The Beer Mile World Classic, London, Summer 2016. An article for Like the Wind magazine and a preview of what’s to come this weekend (August 12, 2017)…

Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.

Four beers. Four laps. Easy right? What originated as an underground tradition amongst college kids and enthusiast amateur track runners has turned into a global phenomenon.

Following the formalisation of rules by a group of Canadian runners lead by John ‘Sparkle’ Markell, we find ourselves on the in-field of an athletics track in London waiting for events to unfold. It’s the Beer Mile World Classic and we are joined by the Australians, Americans and Canadians, all flown over for the big day. And they are taking it seriously. Headphones are in. Bottles of beer, flown over specifically in luggage, are being taped up in various identifiable colours. I say seriously, most are taking it seriously. The Swedes, who were up partying naked until 4am the night before, maybe not so. But for some, this is the main event.

It’s almost as simple as drink a beer and run four times. Except the drinking has to take place in a transition zone, aptly named the ‘chug-zone’. Chugging is the name of the game. Chundering is not. That will incur a penalty lap at the end of the race, thus adding to your time and to be avoided. Unfortunately, as demonstrated from the day’s early heats, a ‘reversal of fortune’ is fairly common place.

There are other rules and regulations around beverage type and volume that I won’t bore you with. Basically, our invigilators are keeping stern watch between lap – chug – lap. No backwash here please. The most important rule is that come the end of the race, when the winner is declared and the chasers are in, the leftovers are totted up and if the sum of your dregs is more than 4OZ, you are disqualified.

Let’s talk tactics. Fan of the beer mile Chris (who flew in specially from Bangalore), insists that it is all about timing your effort and technique. “Being able to breathe and drink is important, otherwise you hold your breath and go out gassy… Lap 3 is the worst. Mentally the thought of ‘oh shit I’ve got to do this one more time over’ and my stomach is expanding. But then lap 4 is like any work out, you’re home stretch. And you can vom afterward without penalty, so that’s no problem.”

“Never again. Never again.” Was the verdict from a chap in a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. shirt after experiencing what turned out to be a clearly distressing 10 minutes. In the same heat ‘I hate beer Harold’ was a casualty. He stumbled over the line in 17 minutes. Probably the slowest mile he’d ever run. And probable the most beer he’d drunk in 17 minutes. It was a marathon not a mile effort for Harold.

Winner of elite women race Erin O’Mara from Michigan, reigning FloTrack beer mile champion, had a better time of it, “Beer miling is a volatile sport. There’s a lot that can go wrong on beer mile day, but things went right for me! What advice would I offer a newcomer? You just wanna make sure you stay cool and keep pushing around the track!”

Easier said than done Erin. As competitor, James the ‘Beast’ Nielsen (the first person to ever duck under 5 minutes for the beer mile) found out – “Man I’m so bummed right now. It was a fast track and great conditions, running was not going good in training but beer drinking was on point, so I’m pretty disappointed. Damn it, mostly because I yakked!” We didn’t have the heart (or the nerve) to break it to the Beast, but sadly, James was also disqualified.

The winner of the Elite Men’s Race on the day was Corey Bellemore in a new beer mile world record of 4 minutes, 34 seconds. An inconceivable feat, given that is only 50 seconds slower than the world record for the mile set by Hicham El Guerrouj. And Hicham didn’t have to down 4 bottles of Miller ‘High Life’ between each lap. Corey’s tactics? ‘I just chugged the beers as quick as I could and then tried to keep it down!’

The festivities didn’t end there, with the after-party – that’s right, 4 beers just isn’t enough – lasting well into the evening. On the walk home, I quietly contemplated over kebab. The spectacle, the highs, the lows. What did it all mean? For drinking, for running, for world peace? The overwhelming take-away was that beer is indeed the great equalizer. Very good runners sharing the track with very good drinkers. Men and women sharing the same start line. All nationalities able to compete without animosity but with the same level of pride and a similar goal in mind – run a mile, try not to hurl. It brings a literal tear to the eye. The Beer Mile World Classic was a celebration of the universal appeal of running, beer and togetherness.

Long live beer, long live the mile. Long live the beer mile.



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