Miles & Malbec: Marathon-Running Somms

These sommeliers prove it’s possible to balance rigorous marathon training with the demanding lifestyle of the wine industry.

As a “casual” marathon runner, it’s not uncommon for myself and my husband, a busy sommelier, to be like ships passing in the night. On Sunday mornings, right before my long runs and following my husband’s long nights, we typically only exchange a brief “good morning,” both too exhausted for actual conversation.

As I head out to begin my usual 15–20 mile trek, he heads straight to bed.

I’ve often said I could never manage long-distance running if I had his job. And he couldn’t work in the wine industry if he was a marathoner. But in recent years, as the industry has shifted away from overindulgence and toward health and fitness, several high-profile somms are proving that you can live a lavish life of miles and Malbec.

“The restaurant industry has changed a lot in my career,” says Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, and a winner of Wine Enthusiast‘s 100 Best Wine Restaurants of 2016. “Twenty-plus years ago when I was a young sommelier, no one was taking care of themselves. No one was being healthy.”

Bobby Stuckey
Bobby Stuckey


Stuckey’s completed more than 20 marathons since the mid-1980s, including a finish of 2 hours, 45 minutes at the New York City Marathon in 2008.

“I was kind of this weird outlier 20 years ago when I was running marathons then, and I continued that all the way through today,” he says. “I think it’s one of the reasons why I’m still on the restaurant floor every night.”

Several of the country’s master sommeliers will compete in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, including Carlton McCoy, wine director of The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (also a 100 Best Wine Restaurants winner for their extensive by-the-glass program). He’s adjusted the typical training regimen to fit the realities of his job at the hotel.

“My nightlife is non-existent, and I have to adjust my diet completely,” says McCoy, who prefers to run shorter distances like half marathons to limit the time off from work needed for recovery. “I drink less alcohol and only consume very high-quality wines because I appreciate it much more.

“I can’t stick to a set training schedule, because my life is too crazy and unpredictable. I try to run or bike at least 4–5 times per week and save longer runs for my days off.”

Carlton McCoy
Carlton McCoy

Stuckey, meanwhile, believes nights on the floor can aid recovery by helping to “flush things out.” But, he says, unexpected injuries can complicate things

“If you have something like a stress fracture, which happened to me six years ago, or this year I had to deal with plantar fasciitis, the recovery is much slower,” he says.

Master Sommelier and wine educator Brian Cronin will tackle all six major world marathons this year—Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. He raises money for the American Cancer Society with his runs, having lost his mother to cancer several years ago. This year, he’s trying to raise $50,000.

Cronin also races for the American Liver Foundation, in memory of his grandfather.

“I’m doing the races anyway, so to affect people as much as I can in any way or help people out, to me, is really important,” he says. “Because it’s affecting my family, and I know it’s affecting a lot of other families.”

Brian Cronin
Brian Cronin

Yannick Benjamin, a New York City-based sommelier at the historic University Club, will race in his seventh New York City Marathon this year to raise money for his nonprofit organization, Wheeling Forward, which helps develop fitness programs for people with spinal cord injuries.

Paralyzed from a car accident in 2003, Benjamin opted to do the 26.2-mile race in his regular wheelchair last year, as opposed to his usual push-rim racing chair. He says he did it to prove that people with disabilities can still race without expensive equipment, and to bring awareness of the issue of hiring disabled people in the hospitality industry.

“[Wheeling Forward] just gave me another incentive to keep doing marathons,” he says. “So now, not only do I do marathons to keep myself healthy and [because] it’s a passion of mine, but also I do it because it allows me to raise money for my nonprofit.”

Yannick Benjamin
Yannick Benjamin

Like McCoy, Benjamin adjusts his training to match the realities of his work life.

“When there are grand tastings I go during the week—and they’re usually in the morning—but my workouts are always before,” Benjamin says. “If I were to drink before and then go have a workout, it would never happen.”

Denise Clarke, an Austin-based certified sommelier, shares her love of fitness and wine on Instagram using the hashtag #fitsomm. She’s run for more than three decades and has completed three marathons, two ultramarathons and more than a dozen half marathons. She’s an early-riser, usually running at 6:30 am.

“It’s my best thinking time,” she says, adding that sleep is critical. “I’m mindful not to have too many late nights. Being in Austin, I’m big on hydration. I am one of those weirdos trying to be discreet with the spit cup.”

But the night before every race, Clarke enjoys a glass or two of wine.

“It relaxes me,” she says.

Denise Clarke
Denise Clarke

Dr. Matt Tanneberg, a sports chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist with Arcadia Health and Wellness Chiropractic in Phoenix, advises anyone training for a marathon to pay attention to their wine and water intake.

“Drinking alcohol dehydrates your body,” he says. “[Also] you are going to be going through phases of dehydration through your training. Drinking any kind of alcohol before an exercise should not happen.

“If you are going to have a glass of wine after a workout, make sure to drink plenty of water. This will help limit the amount of dehydration. I would recommend drinking two-thirds of your body weight in ounces for anyone that is training for a marathon and drinking wine during the process.”

But there is a silver lining. Tanneberg says there are some benefits to drinking wine in moderation during training.

“Wine itself has antioxidant properties that can help to flush out oxidizing agents in your body,” he says. “If you drink wine in small quantities, you can see the benefits of the antioxidants.”

That’s great news for those of us who look forward to our daily glass of wine.

So whether you’re a time-strapped somm or a social drinker who may think you could never fit a marathon into your schedule, think again. With the right hydration, diet, sleep and recovery plan, you can get the best of both worlds.

To give it a shot, check out the race finder at Runner’s World.

Published on August 18, 2016
Topics: Health and Wine

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