sugar in the cognac (or champagne) would provide an energy boost. It is heartening to see that by the 1924 race, straight wine, not cut with rat poison, was all the rage, and sports medicine was evolving.

Today, you can live your bacchanalian Olympic dreams of marathons and wine at events like the Marathon du Medoc in Bordeaux, which allows 6.5 hours to run a course with 23 wine stops, including one at Lafite Rothschild, all while dressed in costume. Alternatively, the Bacchus Wine Half Marathon and 10K at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, England, offers a similar experience. Participants run through the vineyard’s white chalky soils, finding five wine stations along the route or if you prefer sunnier locales, consider heading to California for the Run Sip Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon & Rosé 5K. These events offer two options for the oenophile runner: the Half Marathon navigates terrain through farmland and vineyards connecting Napa to Sonoma with appropriate local pairings, and the Rosé 5K provides rosé refreshments along the route.

A quick Google search reveals numerous other wine-themed runs in Texas, British Columbia, Alsace, and more. Costumes are often encouraged, and all events require joie de vivre. While these runs sound like a delightful blend of fun and exercise, I'd personally be ready for a nap after such a grueling multi-stop wine tasting and run and as strong of a blind taster as I am, 25 wines in 4 hours whilst running a marathon is a daunting prospect. That said, if training like a 1924 Olympic runner is your goal, I’d recommend reds in a lighter style – perhaps a charming Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie or a refreshing Cabernet Franc from Chinon. For whites, try an unoaked white like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, or sparkling wine. Just remember to leave out the strychnine and feel no pressure to blind taste the wine or run while holding a full bottle like a torch.

So, lace up your running shoes, uncork a bottle, and perhaps consider planning your next marathon in a vineyard. Cheers to combining the joy of running with the pleasure of wine!

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