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A beer running champion

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As an editor, Sonya gave me my first real journalism break out of college. How did I catch her attention? With an article about beer and running, of course.

Turns out, Sonya is a beer runner herself. And impressively so. She is a six-time women’s division winner of Milwaukee’s Riverwest Beer Run, which continues its storied tradition this Sunday.

The 34th Annual Beer Run features four beer stops along the 1.8-mile course, and Sonya’s background in craft beer drinking and competitive running has made her all but unstoppable. So it’s a personal honor and privilege to finally feature Sonya on The Beer Runner.

The Beer Runner: You are a Beer Run champion. Shouldn’t you be writing this blog instead of me?

Sonya Jongsma Knauss: Let’s just say that if I took on any additional responsibilities, I wouldn’t have time to drink beer. So, no. You’re the man for the job. Plus, I used to sorta be your boss, and I know you are GOOD at this stuff! Isn’t it funny that we first met because I was impressed by an article you did on Hash House Harriers?

BR: What was the Riverwest Beer run like last year?

SJK: It was hot, perfect for a 1.8 miler through the neighborhood. My husband says it was my 6th win, but I’d have to dig the trophies out of the attic to say for sure. It might’ve been 5th. I  finished third in 2008 in the flash flood (literally), and second after I had baby #2. I didn’t run at 8 months pregnant in 2006, though I thought about it.

BR: Which came first for you – a love of beer or love of running? How did you get into both?

SJK: Love of running, for sure, since it started in the 8th grade. I was a mediocre team sports player, and I wanted to find something in which I could really shine. I knew nobody really liked the longer distances, so I decided to take them on. Cross Country my freshman year of high school was a wake-up call, but I loved the hard work and the miles on dirt roads in the small Iowa town where I grew up. I didn’t get into beer until I was 19 and spent the summer abroad studying at Oxford University.

BR: Do you have a favorite beer run?

SJK: Last year’s Beer Run was especially fun because my four daughters were all there cheering for me, and they don’t always get to see me race. But my fastest Beer Run win was in 2005, 4 months after a c-section that was supposed to be a home birth until the baby went breech. My brother’s dog got me back in shape super-fast during the month leading up to that race. My neighbor owed me a 12-pack of beer after that one, since he said he’d give me a six-pack for every half minute I took off the previous year’s time.

BR: What are you biggest highlights from your running career so far?

SJK: Passing out after diving across the finish line at the Hank Aaron State Trail race in 2007. That was one race where I was incredibly mentally fierce. I had decided no woman was going to beat me. So the race really was a triumph of mind over matter. I hadn’t hydrated well enough before the race, and it was hot and muggy. I went out strong and stuck with the leader, a former Marquette Cross Country star, til about 2 1/4 miles. I started going into oxygen debt and overheating. I spent the last 3/4 mile or so deliberating over whether to lie down at the side of the trail or force myself to finish. Fortunately there was a good EMT team waiting at the end. I have fond memories of high school track and cross country and have several state individual and team victories in various events ranging from the 2m cross county race and from 800 to 3000 meters on the track. Really enjoyed participating at the Drake Relays in the 4×800 relays in high school. In college, I competed at nationals each year except when I had my emergency appendectomy two weeks before districts. I still tried to run, but finished a few seconds off qualifying.

BR: What’s your favorite post-run beer?

SJK: I like good microbrews. I’ll usually go for a Bells, Lakefront, Dogfishhead, etc. But after a hot/hard run, PRB is best, because it’s more refreshing and more like water. I’d like to do a Hopslam after a hot 6 miler sometime and see how it feels.

BR: What’s your favorite local bar? What about place to run?

SJK: I love running by Lake Michigan, but really, I’ll pound the pavement anywhere. I hate treadmills, but will use them if it’s below 15 degrees. I’m not as tough as I used to be. I don’t have just one favorite bar. There are a lot of great ones around here. But I prefer supporting local people who I know whenever possible. Nessun Dorma, Foundation, Stonefly, Cafe Hollander, Sugar Maple, Palm Tavern. Smoke-free preferred!


Tim Cigelske is DRAFT's Beer Runner. (Beer Run•ner [noun]: Someone equally devoted to fine beer appreciation and an active, healthy lifestyle. Ex. "John downed four microbrews at the triathlon finish line. He's a total beer runner.”) Follow Tim on Twitter @TheBeerRunner, and email him at beerrunner [at] draftmag.com.


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