In it for the long run

The author: In it to win it? Let's just say in it to finish.

The author: In it to win it? Let’s just say in it to finish.

If I can remain injury free, sometime in 2015 I will compete in my 40th running race.

It will likely be a 5K (3.1 miles), and I will cross the finish line quite a while after the first runners have completed the route, chugged a couple bottles of water, and had their breathing return to normal.

And that’s OK, because I’ve found benefits well beyond a medal or some other prize: the satisfaction of completing a goal, doing my best, and living healthier than I otherwise would.

Which makes me an advocate for research that examines the health benefits of regular exercise and especially running. After all, when you think about it, running was probably key to mankind’s evolutionary success. (It’s a long story, but one worth checking out – as in reading Christopher McDougall’s bestseller book, “Born to Run.”)

Unfortunately, there is bad news from the world of running: Federal funding has come to end for one of the greatest studies of all time, the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study, which has produced a treasure trove of health-related research data, including 65 peer-reviewed articles over the past 20 years.

This study, which set out to identify the many ways that running and walking affect our health, has been nothing less than landmark, resulting in valuable knowledge of how running and walking – and how much of each – help reduce heart disease, arthritis, and other maladies that take years off our lives.

But funding from the National Institutes of Health has stopped just as thousands of participants have reached their 70s and 80s, meaning we are on the brink of some life-extending knowledge.

And that makes so compelling the recent Wall Street Journal commentary suggesting that the running industry is the logical player to step in and perpetuate the study, at a cost of less than $1 million a year. (See “A Study That Can Help in the Long Run,” by Kevin Helliker.)

We’re not asking for a lot here. The National Sporting Goods Association reported, for example, that the sale of running/jogging shoes in 2012 – just shoes, mind you, and not all of the other apparel associated with running – totaled $3.04 billion.

C’mon, Nikes of the world. Pony up. A study that perpetuates the notion that more exercise is better can only help you.

Take it from someone whose closet floor – littered with years’ worth of high-end running shoes – is evidence.


I like my beer to be local

The lobby of Badger Hill Brewery, in Shakopee.

The lobby of Badger Hill Brewery, in Shakopee.

One of the things I really enjoy about the ongoing craft-beer boom is the unique and creative taprooms that are springing up all over the Twin Cities area.

I like to imagine I’m entering the modern-day equivalent of a speakeasy – minus the police raids and mob ownership of yore, of course – when I patronize an industrial-area or garage-like craft-beer taproom.

Craft brewers – usually defined as small and independent beer producers – are finding ways to use dormant spaces like these to set up their beverage laboratories as they aim to serve people interested in exploring new flavors and varieties.

Locate and enter a nondescript industrial building located near a Shakopee glass factory, for example, and you are in the taproom of Badger Hill Brewing, with its gleaming, stainless steel pipes, tanks and other brewing vessels on the other side of a huge, glass wall.

Sip on a High Road Everyday Ale while you imagine that on weekdays, working inside that brewery-under-glass, are a family of mad doctors in lab coats, concocting not monster mash but brew mash. “Dr. Beerstein, phone call on line 1,” you picture them announcing over the PA system.

This is the ambiance of your typical craft-beer brewery these days.

Yes, there’s a renaissance in beer brewing, and it’s happening in our own back yards. U.S. beer sales overall may be in decline, according to a recent article, but the glaring exception is in craft beer, which has 2,700 breweries and new ones almost every week – 1,000 new brands launched last year, many with higher-than-traditional prices. Americans are drinking less, but are choosier about what they’re drinking, it seems.

Minnesota is no stranger to this trend. According to the Brewers Association, for the year 2013 Minnesota ranked 17th nationwide in number of craft breweries. But it ranked 10th in barrels of craft beer produced per year, at nearly 368,000, helped no doubt by the exceptional Summit Brewing of St. Paul.

This not only has led to small startups like Badger Hill, but also new and magnificent brands and taprooms like Surly Brewing’s.

And here’s one more impressive spin-off to the craft-beer boom: the announcement this month (February 2015) that the 168-year-old Rahr Corp. is planning a $68 million expansion of its malt manufacturing facility in Shakopee, largely because of the craft-beer craze, which is expected to help cause a 5 to 10 percent increase in demand for malt, a beer ingredient, over the next decade.

Drink unique and flavorful local beer and create jobs in the process: Now, there’s an economic stimulus I can get behind.