Beer & Running: How To Run A Beer Mile

How fast can you run a beer mile? It takes some good running fitness as well as the ability to pound 12-ounce beers. Photo: William Flaws

It sounds like a classic bar bet: How fast can you run a mile on a track while drinking four beers along the way? It’s not as easy as you might think.

How do you run a beer mile?
The most common format of a beer mile requires each runner to drink a 12-ounce beer (with a minimum alcohol content of 5 percent) and immediately run a quarter mile (roughly one lap around most tracks in the U.S.), then repeat the process three more times. Although it’s more of an individual time trial than a race, a beer mile is timed from the moment the runners crack their first beers to the time each runner finishes the fourth lap around the track.

RELATED: The 2014 Beer Mile World Championships

What does running a beer mile feel like?
Worse than your hardest interval workout, says Tim Cigelske, who writes a blog called “Beer Runner” for Draft magazine.

“It really hits you the hardest once you stop, and all the alcohol and adrenaline and lactic acid that was produced in such a short amount of time floods your system,” says Cigelske, recalling his first beer mile in 2011. “I’m happy to report that I didn’t puke, even though I came close. Others were not so lucky.”

If you throw up before you finish the fourth lap, you have to run a fifth lap as a penalty.

RELATED: James Nielsen—Beer Mile Legend

When was the first beer mile?
Legend has it that the beer mile has been around since the early 1900s, but the oldest known records date back to the late 1980s. In recent years, it’s been known as a rite of passage for many college track and cross country teams and an annual event for many running clubs — often contested on a holiday like New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July. There’s even a website (beermile.com) that tracks rules, results and records. The site has almost 1,700 beer mile events logged and 18,000 individual results.

What’s the fastest beer mile on record?
The official beer mile world record is 4:57.1, a time 34-year-old Canadian James Nielsen ran in late April 2014 in Novato, Calif. While that impressive effort broke the previous record set by Australian Josh Harris (5:04.90) it’s important to note that Harris might have become the first sub-5-minute beer miler if it weren’t for a stubborn bottle cap during the last transition. (However, the official rules suggest a proper beer mile runner must drink beer from 12 oz. cans.) Nick Symmonds, a two-time U.S. Olympian and five-time U.S. champion in the 800-meter run and the 2013 world championships silver medalist in that event, holds the American record of 5:19, a mark he ran just a few weeks after placing fifth in the 800m at the 2012 London Olympics. The women’s world record of 6:28:60 was set by American Chris Kimbrough of Austin, Texas, in October 2014.

VIDEO: Watch James Nielsen Break The Beer Mile World Record

Can you train for a beer mile?
Barry Siff, a runner, triathlete and race director from Boulder, Colo., practiced for his first beer mile by guzzling a beer a day as fast as he could for a week. He’s not sure if it helped or not, but at least he tried something.

“The most difficult part is downing the beers in the later laps, and then running fast with all that carbonation in your system,” says Siff, who owns an 8:25 beer mile PR, which ranks him 36th all-time among 50-and-over grand master runners. “You feel it from the upper levels of your chest all the way down to your gut.

“It’s all about good fun, but clearly there’s a competition going on out there for some.”

Want to give it a try?
Gather a few running friends who also happen to like to drink beer, but be sure to check out the “official” rules at beermile.com. Wide-mouth bottles, cheap, low-alcohol beers, “shotgunning” and beer “bonging” are prohibited. Costumes are encouraged, but pre-race carbo-loading is definitely not advised.

RELATED: 5 Boroughs, 5 Beers During The NYC Marathon

This piece first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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