It might be the only athletic event where there’s an official penalty for puking.
We’re talking about the beer mile, a running/drinking track competition in which competitors must chug a beer at the starting gun, run a quarter mile and then repeat the process three more times.
The standard rules mandate that the runner — and all four beers — have to cross the finish line together. If you throw up in the middle of the race, you have to run a penalty lap.
The race was invented by a handful of young Canadian runners in 1989, according to a Runner’s World article. The idea spread in the North American running community as an under-the-radar race, held mostly by college runners to celebrate the end of the cross-country or track season.
“It was definitely not the kind of thing you’d do in daylight,” said Joachim Marjon, a 33-year-old lawyer in Rochester, Minn., who did beer miles when he ran for the University of New Mexico.
In recent years, however, the beer mile has gone mainstream, with highly publicized world championships attracting elite runners and sponsorships from running shoe companies.
Beer miling has even trickled down to the Joe Sixpack running crowd.
In Minnesota alone, there are at least three beer mile events that anyone over 21 could race in this summer. And one of the best beer milers in the country happens to be a Bloomington man who will be traveling to London this weekend to compete in an international championship.
The beginning of the beer mile boom can be traced back to April 28, 2014, when a guy named James “The Beast” Nielsen posted a YouTube video of himself running a beer mile, alone on a track in Northern California.
A few days before the 60th anniversary of history’s first less than four-minute mile by English runner Roger Bannister, Nielsen documented himself breaking the five-minute beer mile barrier with a time of 4:57.
Nielsen’s video, which now has 1.6 million views, electrified the running world. The event became news in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, NPR, ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
‘A race against your stomach’
No wonder. Even a casual runner — or drinker — can appreciate the physical prowess it takes to be able to run in a mile in four minutes while slamming four beers, taking no more than 15 seconds per beer.
Doing both at the same time seems like a mutually exclusive task.
Chugging any beverage when you’re out of breath is a suffocating experience, which Nick Symmonds, an American Olympic runner, has compared to being waterboarded. Trying to run at top speed with up to 48 ounces of a carbonated alcoholic beverage sloshing around in your stomach is like being a giant warm bottle of beer, well-shaken.
“It’s a race against the clock. It’s a race against your stomach,” said Brendan Sheehan, who has placed second two years in a row in the Northeast Beer Mile in Minneapolis.
Since Nielsen’s feat, top beer milers have gotten even faster.
The current record is held by Canadian Corey Bellemore, who clocked a 4:34.35 last summer at the Beer Mile World Classic in London. The second fastest beer mile, 4:47.17, was run by another Canadian, Lewis Kent, who ended up with a sponsorship from Brooks running shoes.
Competing against those guys is Brian Anderson, a 25-year-old commercial real estate appraiser from Bloomington, who has run a 5:05.2 beer mile, making him one of the 15 fastest beer milers recorded by Beermile.com, which tracks more than 100,000 results.
Anderson was a pretty good runner at the University of St. Thomas, but in beer mile competitions he’s been able to beat professional runners because of his ability to pound four beers in a flash and keep them down while running.
“You’ll still see the elite guys throw up,” he said. “For me, I’ve gotten good with the carbonation.”
Among world-class beer milers, he describes himself as “top three in terms of chug.”
Locally, less gifted runners have also been giving it a try.
On Sunday, the third annual Northeast Beer Mile expects to attract about 100 runners. The competition, sponsored by the Northeast Business Association, is a replacement for pedal pub racing, said Jeff Metzdorff, race director and owner of Mill City Running.
Ted Roseen, a 41-year-old Minneapolis yoga instructor, ran the first two Northeast Beer Mile races. He’ll be back for a third try this weekend.
“As a yoga instructor, I’ve always been intrigued at what the body can do,” he said.
In addition to running and practicing yoga, he trains by “sitting down in front of a TV with a six pack and basically pounding them.”
Under the official or so-called Kingston beer mile rules, racers must gulp from previously unopened, standard 12-ounce bottles or cans of beer with at least 5 percent alcohol by volume. Wide-mouth cans or bottles, “strawpedoes” and “shotgunning” the cans with an extra puncture are prohibited, according to Beermile.com.
The website also has the rules to alternative events such as the chocolate milk mile (1 mile while drinking 48 ounces of chocolate milk), the vodka steeplechase (seven shots, standard 3,000-meter steeplechase course) and the Queen’s Chunder Mile (1 mile with four 20-ounce imperial pints of beer, vomiting allowed).
Pacing, burping and pain
Pacing is the key to a successful beer mile, Anderson said. Go out too fast and you face disaster. Another key? It’s critical to burp after downing each beer.
“You’ve got to burp every single exhale,” Marjon said.
Anderson runs wearing a glove on one hand to make it easier to twist off the cap of his favorite racing beer, Budweiser.
His preferred beer temperature is 45 to 50 degrees. Too warm will upset his stomach, but too cold will inhibit his burp, he said.
Nielsen described the process as mastering “the physics of food dynamics and air displacement.”
Mesenburg said he’s gotten some pushback from people in his church for organizing an event that combines drinking with athletics. But he said his race requires participants to sign a waiver that includes the name of a post-race designated driver.
And if anyone thinks beer miling seems hedonistic, competitive beer milers can attest that the event turns beer drinking from pleasure to pain.
“It’s horribly uncomfortable,” Marjon said.
And that’s sort of the point.
“This really keys into the personality type of the runner,” Sheehan said. “They always like being in pain.”