For many runners, the thought of drinking a beer in the middle of a run is somewhere on the scale between unappealing and revolting. But for a special breed of runner, the two are a perfect match. These are the beer milers. And their race — the beer mile — has gone from the stuff of legends to a legitimate race complete with sponsors, elite athletes and streaming race coverage.
Like many epic moments in history, the evolution of the beer mile began with a post-run drink at a bar. It was 1989, and seven Canadian runners in their late teens and early 20s were hot, tired, and looking for a way to have a laugh on a muggy August night. So they hatched a plan that would be become the rule book for the beer mile: Drink a beer, run a 400 meter lap at the track and repeat three times. That adds up to four beers and four laps — or one mile total.
As the seven ran and chugged for their inaugural race, they learned quickly that it wasn't the alcohol that would get you, it was the carbonation. Thus the first official rule of the beer mile was entered in the books: if you puke, you have to run an extra lap.
At the end, there were no video cameras or cheering fans, but there was an epic story among seven friends who would later head off to college and share the story of the beer mile with their new friends.
And just like that, the beer mile was born.
As more and more people heard of the beer mile, more and more strategies were introduced to help competitors "train." Straws, "shotgunning" (punching a hole in the bottom of the beer can to aid its exit), using a beer with lower alcohol-content. And so more rules were introduced to keep things fair. No straws, no shotgunning, and the beer had to have at least 5 percent alcohol.
Word of the beer mile continued to spread among college students and on track-and-field message boards. In 1998, a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut scooped up the domain name beermile.com, posted the original rules, and created a database where beer milers could enter and compare their results. By 2004, with the rise of social media, beermile.com had about 8,000 entries. Today, the site boasts over 93,000 entries and almost 3,000 races.
The event really took off in 2012 when Olympian Nick Symmonds, a former recreational beer miler from his college days, decided to see what his Olympic speed could do for him in the beer mile race. He clocked a 5:19, setting what was then an American record for the beer mile, and posted a video of his run on YouTube.
The rest, as they say is history.
In 2014, Flotrack — the track-and-field website — hosted the first-ever Beer Mile Championships. At the 2015 event, records were broken for both the male (4:47.0) and female (6:08.0) races. Lewis Kent, the current world record holder, recently signed a two-year sponsorship contract with Brooks, an athletic shoe and apparel company.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Kent, a student at the University of Western Ontario, said in an interview with ESPN. “I’ve always liked to run and drink beer, but I never thought I would be considered world class for doing both.”
Intrigued? Want to try a beer mile of your own? In addition to following the official beer mile rules, keep in mind that you probably shouldn't try a beer mile if you are underage, if it is illegal where you live, or if you are not in physical shape to drink four beers while running quickly.
If those conditions don't apply, Josh Harris (currently No. 6 on the list of top male beer milers with a time of 4:56.2) offers up this advice: Choose a beer that you enjoy drinking and make sure it's not too cold (too foamy) or too warm (that's just gross). When running, don't sprint out so hard that you are out of breath when it's time to chug. Go easy enough on the first three laps and plan to let it rip (if you can) on the fourth.
Most importantly, have fun, and make sure that in addition to a video camera and stopwatch to record your run, you have a designated driver to get you home in one piece.