Beer Lovers marathon, Belgium, result and report by Brian Jenkins

Race Date: Sunday 21st May 2023

I originally had a place on this race back in 2020, and it was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Travel was very uncertain in 2021 (due to COVID regulations). In 2022 I was coming back from injury, so 2023 was to be the year to deal with unfinished business.

How do you describe the “Beer Lovers Marathon”? Well, the marathon part of it is taken seriously, you get the full 26 miles 385 yards (and all that entails) covering roads, trails and hills. Then there is the beer aspect, in a “normal” marathon you can expect about 6 water stations on the route serving water, and possibly energy drinks. In the Beer Lovers’ Marathon each stop provides a different Belgian beer, and there are 15 of them (water is also available). It is fair to say that there is more of a party atmosphere here than with any other marathon I have run (certainly with far more in fancy-dress), Some take the running aspect of it very seriously, but this is most definitely not a P.B. course.

The race takes part in Liège, Belgium (in the French-speaking Walloon Region) and is just a short train journey from Brussels.

The race buildup starts with a race expo (just down the road from the city’s main railway station). It serves a practical purpose: to pick up race numbers and what you need for the run. The race pack included: race number and chip, race number belt, a race baseball cap (pink this year), race socks (instead of a t-shirt), and importantly, a beer cup and holder.

The beer cup is an over-sized 20cl plastic cup (for both beer and water) and is needed for the whole run (as no other cups are provided en route), the beer holder is to hold the beer cup securely to the race number belt during the running sections.

Each year the race has a different theme, this year’s was “Cinema” so the Expo had a few nods towards this, there was a small cinema, and a DeLorean car modified to look like the one in “Back to the Future”, and yes, a bar with the full range of the beers available in the race. All this with runners from around the world, such is its reputation / notoriety (delete as applicable).

On race day, race packs were being picked-up right until the start (just outside the building). Many runners were in fancy dress (in keeping with the theme). At the start line the assorted Forest Gumps, Spartan warriors, lifeguards, storm troopers, dinosaurs (etc, etc) lined-up with the less elaborately-clad (myself attired in green and gold, included) and waited for the off.

After the start runners were directed over the river Meuse and into Boverie Park and then south.

The first stop (well the run grinds to a halt with the crowds blocking the route) was after 2km, for water and pains-au-chocolat (breakfast as they term it). After the equivalent of a Parkrun (5 km or 3 miles) came the first beer stop. Jugs of beer (and water) topped-up the runners’ cups, and once drained, the runners headed off to the next stop.

Beer stop 2 (10 km – 6 miles) was an altogether different beast. It was in an unlit tunnel, with a smoke machine working pretty much at full-tilt, and a full-on dance party taking place. I inched my way through, narrowly avoiding the more exuberant dancers, then back into the light, and started the run to the next stop (over trails), once the refreshment had been dispatched (of course).

The route then heads north and back over the River Meuse into Liège itself, and after running through Liège-Guillemins railway station (a huge chunk of pretty impressive modern architecture) comes the half way point, marked by another beer stop (predictably) and a stage hosting bands, after this the course went north towards the citadel on the hill.

The hardest (and most infamous) part of the race is the Montagne de Bueren and its 374 steps, as we headed in that direction, we were sent up another uphill section, and then back downhill. We found ourselves at the bottom of the Montagne de Bueren itself, and the runners made their way slowly up the steps. Interestingly, during the COVID lockdown a Belgian adventurer (Louis-Philippe Loncke) did the same climb 165 times (carrying a 15km backpack) simulating an ascent of the full height of Mount Everest, and in 65 hours (source: Wikipedia). I, on the other hand, jeffed (i.e. walked) it.

Once up at the top (near the Citadel) the route is more undulating (with great views of the city) and returns to the trails (with more regular beer stops). At about 19 miles the course continues south in a downward direction, back towards the River Meuse (at about mile 22), into town following the river, and the finish line back where you started.

Beer stops are at KMs 5, 10, 12, 17, 20, 22, 24, 26, 30, 34, 37, 39, 40, 41 (counting them, there are only 14 in this list, so there is another one in there somewhere), so very little chance of getting thirsty.

This year’s route differed from the traditional one, due to the widespread building works in the city (they are installing a new tram network). The historic start is at the Liège-Guillemins railway station and then heads towards the Montagne de Bueren (at about mile 3) so pretty much the opposite direction. Talking to veterans of previous runs (and there are many that return year-after-year) the new route (a similar route was used last year as well) was an improvement as it removed the bottle-neck at the bottom of the infamous Montagne. Others said that having this hard slog 16 miles into the run was harder than getting it done in the early miles.

The race is a marathon above all, the social elements (and there are many) cannot take away from the distance. Some of the course (especially on the trails) is only possible in single file, which can be a bit frustrating if you find yourself caught immediately behind a velociraptor (they aren’t as fast as they are in the films, especially after a few miles), but that is pretty much a given, and nobody really cares about times anyway. It is about the journey, and not the destination after all.

With the beer freely-flowing at all the beer stops, it is possible to have more than one, so one of the challenges is to apply self-restraint to ensure that you are in a fit state to cross the finish line (a useful life-skill). The guidance at the start line was to “leave a few beers for the runners behind you”. The stop-start nature of the race also proved a challenge above-and-beyond what you’d experience in most marathons. It also features many more steps (as in stairs) than you might expect.

Does this have a place on your bucket list? Well that’s entirely up to you. But am I glad I did it? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. Would I do it again? Yes, given half a chance.

I finished in 6:34:10 (a personal worst for a marathon), but with 17 beers enjoyed en route (17 more than any previous marathon), so I’ll take that as a P.B. (of sorts), and finished in 692nd place.

Of the 1,590 runners at the startline, 1,146 (about 65%) completed the race before the time cut-off.

The race was won by François Stockmans (of no identified club) in 3:13:07 and Claire Hermange (of no identified club) in 3:51:50.



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