By Natalie Josefsberg
Mark Berger, proud advocate of mixing running with alcohol and yoga with twerking, is more
deeply intertwined in the New Orleans fitness scene than one might assume. Mark is one of the
founders of Happy’s Running Club, where members meet at a local bar once a week to run a few
miles before plopping down at Manning’s Sports Bar and Grill. Though this might seem
counterproductive, Mark assured me that it’s not as intimidating as it sounds because “You can
come and run 2 miles, 3 miles, walk, or be a virtual runner – drink at the bar and pretend like
you’re running!” That sounds like a fun workout… but I still wanted to find out how this routine
could actually be a runner’s idea of a healthy choice. New Orleans has an alcohol-driven
economy and culture, and while I can’t say I’ve never gone on a few drunk runs, I wouldn’t
exactly recommend not combining alcohol with exercise.
Prior to our conversation, I had researched the negative health effects of alcohol so that I could
better understand how Mark and his running buddies manage to mix alcohol and fitness so
frequently. I found conflicting scientific research, but overall, the negative effects of alcohol
seem to be too harmful to risk drinking. In a 2018 analysis in The Lancet, experts, studying the
global impact of alcohol on injury and disease, proved that alcohol is more poisonous than
people understand. They caught people’s attention when they concluded that even moderate
drinking is unsafe for health because the risks still outweigh any potential benefits. Regardless,
Mark and Happy’s Running Club still plan on running and sharing brews as often as they can,
once again proving that you can’t always trust science.
Before meeting Mark, I completely underestimated him and, in the end, struggled to organize
and refine all of the crazy stories he told me. For example, Lil Wayne was his best friend in
middle school. He told me that Lil Wayne used to bring him courtside and back stage when he
first started popping off, which I thought was so cool.
Mark started drinking alcohol at age 12, but always played sports, so his body’s been
conditioned to drink while maintaining fit. After graduating from New Orleans’ very own, LSU,
he locked down an impressive job in public relations. He was immediately handed the company
credit card as his job was to booze, schmooze, and party with clients. “My job was to, like, throw
parties, go out to eat, drink beer; you know it’s like a dream job after college.” Sounds perfect.
But Mark finally reached a point where he knew that his body couldn’t handle that lifestyle
anymore. I said, “So are you sober now?” and he replied, “fuck no!”
He admitted that he was unhappy and weighed significantly more when he was “working in the
beer industry versus working in the fitness industry drinking an occasional beer”. I wondered if I
should remind Mark that alcoholic drinks often have 100-300 calories and can leads to
depression and obesity. I started to say something about that, but he interrupted me to add that
now he “like[s] to feel like I’m in the best shape possible,” but never turns down “beer or cheese
fries.” I’m fascinated by Mark’s ability to stay in top shape while also consuming large amounts
of alcohol and bar food. And it seems like other New Orleans locals with similar lifestyles can’t
figure it out either… He explained that he keeps balanced by eating a plant-based diet throughout
the day! While this might seem almost like two opposite extremes, there are people who don’t
eat anything all day and then take down 3,000 calories at McDonald’s for dinner. Mark also
noted that he has a better system going than some people he’s heard saying “I’m paleo, so I can
eat like a pound of bacon, and I’m healthy.” And I had no argument for him there.
Mark ran his first 10k without any training and eventually moved onto triathlons, marathons, and
Iron Man races. I think that some people are just born like this. They’re wired to push their
bodies to its maximum limit, fueling it like a machine. Of course, most individuals, whether they
are fully healthy or predisposed to certain diseases like obesity or addiction, cannot keep up with
Mark’s wild, rigorous lifestyle. A Harvard study also warns that “alcohol can disrupt sleep and
one’s better judgment,” although Mark seems unaffected by the alcohol right now.
Clearly, I’m not an advocate of running and drinking, but maybe I should be. Maybe Mark is
right and science is wrong. On the club’s website they even pointed out that “men who drink one
to two beers a day will see a 4.5% increase in their bone density!” After all, government officials
are also contesting science every day. I wondered, could join Happy’s Running Club? And if so,
would I be the only person who abstains from drinking after the run? “Pretty much, yeah,” he
responded, and when I looked at him skeptically, he added, “You know anything cold is going to
be good, but a beer after a hot run is great.”
If this sounds appealing, please proceed with caution. The club runs five different routes and
covers diverse areas of the city, providing a cultural and educational experience as well. And if
running isn’t really your thing, but you like the idea of getting drunk and working out, join him
and Big Freedia at their next “Twerkout” at the Gleacon Classic on October 6 th !
New Orleans is a city filled with wacky traditions, but somehow, it’s thrived and survived and
keeps pushing, just like my new running buddy, Mark Berger. His bachelor party was a wild
whirlwind of partying and running marathons (two full marathons in two days), and there’s
nothing more “classic New Orleans” than that. I hope when I’m Mark’s age, I’m still living life
to the fullest, staying in great shape, and following my passions.