Against my better judgment and the wishes of my wife, last Thursday I ran my first (and probably only) beer mile.
What is a Beer Mile?
For the uninitiated, a beer mile is exactly what it sounds like. According to Runner’s World, a group of Canadian college runners created the event in 1989. For a while it was something kept among their friends, though it slowly spread (either organically or via word of mouth). With the growth of the internet, though, word got out and particularly in the last ten years interest in these events has grown.
Beer miles usually occur on a track. You chug a beer, then run a lap. While in a transition zone, you chug a second beer and run a second lap. You repeat the process until you have had four beers and run four laps.
There are rules for an official beer mile. You are not supposed to throw up during the race (its okay to do so after crossing the finish) else you must run a penalty lap at the end. You are supposed to drink minimum 5% alcohol beer from a can. You must drink in the transition zone and cannot carry the beer with you around the track. No straws, no puncturing the can to make the chugging easier.
You’re almost Forty, and a Dad. Why Do This?
Exactly. I am almost forty and a dad. I feel like my window for shenanigans like this is closing, especially as my kids have a greater awareness of what I am doing. They go to bed early and miss the aftermath, whereas in a few years they would be painfully aware. Additionally, I was curious and it seemed like it would be fun to try at least once.
I don’t know if I would have sought out a beer mile. I certainly don’t think I would have organized an impromptu one on my own as sometimes occurs. But it happened that the 2016 NC Beer Mile sort of fell into my lap. It was originally planned for Greensboro, but because of an unforeseen logistical issue organizers had to move it somewhere else. Bond Brothers Beer Company in Cary, NC volunteered. I saw the change mentioned in an event email, and shared it with some people at work who I thought might be interested. They were up for it so we signed up.
Do You Train for This?
I think you can, but I don’t know if it is a good idea. My main concern ahead of the event was to not die. I googled multiple combinations of “beer mile” + “safety” + “hospital” but the general consensus I cam across was that experts considered it a stupid idea, but probably safe.
The day before I looked for some tips, and came across a FloTrack article where Nick Symonds (professional 800m runner) offered some helpful hints based on his experience. Based on those and what I could pull from other articles, this was my plan:
First, drink as smoothly as possible without gulping. It seems like the main source of pain during the run comes from sloshing and air, so minimizing the air intake while drinking seemed like a good idea. After a transition, breathe calmly first to make this easier.
Second, build up speed for the first part of the lap rather than going all out. This gives you a little time to get some excess air out and may minimize sloshing.
Third, burp as much as you can. Air is not your friend.
Fourth, just get to the last beer and let the adrenaline take over for the finish.
Fifth, if all else fails fake a leg cramp. I had a feeling that this might not go so well for me. I am not a big drinker, and I don’t have a lot of extra body weight to absorb the blow from a gusher of Cary Gold (the beer we would be drinking). If I faked an injury maybe my friends would buy it and I could save face.
That seemed like as good a plan as any. I was ready.
You’re Really Going Through with This?
I checked my phone as I Ubered to the race. My wife was very sweet, and texted to let me know how much she supported me in this endeavor.
The race was supposed to start at seven p.m. but we were delayed while they filled enough cups for the first wave of runners. This had two effects. First, it made us thirsty as the temperature hovered around 90 degrees and it was humid. We wanted the beer, or at least the first one. Second, the longer we waited the more nervous I got. Was this a stupid idea? How much was I going to regret this? Should I leave? Should I just pretend to drink? Why were those guys warming up? Do I need to warm up?
Some of my friends had the same thoughts, but soon we moved into the transition zone and it was too late. I felt like I was playing a game of battleship, waiting for my partner to shout E7 and start the destruction of the last ship in my fleet.
Lap One: Direct Hit. We’re Taking on Water
The runners crowded around banquet tables covered in cups of beer (Cary Gold, 5.2% ABV). The presence of cups meant it was not a fully legit beer mile, but from a comfort standpoint it worked to everyone’s advantage. You can take in less air chugging from a cup than you would have to when using cans.
The organizers started a countdown from thirty. Those around the table exchanged a few fist bumps and good wishes, and then when the countdown hit zero everyone grabbed a cup and started to chug. There was a lot of jostling and bumping as the tables were close together and people who finished first were trying to get out.
I finished, tipped the cup over my head, and hit the course.
