Running the Beer Mile
The most extreme physical challenges available to athletes focus on endurance, strength and the ability to persevere against dire circumstances.
There are plenty of examples. Tough Mudder races consist of a twelve-mile run interrupted by ice water baths and snaking in between live electrical wires. The 140.6-mile Ironman pushes bodies to their limits with swimming and cycling distances followed by full marathon. Ragnar Relays put teams through two hundred miles of terrain in exhausting all-day and all-night sprints.
At first glance, a one-mile race shouldn’t belong in this grouping of elite fitness events. But when that one-mile run is combined with chugging 48 ounces of beer, the game is changed.
The Beer Mile slogan is simple: “Four Beers, Four Laps.” That banal premise has somehow appealed to the nearly 100,000 people who’ve taken on the challenge and registered their times on BeerMile.com.
For the uninitiated, an organized Beer Mile races utilizes this basic format:
- Drink a 12-ounce beer
- Run a quarter of a mile
- Repeat steps 1-2 until a mile has been run, or you’ve given up.
There are a cadre of less important rules, like base alcohol by volume levels, no “shotgunning” of beer cans and penalties for vomiting. Yes, penalties for vomiting. Take that, Ironman finishers.
Canadian Lewis Kent is the current world record holder by taming the Beer Mile in four minutes, forty-seven seconds while taking down four Amsterdam Blondes in the process. Kent is a one man wrecking crew with three of the top five times, shattering James Nielsen’s former record by ten seconds.
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A couple of years ago, I had the chance to run a Beer Mile for a friend’s fortieth birthday party. Most of the men and women in competition were well-trained athletes who frequently run challenging distance races. It didn’t hurt that they also know how to put back a few beers when necessary. I proudly consider myself proficient in both of those areas and was looking forward to the event.
But I quickly found out that even the most in-shape runners and experienced beer chuggers find difficulty in the Beer Mile. It actually seems deceptively easy at first. Quickly downing a can of beer is a skill many of us learned in college. But what we didn’t do in those formative drinking years was proceed to sprint at top speed only to abruptly stop and drain another can.
After that second fill-up, my body began to send messages to my brain that consisted of “What are you doing?” and “Please stop.” The rapidly accumulating liquid sloshed in my stomach with each step. The gas from carbonation inflicted extreme bloating. It was awful.
The infamous professional cyclist Lance Armstrong once attempted a Beer Mile and dropped out after the first lap. With that notable failure in my mind, I quietly bowed out after my third trip around the track. It wasn’t exactly a graceful exit; but I somehow managed to stop before leaving evidence of my stomach’s duress on the asphalt.
Since running that race, I’ve wondered why anyone would want to compete in a Beer Mile. Secretly I know that dismissiveness is based upon jealousy of my friends who finished, despite their varying conditions of agony. The Beer Mile is silly, difficult and probably a very bad idea, but it’s also dumb fun. While I definitely won’t be running one again, you will very likely see me cheering from the sidelines.