Guest blogger Chris Willis recounts his tale of his first-ever Beer Mile.
My first race of 2015 was quite the event. It was run in the dark and the cold. It was an event I’d never attempted before. And, it was illegal. I ran a Beer Mile. This is my story.
Chances are that 2014 was the year you heard about The Beer Mile. If you don’t know what it is, do yourself a favor and go read Runner’s World’s comprehensive and intensely sourced history of the origins of the event. We’ll wait.
If you didn’t read the article, or were drunk while you did, here’s a refresher on the rules.
Standing at the mile-start line on a standard 400-meter running track, you crack open a can of beer, chug it as fast as you can within the 10 meters marked off for the relay exchanges, and then run a lap. And then do it again: chug beer, run lap. And again. And again. 4 beers and 4 laps. Beer must be a minimum of 5% alcohol, which rules out most light beers. No ciders or “malternative beverages.” No shotgunning or otherwise fiddling with the can. If you puke before you cross the finish line, you have to run a fifth lap as a penalty. This is an event for purists.
So how hard is a Beer Mile? At the inaugural World Championships (yes, they exist, and yes, there is a sizable amount of prize money) only seven of the 10 entrants in the elite men’s field completed the race. Lance Armstrong made an effort at qualifying for the big show and dropped out. AFTER ONE LAP (so apparently doping is of no aid in the event).
Obviously, I had to try it.
I’m the kind of guy who will do something not despite it sounding like a bad idea, but rather because it sounds like a bad idea. When Taco Bell came out with the Quesarito (a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla), I had two, despite the fact that I had a 19-mile run scheduled the next day in a forest preserve with bathrooms (outhouses, actually) spaced 9 miles apart. Was that a good idea? Actually, yeah. It turned out fine, and Quesaritos turned out to be delicious. This is the problem with these horrible decisions I make: I often escape from them unscathed, which only encourages me.
And so there we were, in the first week of January. We’d planned the event at a local university’s outdoor track so it would be official, and at night, to avoid unwanted attention. Because, you know, public consumption laws and such.
There were seven of us at the start line, all wearing our most intense of game faces. The Bomber (I’m not using any names other than my own because this activity is both illegal and completely degenerate, and we all have day jobs) let slip that he’d been practicing chugging cans of water to work on his “split times.” The Speedster announced that he fully intended to burn the first laps all out while he was feeling good because he thought he could put a gap on us that we couldn’t cover. (This man is a ~4:50 miler.) It was about 40 degrees at the start, and two of us were spiked up and in singlets — that’s how intense this had gotten. I was more nervous than before most marathons.
But this intense race was taking place in an atmosphere that can only be approximated as “illegal miniature outdoor frat party.” Those in our running group who weren’t competing showed up to watch and laugh. Someone made a playlist of drinking songs and brought along a speaker to blast them in the “chug zone.” Bets were being laid. The air crackled with anticipation — and filthy rap songs.
After a final announcement of the rules and a few last minute strides, we were off. Bomber had his first beer down lightning fast, then took off at a rather modest pace. Yours truly got his beer down in a decent time and was quickly off. Speedster did as advertised and came whipping around me near the 300-meter mark at what I estimated was about a 70-second quarter pace. The rest of the pack was going for a slow-and-steady approach.
So what’s it like running a lap after chugging 12 ounces of beer?
Honestly, it’s not bad. If you can burp while you run to clear the carbonation from your stomach, it doesn’t slow you at all, actually. Beer two wasn’t bad going down. Aside from the really uncomfortable sensation of the foamy sloshing in my gut, the running was a piece of cake. There wasn’t enough time in the race for the alcohol to start hitting your bloodstream, so it was really just about volume: the volume of the liquid you had to put down, and the volume of the carbonation that liquid was giving off while jostling in your gut running at mile pace.
And then we got to beer three. Meltdown.
By about 600 meters in, beer two had foamed up so much that I felt completely full. So getting down yet another warm Budweiser took forever (cold beer is too hard to chug, but, as I learned the very hard way, warm beer releases a lot more carbonation). Whereas we had been chugging our beers in 20 seconds or less at the beginning, beer three and four splits were taking a minute or more.
As I began lap three, it quickly became apparent that there was no way I was going to be able to continue running and burping. As I tried to burp, the beer started to … um … reassert itself.
Knowing the rules, I was aware that if I threw up, I’d have to run an extra penalty lap — BUT I would not have to drink an extra beer (making the race 4 beers and 5 laps). I decided that was the only way I’d be able to avoid a DNF, so I pulled over to the infield and tried to empty my stomach as completely, and as quickly, as I could. It was startlingly easy. Warm, foamy beer on an empty stomach; once you open the tap, it just flows out. I was quickly back at it, trying my best to keep up the pace, but by that point, I was well behind the leaders and knew several runners behind me would finish before I could complete a penalty lap.
The benefit of an empty stomach was that the fourth beer went down easier than the third, but it was still rough. I was now drinking beer that tasted like (and was essentially the same temperature as) what I’d just been puking up. Knowing there was no extra penalty for puking twice, I made very little effort to keep beer four down when I started burping off the gas and probably ditched about half of it on the backstretch without breaking stride.
The group results demonstrated that it’s a beer-drinking event first and a running event second. Bomber won handily with a time of 7:38.1 (it was electronically timed – yes, we really did take this that seriously), beating out Speedster (who himself drank rather admirably, but couldn’t handle the unstoppable chugging force of The Bomber) by 20 seconds. The bulk of the field came through between 8:00 and 9:00, and the final four-lap entrant, who is basically incapable of burping in any situation and yet still agreed to do this race because she’s completely fearless, came through a hair under 11:00.
I was the only person to execute a “boot and rally” maneuver, so I ran my penalty lap alone, coming in at about 12 minutes.
DFL: Dead F@#$ing Last. I decided to really savor the defeat and took off my singlet so I could run the last 100 meters bare-chested. At the time, it seemed logical. I regret nothing.
We all learned a lot. Temperature is key on the beer; you’ll want it cool, but not cold. The Budweiser was too warm, which made it both taste horrible and far too foamy. Find the lowest carbonation beer you can chug; the gas is what really gets you. Practice your chugging or leave a lot of time on the track. And never back down from a race, even if you’re afraid of it. Especially if you’re afraid of it.
From the cheering section, there are ample photographs of this nonsense. To maintain the anonymity of my fellow competitors, most of these you can’t see. However, it is worth noting that by the end of the event, every runner (all of whom are exceptionally svelte people) had a noticeably distended gut from the foamy beer. This should underscore how uncomfortable the event was.
I can’t wait for a rematch. Next time I’m going to pregame with a Quesarito. It can’t be worse.
Again: I regret nothing.
— Chris Willis is a husband, toddler-wrangler and dedicated runner who practices law in the remaining hours in the day. His best race distance is probably somewhere between the mile and the 5K, so naturally, he mostly runs marathons. He lives in Chicago.