Interview of an Intoxicated Runner
Last week I had a slight buzz and attempted to randomly email 10 random athletes who intoxicated themselves on various substances WHILE COMPETING in their chosen athletic event. Dock Ellis has no email; he is dead. (“The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t.”) Ron Artest, of Hennessey fame, would not answer his Laker’s fan site email address. (“I kept it in my locker. I’d just walk to the liquor store and get it.”) Jeremy Mayfield (“What are you calling illegal?”) drove a race car while on meth, but who here gives a fuck about NASCAR? So. But human being and conceptual artist (in my opinion, as I feel artistic perception presupposes its own dimensionality, beyond involvement or signification or even the substitution of stimulus for sensation, etc.) Joe Kukura answered the mail. Thank you, Joe.
Last July, Joe ran the San Francisco Half Marathon (13.1) miles while drinking 13.1 beers, or one beer every mile along the way. I decided to interview the man.
It seems you have removed the form and movements of running and drinking from their normal contexts, selected their material and spiritual natures and combined them, thus creating art. And any art that becomes physical I consider to be the sublime. Do you consider yourself a conceptual artist?
No, but I’m flattered by the analogy! I consider myself a humor blogger. That medium, though, holds outsize importance in contemporary culture. Any old nobody with a DSL connection, if they’re funny enough, can have a driving role in how vast numbers of people are amused — if for an hour, a day, a week, or more. (Ever forward an LOLcat jpeg? It was produced by an un-famous random person, yet it may have ultimately amused thousands.) It’s a great blessing to be writing during this era.
I suppose there is a train-wreck “self-abuse as art” strain in this project, a la Lux Interior from the Cramps or on that old “Jackass” TV program. And I will admit to bringing a philosophical or intellectual tone to discussions drinking booze while exercising — but that is meant only as a humor device. My main creative motivation is that I just want to be someone who has a good blog.
How many times have you vomited during a run?
Only twice, both times consecutively within a few minutes at the end of the 13 Beers in 13 Miles run. Other times I’ve thought I might, but didn’t. On occasion when I did, I was desperately nauseous and wanted to vomit for awhile, but it took until 45 minutes until it happened.
Do you train with alcohol, or is the alcohol only for the day of the performance?
For most runs, I don’t train much with much alcohol — I’ll have a shot or a glass of wine beforehand, or drink to test some new concealment or booze transport method. I’ve normally saved my binge-drinking for the “big days” where I’m going to pull some exercise stunt and blog the whole thing.
I may need to change this. I’ve heard legend of a “30 Pack Marathon” run annually, in which participants theoretically drink 30 beers while running a 26.2-mile marathon. I’m going to try and find this race and attempt this feat, but I don’t know if I can really do it. I don’t know if ANYONE can really do it. But I assume I would really need to work on tolerance while running to be able to pull off such a thing successfully, so this summer I will probably be training with a LOT of beer.
A desire is something you want. A drive is something you MUST do. Is running while hammered a desire or drive for you?
More a desire. It’s really hard to stick to an exercise plan!
Along that same subject: From my research, it looks like you carry some form of beer container with you. You refill it along the way? Have you considered a Camelbak? Or just having cold beer strategically stationed along the way?
I’m actually becoming more of an advocate for the Camelbak — primarily because its advantages in handling pesky beer foam. When running, one’s up and down motions will inevitably foam up one’s beer. Using my traditional Nalgene runner’s water jug, I can hold the beer pretty steady with my wrist — but I have to hold the beer in my hand the whole time. The Camelbak is not handheld, and the beer foam will rise to the top of the Camelbak’s internal liquid container bag. Meanwhile, the drink-tube is fed from the beer at the bottom of the liquid container bag, so you’re drinking the non-foamy beer. The CamelBak is perfectly designed for beer.
And do you know what they call the liquid container bag inside a Camelbak? That this is called the “bladder”. I swear to God I am not making that up!
What’s your favorite alcoholic beverage and why?
I’m really in a gin & tonic phase right now, but this tends to change over time. It’s previously been Beam & Coke, and before that 7&7. Why is it currently gin & tonic? I think because gin & tonic is an old man’s drink, and I am becoming an old man.
I know you’ve had a lot of media coverage, understandably. How does it feel to inspire so many Americans?
Well, it may more “amuse” than “inspire”, but it’s still totally the reason I do this. My whole self-esteem is tied strongly into my number of pageviews. This is all a pretty silly idea, but it somehow really resonates with people and that’s pretty flattering. It’s humbling too, but of course I can’t say that because humility is inconsistent with the persona I’m trying to create here. It just reminds one again how lucky we are to live in this do-it-yourself media era, where you don’t need a publisher or financial backing to get a broad audience.
We know that distance running stimulates endorphins and enkephalins, causing a near orgasmic state of euphoria, and alcohol increases dopamine, leading to intense pleasure—so what does it feel like to have both going?
I don’t know what endorphins and enkephalins are, but I know firsthand this phenomenon is real. If running and drinking alcohol simultaneously, the euphoria and pleasure best collide around mile three, and last until mile six. After mile six, the alcohol begins to win out with me and the fatigue and dehydration set in. I guess I just need to work on my tolerance!
Do you have an opinion on E books?
Book publishing is not a totally dead medium, but it’s sort of on life support and in a transitional phase. Surely e-readers and e-books will eventually make books widely read again. But right now, who reads books? The book is — right now — less relevant than it’s ever been in our lifetimes. I used to hope to publish a book someday, but now my blog gives me a greater readership than any published book would have been likely to get. Blogs and electronic media have replaced books as the preferred “something to read”. I occasionally see an e-reader on the bus or train, but they’re not terribly common — more people are using their mobile devices to listening to tunes, do work, or playing with web apps or games. I just got an Android phone, and it has an e-reader on it, so I’ll probably start using that. But it’s going to take getting those things into everyone’s hands for books to be come relevant again. That still won’t be for awhile.
Art is always striving for the terrain of the unsayable, and I think you have done an admirable job in that respect, so please ignore this question if you want: What are you trying to communicate?
It’s primarily a stunt for amusement and attention — as has been much of the great art throughout our history as a people! But there may be a 5-10% component of my readership who might actually drink while exercising or playing sports, and I do hope to furnish them with legitimately good and helpful advice.
What causes you despair?
Well, I’m from Cleveland, and seeing LeBron James and the Miami Heat doing really well in the NBA Playoffs has been a huge source of despair for me lately. As of my writing this, Miami are two games away from winning the NBA title. It’s sort of like your fiance dumping you and now she’s engaged to Mark Zuckerberg, you’re just waiting with dread for the inevitable day to come, and it feels pretty horrible.
Have you ever not finished a race or a drink?
I have surely many times abandoned drinks in bars. I’ve never not finished a race, but the 13-beers-in-13-miles was pretty horrible for the latter half.
Is alcoholic running taboo? Is it a threat? Have you had any official trouble pulling off a running/drinking endeavor?
Inevitably I will! But I haven’t been yet. Certainly it’s something they don’t want you doing in a structured road race. In the San Francisco Half Marathon, I actually waited until the race was over, and then ran the exact same course. At this year’s Bay to Breakers, race, my goal was to get arrested because they’d been publicly threatening enforcement — but the threats were all a bluff. Every race is different. I haven’t been hassled yet, but I’d have to say it’s inevitable.
Thank you for your time. I know you are busy drinking and running, not to mention drinking while running. Any last thing you would like to add?
Thank you for talking to me! And folks, please let me know of any crazy road race events or alcoholic throwdowns you people are engaging in out there! I need to identify more events on my blog, instead of just pulling stunts on my own.