Sloshing for Glory at the Beer Mile World Championships

beer-mileI hope you enjoy my pain.” – James Nielsen, Beer Mile world record holder

Today, December 3rd 2014 in Austin, Texas, the first-ever Beer Mile World Championships will take place on the track at Yellow Jacket stadium. The event is being sponsored by Flotrack (http://www.flotrack.org/beermileworlds/), and if you happen to subscribe to their Pro service, you can watch the races live, beginning at 6:00 p.m. local time (7:00 p.m. EST).

You probably know how the beer mile works — participants start about nine meters behind the start/finish line of a standard 400m track and commence the race by downing a 12-oz bottle or can of beer (min. 5% alcohol) and then running a lap. They then drink another beer, run another lap, and so on until they have completed a mile. That’s assuming they haven’t vomited along the way, in which case they must run an additional penalty lap.

Is this stupid? Of course it is! And, like many drinking games, the stupidity of the whole thing is an essential part of the attraction. There’s just something irresistible about an undignified and pointless challenge, especially if it involves alcohol. Is the beer mile an excuse to drink, an excuse to run, or an excuse to come up with and argue about goofy rules, offensive nicknames, and newly-minted world records? Probably all of the above. It’s certainly not an excuse to sample and enjoy the latest craft I.P.A, because, trust me, downing a beer in fifteen seconds followed by sprinting 400 meters does not, in fact, enhance the finer appreciation of the brewer’s art. How do I know this? Call it an educated guess.

The odd thing is that after a long, underground existence, the beer mile is blinking its blood-shot eyes and staggering out into the light. In April of this year, almost 60 years after some Brit ran 3:59.4 for a full mile without so much as a sip of the nut brown ale, a beer miler named James Nielsen became, as far as anyone knows, the first human being to complete the race in under five minutes. Sadly, no one thought to ask Roger Bannister for his reaction.

The video evidence of Nielsen’s accomplishment is worth watching, if you haven’t seen it:

Like Bannister, Nielsen approaches the task of breaking the “impossible” barrier as a scientist. As he tells us in the footage before the run:

“…Finally, and most importantly, I’ve mastered the physics of fluid dynamics and air displacement. The biggest challenge for me is not [going to be] drinking the beer fast and not running fast, it’s  going to be getting the beer out of the can as quickly as possible and inhaling it so that I can put the beers down in four or five seconds as opposed to ten or twelve. Because if it takes me ten or twelve seconds, it’s not going to happen.”

Watching the video, it looks like he averages about 8s per beer (he’s clearly slowed by having to gasp for breath in the middle of drinking). Here are his full splits:

  • Beer 1 – 5s (5)*
  • Lap 1 – 65s (70)
  • Beer 2 – 8s (78)
  • Lap 2 – 69s (2:27)
  • Beer 3 – 11s (2:38
  • Lap 3 – 67s (3:45)
  • Beer 4 – 9s (3:54)
  • Lap 4 – 63 (4:57)

(* Apparently, in an attempt to generate some controversy, other top beer milers have questioned Nielsen’s record since he doesn’t prove the first can is empty by turning it over above his head. Nevertheless, that’s an impressive kick on the last lap, by the way: a 63-second 400 with 48 ounces of Budweiser sloshing around in his stomach.

From what I can tell from the Flotrack web site, Nielsen won’t be at the world championships. However, Nick Symmonds, Silver Medalist in the 800m at the 2013 World Championships, is expected to be there. On the women’s side, the fastest runner is Katie Mackey, who has run 4:04 for 1500m (about 4:23 for a full mile), again, without pausing to drink two-thirds of a six-pack along the way.

Will the fastest runner be the fastest beer miler? I’m guessing no. If I’ve learned anything from my deep study of “dietary athletics,” it’s that the race goes to the competitor who has a) understood the unique challenges of the event, and b) has come up with novel ways of meeting those challenges. Symmonds strikes me as obsessive enough to have practiced for the event, but it’s awfully hard for someone so fast to truly embrace the idea that running fast is not the main problem to be solved.

As an interesting and entertaining side note, it’s worth checking out the unofficial Internet home of the beer mile. It has a list of the top 1000 beer milers of all time, allowing you to sort by the type of beer consumed. Not only that, on its FAQ page, it has a list of other, related events, among them:

The Chocolate-Milk Mile (48 oz. chocolate milk, 4 quarters)
Best known effort: 5:49.0

The Rubik’s Cube Mile (solve a cube, quarter, cube, quarter, cube, quarter, cube, quarter)
Best known effort: 19:56.0

The Ben and Jerry’s 4×4 (4 pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream – 300+ calories/serving, 4 miles)
Best known effort: 1:06:55

The Renaissance Mile (1 mile, solve a Rubik’s cube, drink 40 oz. of malt liquor, dunk a basketball on a 10′ rim, play Chopin’s Minute Waltz, eat a pint of ice cream, any order)
Best known effort: rumored to be 29:09

There you have it. Truly, as Roger Bannister once said, “The human spirit is indomitable.”

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for the past thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. About a dozen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past eight years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, MA. I've been writing for as long as I've been running. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and after a two-year hiatus, began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. In my experience, writing about running is way harder than running itself. I also still have a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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