Will run for beer: running the Dogfishhead 8K

Nothing tastes better after a good, hard run than an ice cold beer. There’s truth in all of those country songs. The only think that might taste better is several rounds of ice cold free beer, brewed less than 100 feet from the finish line. Even better still is pairing this with live music, a celebratory party atmosphere, and pretty good swag from the brewery. All of this and more greeted me at the end of the Dogfishhead brewery’s Dogfish Dash 8K in Delaware.

Beer and running go together so well. For whatever reason, science I guess, beer tastes so incredibly amazing after a run. Dogfishhead, a brewery known for trying creative and interesting ideas, took this pairing to heart and created SeaQuench Ale, a brew designed to be thirst quenching and provide recovery benefits with some salt and electrolytes like a sports drink. To go with this brew and to match their passion for off-centered ideas, their race is an 8K, a fairly odd and uncommon distance short enough to go quickly, but long enough that some preparation is needed. It’s not a race to try hungover, but the post-race party can surely help give that problem for the next day.

Getting in to the race was not easy. It is massively popular — probably thanks to the free beer and atmosphere, so it sells out fast. I registered in the first hour of it opening up back in April, and when the race finally came around in September, I had almost forgotten about it. Thankfully, because of some unseasonably warm weather, we actually had a chance to enjoy the area and hit Delaware’s beaches.

Delaware is a strange state, people speak and act like it’s the far south. I even heard someone ask for sweet tea at a restaurant. The climate goes with the culture and for most of the year, it gets very warm there. Only about 40 minutes inland from Delaware’s popular beaches like Rehoboth (where we stayed) and Dewey (which is dog friendly so we visited), Milton is home to Dogfishhead’s massive brewing operation. The town is tiny and feels very crowded during the race, but a nice course explores the commercial and residential parts of it in depth. The brewery is by far the largest attraction in town and the massive fermentation vessels sticking up out of the roof and off the sides tower over the town. Most visitors probably head to the Rehoboth brewpub which has all of the beer and good food, because the actual facility is mostly for production. A small merchandise store, tap room, and couple of tables are the only things inside for visitors. Outside is a nice front lawn with tables and chairs for more of a tailgating atmosphere. There’s also a steampunk styled treehouse hanging out over the lawn.

When I picked up my bib and gear the day before race day, I discovered tastings are actually free, and you get four of them. Dogfishhead is a bit old school like that. It may be a craft brewery and tiny by comparison to domestic breweries like Coors, but it is equally massive compared to microbreweries even in the area. The scale of the production hit home when I saw palates and palates of the ale being loaded up in preparation for the race. It hit again the next day after lining up when I saw how far behind me the starting line stretched.

Parking at the race was a bit dicey. Far too many runners were present to fit all the cars in the parking lot of the brewery, so it spilled over to the local school and their field. As everyone trickled into the brewery’s massive lot, the atmosphere was less like a party and more of a palpable nervous energy. Luckily I got lined up early enough to beat most of the rush and start somewhat near the front. Others were less luckily as the full line stretched over a quarter mile back. I can’t imagine how frustrating the run must have been for fast runners stuck back in the crowds. I enjoy a well organized race, especially those where the corals are set up based on expected finish time, not a free-for-all where fast runners get stuck behind slower ones and walkers.

The race mixes competitive runners at the front and more of a fun-run vibe toward the back. Thanks to a contest for the best costume made of recycled Dogfishhead materials such as bottles, boxes, and labels, the race is well represented with vikings, fairies, jellyfish, and cats. I give them credit for running 5 miles in the heat in these costumes, but can’t imagine following them for the entire race, so burst past.

Even in the morning, it’s hot in Delware. Being so close to the shore, the humidity is high enough to get everyone sweating by the first mile. At least there is water fairly frequently thanks to the local schools and running clubs. I even spot one industrious kid selling lemonade along the side of the race.

The race loops around behind the brewery and through town, past the short main street of restaurants and shops and quickly out to the residential areas. In the middle, it gets a bit more rural and we even pass some horses and cows. I keep mooving along (get it?) and just as I get into a stride, we are back at the front of the brewery and approaching the finish line. I took a fairly fast pace, even with my marathon coming up in under a month, because I overheard someone talking about how they ran out of beer in the past. I’m not going to miss my free beer for anything short of a broken foot. Even then I might hop across the finish line.

Thankfully plenty of beer was still remaining when I finished. I got overloaded with stuff at the end including a pretty nice insulated Dogfishhead water bottle, my first free can of SeaQuench complete with a koozie, a towel, bagels, more water, a Kind bar, and even some granola. I didn’t need to eat the rest of the day.

During the post-race party, I got three more beers. After one IPA, I decided to stick with the SeaQuench because the salty flavor makes sitting in a parking lot in the hot Delaware sun so much better. On my second, I got a free metal tumbler pint glass that keeps the beer nice and cold. I could barely carry all of the swag back to the car after.

I probably spent five times longer at the post-race party drinking than I did actually running, but I’m not mad about it. Some races are focussed on the running like marathons, others on the ancillary aspects. With such a great party, and being early enough in the season to fit in well with training programs for a marathon, I’ll almost certainly do it again.

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