COLIN RENTON – the Wine Runner – Runner’s World, Dec 2023

‘I got some interesting looks when I told people what my plan was. But no one told me: “You’re completely off your head.” So I took that as a positive.’

Colin Renton is talking about a running challenge that began in October 2021, finished in September 2022 and became a book in May 2023. However, while most tales of large sporting undertakings seem to involve major suffering, the Edinburgh writer would have found it much harder to convince anyone he deserved sponsorship, sympathy or gasps of disbelief for this one. The Wine Runner: My Year of Hard Yards and Vineyards tells the story of his travels to 12 races in different European countries that were all connected with wine in some way. Some involved tasting sessions afterwards, while others actually required stopping for wine during the run. He went to the obvious wine countries – France, Spain, Italy, Germany – as well as wild cards including Hungary, Belgium and Slovenia. The grand finale was his first ever marathon, in Wachau, Austria.

It’s a hard knock life, as Annie once said. But Colin had served his time as a writer in the less glamorous world of the finance industry. As his sixtieth birthday approached, and the pandemic permitted more time for taking stock of priorities, he felt that it was now or never for an adventure and went freelance.

‘Doing a marathon had been there in the background for a really long time,’ he says. Over 30 years ago he was a middle distance track runner with Gala Harriers in the Scottish Borders, and competed on the Highland Games circuit – a series of Scottish sports days that include running races as well as the caber tossing you’re probably picturing. At that time he did the Falkirk half marathon for pre-season training in 1:15, which inspired him to enter and try for a sub-3 hour marathon. But an injury prevented him from participating, and after that, ‘Work, family, all that kind of stuff, meant I didn’t get round to doing another and drifted out of athletics. More recently I’d been going to the gym and running occasionally, but the marathon was still this weight on my shoulders.’

The project allowed him to combine not two but four unfulfilled ambitions. As well as running a marathon and learning more about wine, he wanted to travel more and become a published author for the first time. What was off the table, however, was the idea of setting any PBs. He’s showing that there are other ways to find satisfaction in running than going quicker. ‘If you decide that time is not the most important thing, you can actually have quite a good laugh with some of these events,’ he says.

At first he was just looking at doing the Marathon du Médoc near Bordeaux, probably the only wine-related running event that most people are aware of. Around 8,500 runners in fancy dress have no intention of going quickly, or presumably in a straight line, as they move between 23 wine tasting opportunities, with stops for cheese and oysters too. But as he googled, he realised that there are a lot more wine runs out there and a book idea took shape. In the end, logistics meant he couldn’t fit Médoc into his busy schedule, opting for a 10k near Strasbourg as his French run instead. In the marathon strand of that one, the Marathon du Vignoble d’Alsace, the male and female winners were given their weight in wine.

He also did a headtorch night race around the streets of Budapest, a sherry-themed race in Spain and a Parkrun on the Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey. He can’t be drawn into telling any tales of hardship. It all sounds absolutely delightful. ‘In Italy, I was coming down a hill during the race and saw all these people crowded on the side of the road at the bottom. I thought someone must have fallen. In fact it was a Prosecco maker, standing by the course handing out free samples.’

It seems that wine and running are more closely related than we might think. In the course of his research, Colin learned that French winemakers used to encourage their workers to run through the vineyards to get them fit for the harvest. A hundred years ago, the Champagne maker Melchior, Marquis de Polignac, paid for the building of Reims Athletic College and helped to organise the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Back then, wine may have been thought to enhance performance. ‘You could argue that it’s effectively fruit!’ suggests Colin.

When we speak, there are no plans for his next race, but he hopes he’ll inspire a few people, especially older runners, to find ways to reframe their activities beyond going for fast times. Now, hands up who wants to race him to write the beer runner book?

The Wine Runner by Colin Renton is published by Polaris.



Name: Obala Ultra Trail

Location: Izola

An 11 kilometre event (other distances also available) over tarmac, gravel and mud featuring some severe climbing but with a downhill/flat finish.


Name: Sherry Media 

Location: Jerez de la Frontera

Colin did the tough half marathon on roads and through the vines where grapes are grown for sherry. There are also 14 km and full marathon races. The surface can be dusty or muddy depending on the weather.


Name: Marathon du Vignoble d’Alsace

Location: Dorlisheim

There are half and full marathons on offer here. Colin did the 10k starting and finishing on roads and passing through vines above the town.