Probably the Best Running Club in the World
I speak to Mikkeller Running Club founder, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø about how the world's best craft beer brewery also built the world's biggest community of runners
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Carlsberg might have the famous slogan, but it’s fellow Danish brewery Mikkeller than many say produces the best beer in the world.
It’s still quite the leap to suggest that a craft brewery could succeed in building a broader worldwide network of running clubs than the household-name multinational mainstays of the sport like Nike or Adidas, but it’s a truth, nonetheless.
Mikkeller Running Club boasts over 200 chapters around the world (down from around 250 before the pandemic), with clubs on every continent. An estimated 30,000 fans of both craft beer and running participate in MRC events.
Founder and head brewer of Mikkeller, and co-founder of the MRC, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has run with at least 50 of the chapters.
MRC wasn’t the first time Mikkel combined beer and running. An accomplished, high-performance runner in his teens, Mikkel was awarded a running scholarship to Kansas State University. At the same time, the USA was experiencing a craft beer boom. Mikkel took note.
Tired of the rigorous structure and demands of elite running, however, he quit the sport completely at 22 years of age. He returned to Denmark to become a physics teacher and took up homebrewing, eventually founding Mikkeller in 2006.
Mikkel’s return to running
Originally known as the ‘gypsy brewer’ due to brewing beer at other breweries, the lifestyle of travelling, drinking beer, pairing food, and long hours led to Mikkel becoming “a little bit too fat.” His words.
This caused Mikkel to launch straight back into running a half-marathon without any training and he “was completely awful.” His words, again.
“I hate not being in shape. That’s pretty much what got me back into running.”
From there Mikkel and his childhood friend Søren Runge started Mikkeller Running Club from their Copenhagen base in 2014.
How reflective of the brewery is the running club?
“The running club is very well connected to our approach to beer. It's about having fun, doing things together and not taking ourselves too seriously, which is what the company's built on.”
“That's also why it's a running club for everybody. It's non-exclusive. You don't have to be a member, you don't have to wear the right clothes, or even drink the right beer. As long as you're a good person, you're very welcome.”
Mikkel on the precarious balance of selling beer and encouraging running:
“As a brewery, we sell alcohol - it's not doing anything good for people drinking our products - but then we made the running club, and it's actually doing something really good for people.”
How are there chapters in Chile, Australia, and South Africa if there are no Mikkeller bars there?
Wherever you are in the world, you contact the MRC and tell Søren (the president of the Mikkeller Running Club) that you want to be the captain and that you have a clubhouse - a local bar willing to be the home base for runs.
A few distinctive t-shirts in the international mail later - and maybe even a visit from Mikkel or Søren - and you have a new chapter of the Mikkeller Running Club.
It’s a great logo in the same Sharpie-esque language (design nerds can go off at me in the comments) as the brewery logo. There’s a middle finger motif adorning the back of the shirts - you only see it when a MRC member overtakes you. It’s fantastic marketing.
“We don't spend money on marketing at Mikkeller - we never have. [MRC] is the thing that we do. The thousands of people in our running club? They’re all ambassadors.”
“A lot of them were in the beer world, then they discovered that this brewery has a running club, so they started running because it looks fun.”
“We call them our ambassadors because they talk about Mikkeller in a positive way and they invite their friends to the running club, so I think marketing-wise it has a very, very big impact on our business.”
The aspect of the global network of Mikkeller Running Clubs that I most want to highlight is how it can help you find like-minded people in any corner of the world. If you like running and high quality beer, that is.
I ran with MRC Los Angeles in their early days, back when there was a Mikkeller bar in DTLA. Sadly, that bar is no more, but the chapter persists, running from The Hermosillo, the birthplace of Highland Park Brewery, and a wonderful beer-focused bar in its own right.
When I return to London, I look up the MRC London runs and try to join them. I know I’ll be able to get a run in and have a nice beer while socializing with people - strangers until they aren’t - with similar interests. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
Of all the MRC chapters, however, it was pictures from the Kazakhstani edition of MRC that impressed me the most, so I did what I do and I got in touch.
Ruslan Tuganov, captain of MRC Almaty, Kazakhstan
“I was in Cannes, France when I noticed people with MRC symbols jogging along the promenade and then enjoying beer at nearby cafes. It sparked wild envy in me.”
“I googled the club and it seemed like a great idea - a balance between my habits and a healthy lifestyle.”
With no Mikkeller beer available in the former Soviet republic, Ruslan ordered 30 bottles direct from the brewery in anticipation of the group’s first run in October 2018. Two people showed up. But he persevered.
Now MRC Almaty averages 50 runners each time, and Ruslan is rightly proud of the community he’s built.
“The most important thing MRC has given me is the understanding that many, like me before, were afraid to start running alone. It's easier in a group.”
Next time I’m in Kazakhstan, you know who I’ll be running with.
Mikkel on Running
As a science teacher and a brewer (brewing is also primarily science), I asked Mikkel if there are any common links between his worlds of science, brewing, and running.
“Science requires some kind of structure. It's hard to be a good scientist if you don't have structure, and that's the same with brewing - there are some things you need to do at the right time.”
“I think the best sportspeople have structure. If you want to become a good runner - on an elite level - you have to have structure in your training, your sleep, what you eat.”
“I don't think it's a coincidence that a person like me, who's extremely structured to be honest, also became a good runner.”
What ratio of runner to brewer are you now?
“In my daily life it's a lot more brewing, running the company, but I have to do five hours a week cardio training. That's been my goal the last two years, and I try to do most of it running.”
“I've always loved running. I'm addicted to it, and I can't live without it. I think it would probably be easier for me to live without brewing than without running.”
To give an idea of the self-imposed structure that Mikkel speaks of, his previous goal was an hour of cardio a day, and his complaint was when he missed a day through travel, he felt like he had to make up the lost time, and no matter how much you love running, few want to spend two hours doing it in a hotel gym.
What is a good run for you?
“I know in the first five steps if it's going to be something that I am doing because I have to hit the five hours a week or if it's actually going to be enjoyable.”
“If I want to like the run, I won’t race, so I'm not too exhausted afterwards. It's then I have time to think and clear my mind a little bit. That's when I love running.”
“When I'm extremely busy, they’re actually the worst ones - when I start thinking too much, and I don't have my notebook or phone, and I have to remember 10, 15 different things when I get back... I run faster because I’m afraid of forgetting before I get home. So I try to not work in my head when I run, and just enjoy it.”
“I actually love running by myself. That's also why I love treadmills. There's no thinking on a treadmill. The only thing we have to do is take the next step. I love it.”
Ways to make running suck less covered today:
Make the most of the monotony of a treadmill
Find like-minded people to run with
Have a beer after your run
Try not to think too much
Run to clear your mind
Try not to go too fast
Run for your health
Running Sucks Haiku of the Week
I’ve got shoulder pain
It’s stopping me from running
Running ain’t all legs
Yeah, I’ve got pretty bad tendinitis in my shoulder. It’s been building for a while. I hope it doesn’t need surgery but that’s the direction it’s all going in. Bah.
Shoulders (and the arms attached to them) are really important for running, so do pay attention to yours and strengthen them accordingly.
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