Running, cranberries and other alcohol myths

Lauren Booker | April 2018 | 5 minutes

“I always run better after a few drinks,” said the man stretching next to me. He wasn’t talking to me, but to a relatively new member of the running group that I belong to. “Anyway, running is a good hangover cure. It’s a proven fact.”

I tried to keep my mouth shut. I failed. I commented that actually, alcohol is likely to have the opposite effect, and then chipped in with a suggestion that the most important thing was to stay hydrated for the run: lots of water and take it easy if feeling unwell. Well, that’s me pegged as a killjoy health freak then.

As a more experienced runner, his words held weight and his insight seemed plausible. I just sounded grumpy. But that’s the problem with alcohol myths – the received wisdom is so often repeated, and by those who claim to have experienced it, that it’s hard to refute.

A glass of wine is good for you; a tot of whisky will help warm you up; sticking a penny under your tongue will beat a breathalyser… there are plenty of alcohol myths about. And they’re all well-known facts, passed on by people who will swear it's true – their doctor told them/it happened to a friend/try it for yourself.

Alcohol is such a common substance that we all think we know a lot about it but, that’s part of the problem – familiarity breeds contempt. We perhaps don’t take it seriously enough or stop to think about how much or how often we drink and how easily we come to rely on it.

A couple of years ago, mid-December, I was standing in a deli admiring the cranberry-topped pork pies. Next to me stood an elderly man, also checking out the pie section.

“That looks nice, doesn’t it?” I ventured.

“Lovely,” he replied, “But I can’t eat cranberries: I’m on Warfarin.”

“Oh, what a shame,” I replied, “So you can't have a little Christmas tipple either.”

He looked up in horror. “Yes, I can!” he said. I asked whether his doctor had told him not to mix his medication with alcohol.

“She did say something,” he replied, “But she was just trying to scare me. I’m not risking those cranberries, though.”