The organizers had a portion of E. Cedar Street in Cary closed off for the event, so each lap covered about 200m out and 200m back to the transition zone. Following my pre-race plan, I took the first 200m relatively easy, picking up speed and trying to burp as much as possible. I pushed the pace a little coming back, passing as many of my friends as possible. My strength was the running and not the chugging, so I wanted to make up ground.
As I neared the transition zone I saw the first group of runners starting their second lap. They looked like the guys you see in the front pack of any race. Tall and lean with some kind of team singlet on and nothing but focus in their eyes. I also saw a girl in a mouse unitard in the pack. Huh? I am not used to being behind costumed runners. Or was the alcohol getting to me already.
I shook off my surprise and headed into the transition zone, with a running time of 1:41 for the first lap (my watch didn’t track the standing still for the drinking part).
Lap Two: Another Hit, But the Bulkheads Are Holding
I re-entered the transition zone and grabbed beer number two, executing my plan to a tee. I took a calming breath, buried my mouth in the golden deliciousness, and drink smoothly to minimize the air intake. This time I had more elbow room and made it through with no one bumping into me. I tipped the empty cup over my head, threw it in the trash, and started in on lap two.
My run went about the same, picking up speed to the turn and burping as much as I could. I was ahead of my friends from work and felt good that I was catching people. Strangely, I was in more of a zen place than I had been in awhile on any kind of run. I’m not sure what that says about me.
The lead pack passed by as I headed towards the transition but I was keeping enough distance to make sure I didn’t get lapped. Why that mattered to me is anyone’s guess. I also saw the Mouse again. She was still ahead. For some reason, that was starting to bother me.
I entered the transition zone a second time, with a running time in lap two of 1:40.
Lap Three: She Can’t Take Much More of This
I downed the third beer, still in enough of my right mind to execute the plan, and then headed back out on the course. The burps were more intense on this lap as was the internal dialogue about my sanity. There was some sloshing in my stomach but I continued to pass people and keep distance between myself, the lead pack, and the Mouse. For lap four, I had my target. I knew who I wanted to catch.
Feeling a little bloated, I turned into the transition zone for the last time completing lap three in 1:46.
Lap Four: I Think We Survived
I didn’t want more beer. I could have grabbed a less full cup, but decided that would be cheating and went for the full one. I don’t think anyone would have judged me for going light, though. Especially my wife.
I still executed my plan, which gave me a small sense of accomplishment (it’s so rare that happens in any kind of race). I chugged, groaned, tipped the cup and headed out. Burping was almost violent at this point, but it helped announce my presence and clear people from my path. I didn’t feel good, but I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought I would. I did question my math skills and recounted a few times to make sure this was actually the last lap for me.
I made the final turn and headed for home. I looked up and saw the Mouse. I had a chance, as it looked like she was slowing down. My guess was that she was the first overall female and I thought it might be cool to place ahead of her. Somehow I found a kick and picked up speed down the home stretch, elbowing past other runners and reeling her in. I grew closer and closer as the inflatable at the finish grew larger, turning my legs and the ridiculous amount of beer in my stomach over as much as I could. And then I watched her turn left into the transition zone while I blasted across the finish line? Turns out she was only on lap three, my story was now really anti-climactic, and I felt silly. Oh well. Motivation is motivation, right? Or some runners chase a rabbit while others chase a mouse? Does either preserve my dignity?
My final lap running time was 1:38, and my overall time was 7:32 (good for seventeenth overall). The guys in first and second finished in 6:02 and 6:03 respectively, which is impressive and probably made for a really good finish.
Aftermath: Never mind. You Sunk my Battleship
As I waited at the finish line for my friends I was surprised at how decent I felt. I had expected to be destroyed, possibly in tears and curled up in a fetal position on the ground. But at the end of the race, I wasn’t.
Later that evening may be a different story. The kicker with the beer mile is that it’s done before the alcohol really has time to get into your system. We drank out of cups so there wasn’t as much air to cause gas pains in our stomachs, either, and with the adrenaline from the race still flowing I felt pretty good.
So why not have another beer, or two? If I had a time machine, I would go back and tell myself that it is because it is a bad idea. Wait and see how you feel, then make the decision. Had I done that, I might have felt better the next morning and avoided this brief conversation with my wife the next evening:
Wife: How are you feeling?
Me: Ok. But I feel some shame and embarrassment.
Wife: Well, that’s valid.
Overall, I did have a good time. The event was silly and fun and I enjoyed hanging out with my friends before and after. Would I do this again? I doubt it. This isn’t the kind of race where I feel the need to improve my time. I would go and support friends doing it, though, and it was worth doing once.