As most people who follow these things know, a new world record was recently set in the Beer Mile. James Nielsen recently ran under five minutes for the event which is an amazing feat. The Beer Mile consists of drinking four beers and running four laps of a track in sequence (beer, lap, beer, lap, beer, lap, beer, lap). It’s is an extremely grueling event. I know because I have run it numerous times and am the still reigning women’s world record holder.Yes, it was set in 1997 – I was basically a child prodigy in the Beer Mile.
I have heard many people talk of this event as if it is fun. I am writing this to clear that up. The Beer Mile is not a fun event. It is hard and it hurts.
My time of 6:42 averages to 70-second laps and 30-second beers. My best 1,500m time is 4:36 – translated into a mile that would be about a 4:57 performance. So counting my 30 seconds or so breaks for beer, my Beer Mile time required me to run pretty much as fast as I possibly could over that distance.
Here is how I recall the race playing out:
I’m nervous. I’ve tapered appropriately – done some strides the day before and a light jog that morning. I’ve eaten a good meal four hours prior to race time to ensure my stomach is expanded but empty for race time. I’ve not let myself drink beer for a week (a long time in university) in order to build up a thirst for it. The first one has to go down easily. I get to the track for my warm-up jog, then switch into my spikes for mobility and strides. My body has to be ready to run as fast as it can go. I line my beers up and find my place at the start.
The gun goes off followed quickly by the sound of dozens of beer cans being opened simultaneously. Many people are faster straight-up chuggers than me, but that’s OK. I focus on getting my beer down as smoothly as I can. The first one, of course, is the easiest. I hold my empty can over my head and take off. There are a lot of people in the game at this point. I keep Julia and Kerry in my sights. They’re both faster 800m runners than me and I’ve seen them both party pretty hard. I have no idea how competitive they’ll be. I run a hard 400m but have to start slowing down before the line in order to find my beer.
I find my beer and crack it. I’m not completely winded yet so I can manage timing my breathing with my drinking. Gulp air, gulp beer, gulp air, gulp beer,… The second beer does not taste nearly as good as the first but I force it down. Onto the next lap. It takes a few strides to burp out the extra gas and start moving smoothly. I think Julia and Kerry are close behind me. A few of the guys are already at the 200m mark of their second lap. Down the back stretch I’m feeling like I’m back into the rhythm of running a normal running interval. Just focus on a fast turnover. At 200m my legs are burning but I’m used to this feeling from countless track workouts and can work through the pain to the end of the 400m.
I desperately need to breathe and want to double over and clutch my knees but I reach for a beer instead and start gulping it down. It’s starting to taste like pure alcohol that’s been carbonated and I have to consciously suppress my gag reflex. I don’t breathe through my nose because the taste will make me stop drinking. I just have to put mind over matter, much like in the intervals, and focus on finishing it fast. I suspect my third beer is slower than the first two but it’s done and I’m off. The longer beer break has given my legs a bit more of a rest but again I’m forced to start slowly while my stomach adjusts to the volume. I find my stride again down the back stretch. I’m aware of a mix of beer, snot and saliva all over my face and front. I chance a glance behind and see Julia still working on her third beer. Dan is pulling up to her for his final beer. My goals are to be the first woman and not to get lapped. I round the bend and feel myself tying up from lactic acid as I run the last hundred meters of the third lap towards my final beer.
As much as my body wants (needs?) to stop to end the pain of running at my top speed, I am dreading getting to the exchange zone for my last beer. I’m not sure which is more painful at this point: the beers or the laps. I want to slow down and I want to stop drinking. ONE left! I crack the can. I see Dan powering down the back stretch and coming up on the 200m mark. Don’t get lapped. Kerry’s still at the exchange zone working on her third beer. Julia’s on her third lap but I feel safe for the win. Just get it over with. I force the beer down in between gulps of much needed oxygen. I am aware that my face is contorting into grimaces of disgust as I try not to gag. Dan is coming down the home stretch. Done my beer! Off again for the bell lap. Running is starting to feel a bit weird. I’m not sure if I’m pushing as hard as I can as my head is getting fuzzy and I’m starting to feel numb. I just try to focus on the mechanics of running and of holding a steady rhythm. Finally the last turn. Once I’m on the final 100m I just focus on bringing it home. Jason sprints by me to avoid being beaten by a girl (I out-drank you buddy!) A few of the guys will try to nab me on the last lap. I reach the finish line and collapse in a heap of surging lactic acid, oxygen debt, alcohol, sweat and snot.
As I stagger off the track to avoid the drunken final sprinters and retchers to the side I think “that was the hardest, most painful thing I’ve ever done. I’m never doing that again”. Then, five minutes later, once a good beer buzz has set in and I’m still high from endorphins I think “That was fun! I totally bet I could beat my time next time”.