Run-drink-run Beer Mile fun
I like running. I also like drinking. So, although I probably do too much of the latter and not enough of the former, when I was asked to report from – and indeed take part in – the annual Beer Mile World Classic, I put down my pint and jumped at the chance.
The beer mile – four laps of a 400m track, interspersed with four 335ml premium lagers – began life in the late 1980s as little more than a college drinking game. Since then, run-drink-run hysteria has swept across the North American continent and indeed the globe. Last year, the inaugural World Classic took place in San Francisco – with the world’s finest beer milers flying in from all corners to be crowned the sport’s first world champion. And now, one year on, London is playing host to the event – one that many hope will inspire the next generation of highly irresponsible runners.
So it is that on a sunny afternoon in late July, I make my way to Saracens rugby club’s Aviva Stadium. In the name of hard-hitting investigative journalism, I’ll be putting my own beer mile skills to the test, in one of several amateur heats taking place before the main event.
Arriving several hours ahead of time offers the chance to soak up the pre-race atmosphere and, it turns out, witness some of the finest projectile vomiting I have ever seen. The first round of amateurs, it seems, are unprepared for the rigours of the warm Heineken/400m combo. I let out a nervous burp.
Next thing I know, the sound of my belching is echoing round the stadium as, one can down, I set off on the first lap. Immediately, my liver-damaging university years pay dividends; I take an early lead and try to imagine the depth of pride my mum must be feeling.
The first 300m flies by and, as I round the final bend of lap one, I am a picture of calm athleticism. At least, that’s what it feels like. However, as I approach the ‘chug zone’ – the designated 10m-long drinking area –a glance at the big screen reveals a chap with a thunderous heel strike and a slightly crazed look in his eye plodding down the home straight. I pluck my next beer from the table, attempt to steady my breathing, and force some more fizzy Dutch lager down my throat.
Lap two also seems to fly by and, not for the first time in my life, I’m left to marvel at the wonder of alcohol. The third beer, however, is a different story. While the first two were seen off relatively quickly, this one seems to take an age and I’m half expecting the runners behind to come storming past. Happily, though, my quest for a first ever race victory (yes, this counts) remains intact and, momentary vomit scare halfway through the penultimate lap aside, my debut beer mile ends without drama and with a victory – in 7:02 – that is sending shockwaves across the Atlantic.
High on success, I take my place on the sideline and wait to see how the pros do it. At 5pm, the ‘opening ceremony’ begins with the six national teams – Sweden, USA, Canada, England, Scotland and Australia – taking to the track to parade their respective flags. After an opening round of ‘B team’ runners, the crème de la crème of beer milers take their marks.
Among them is the official world record holder, the Canadian Lewis Kent (4:47), the resurgent middle-distance Brit Dale Clutterbuck (who has a 3:40 1500m PB) and Corey Bellemore, a 21-year-old Canadian who, just one week earlier, posted amateur footage of himself smashing Kent’s official world record to pieces with a time of 4:39.56. Every one of them, I should add, has opted for bottles rather than cans. “So that’s their secret,” I think, eyes narrowed in deep suspicion. “Next time… next time.”
And then they’re off! The frontrunners Bellemore and Clutterbuck see their beers away in five seconds flat, and before I can take a sip of my own post-race refreshment, they’re back round in sub-60 seconds, repeating the chugging process with frightening proficiency. Clutterbuck admirably sticks with the Canadian for another lap, but Bellemore’s pace is relentless and, harnessing the power, no doubt, of unspeakable levels of frat house boozing, he storms to victory in a world record time of – get this – 4:34.35. That’s 1600m and four beers in four minutes and 34 seconds!
Still, could he have done it with cans?
This article was first published in the October 2016 issue of Men's Running.
Photo credit: Tyler Deniston