Sometimes you just don’t know where a trip will take you. When David and I set out to run the streets of Fishtown in 2007, we didn’t expect to be diverted to the crowded cobblestone plazas of Madrid or the super-narrow alleyways of Granada. But seven years later, that’s exactly what happened.
David went on several test missions to Spain in the years leading up to our April, 2014 trip. His visits resulted in a Spanish beer running movement (46 groups and counting), a wife (she’s fantastic), two kids (they’re great too), a nifty hat, and a friendship with the one and only Professor Manuel Castillo, author of the now-famous beer and exercise study.
With that kind of precedent, there was plenty of anticipation for FBR’s first Spanish excursion. This trip did not just meet the group’s expectations – it exploded them. Since there’s no way to capture every remarkable detail of this trip, I offer a list of ten things that left an impression on me.
10. There’s a FBR Documentary (and the Documentarian Survived Spain)!
Firstly, what? There’s a documentary being made about FBR? It was inspiring to see the FBR community rally around this idea and almost instantly fund Justin Wirtalla’s trip to Spain so he can complete the film. Secondly, Justin somehow ran Granada’s steep hills and tiny streets (with little metal posts ready to pop a shin at any time) while carrying loads of equipment and filming the entire spectacle. Special mention goes out to Carly, who assisted and helped keep the documentarian from perishing.
9. Flamenco in a Cave
Not sure why, but I thought Flamenco was just some dude with a fancy guitar and maybe the Spanish version of a belly dancer. In reality, it’s some of the most passionate music and dancing you can experience, with performers who stomp, sing, snap, and clap to create complex and hypnotic melodies and rhythms. I had no idea what they were all so passionate about, but the impact was the same. The fact that it took place in an actual cave in a UNESCO World Heritage-designated neighborhood didn’t hurt, and neither did the bottomless glass of wine.
8. Nighttime Trail Run
I didn’t actually run this one, but everyone else reports that it was an incredible (and somewhat terrifying) experience. Wearing headlamps, the La Bicha Running Club took FBR on a tour of the hills above the Alhambra, complete with cliffs into the blackness (someone who actually ran this should tell the whole story). Becky and I enjoyed a mighty fine tapas crawl while all this was going on, so the important thing is we all ended up happy in the end.
7. Granada & the Alhambra
I had no idea where Granada was when I stumbled across the beer and exercise study (somewhere in Ohio, maybe?). I’m glad we didn’t have to go to Ohio to meet the Professor, because Granada is a stunning city, full of history, architecture, marvelous scenery, friendly people, tasty paella, and plentiful squid. The Alhambra is the centerpiece of Granada, built by sultans to create an earthly paradise. It also creates an otherworldly backdrop for much of the city, best witnessed during sunset with a bottle of wine (on your birthday!).
6. Cervecería La Mayor
On Easter Sunday, a cozy Belgian beer bar in the shadows of Madrid’s Royal Palace opened its doors to the Fishtown Beer Runners. The evening included many a fine Belgian beer (and some Duff), a champagne toast to David and Carmen, a temporary takeover of the bar, and a presentation of a Phillies hat and Liberty Bell to the thrilled and somewhat bewildered bar owner.
5. First Granada Beer Run.
The Professor met FBR at our hotel, and we took off promptly to a nearby plaza to meet with the Spanish beer runners. It’s one thing to hear about the study coming full circle and inspiring groups in Spain, but kind of surreal to see it in person (made even more so by their insanely bright orange shirts). However, it was great to run with them while taking in tidbits of local history from the Professor. The run culminated with a steep climb to the Mirador San Nicolas, a stunning overlook on the Albaicín (Granada’s old Arabic quarter).
We then gathered on a porch at a nearby restaurant for some cerveza and tapas, watching the sunlight fade on the Alhambra, listening to a local guitar player, and chatting with our new Spanish friends.
By the time David toasted “To the Professor” and the Professor toasted right back, I thought it couldn’t get any better. Until…
4. Second Granada Beer Run
On a perfectly sunny day, we embarked on another picturesque, history-filled running tour of Granada. The tour included stops at sweeping vistas, a tour of a historic library, and accidentally freaking out some nuns. This run ended on the porch at Restaurante El Carmen de San Miguel, which overlooks the city. It was already a perfect setting when enormous pans full of paella appeared, which looked astounding and tasted even better. Then desert arrived. Perfecto!
3. Beer Running Symposium
The Professor organized a symposium for his students and colleagues at the University of Granada’s medical school to review the findings of his study and give FBR an opportunity to present its story. He kicked it off with an insightful and humorous presentation and spoke about his admiration for FBR’s ability to put his findings into action. After we showed the documentary trailer, I shared some recollections of FBR’s formative days, and David spoke about the personal and philanthropic impact FBR has made possible. Several FBR members (Johanna, Keith, Elka, Dave Maver, and Rachael) each gave powerful testimonials, speaking about how the group helped them overcome life challenges, become better runners, and more. If men were capable of shedding a tear of happiness, the FBR cofounders may very well have done that.
2. Celebrating with David & Carmen
If Justin wants to market the documentary to fans of unlikely romance novels, this is the storyline he should focus on. It was wonderful to meet Carmen and celebrate her recent wedding to David. Carmen is an undeniably positive presence with an infectious smile. And David is, well…he’s DNA. I couldn’t be happier for them both.
1. The Professor
It’s difficult to live up to the status of The Most Interesting Professor in the World, but damn, he really did. In addition to inspiring an international beer running movement, the Professor provided a lesson in hospitality and generosity. He didn’t just meet us at the train station and book us all for an amazing lunch inside a bullfighting ring, he also arranged for his daughter to come in a van and drive our bags to the hotel. He didn’t just recommend the best flamenco show in Granada, he made the reservation and walked us to the difficult-to-find venue, injecting fascinating bits of local history along the way. I won’t even mention who paid for many of our Granada outings. To the Professor, indeed!
Honorable Mention: Little Dave Disappearing Into a Park Stream After Confusing a Series of Rocks for a Bridge While Startled Spaniards Looked On in a Mix of Horror and Amusement
This one speaks for itself.
Once FBR, Always FBR
There were many other great moments on this trip, and I hope others will write about them. For me, Spain was an inspiration to rediscover a love of running and a reminder of the pure sense of joy that makes FBR special. It was great to meet so many beer runners for the first time. It didn’t seem to matter that I’ve only run with the group a few times in the past few years – once a beer runner, always a beer runner. Let’s do it again sometime!