I Watched the Beer Mile Record Go Down—and Managed Not to Puke Myself
Published: Runners World
For three laps, and four beers, my stomach had tolerated—if not quite embraced—the sick joke I was playing on it, but then at last it cried surrender.
I’ve vomited in a variety of places in my life—street corners, night clubs, gas stations—but never on a track, and never in front of 1,000 people.
“Hold it dowwwn,” came a cry from the side as I set out on my final lap, words of advice that were meant to encourage, but in that moment I was too tired, too traumatized, by this ordeal to react with anything but pure hate.
“Why don’t you try holding it down?” I thought, as I moved my beer-pregnant body into motion one final time—a long, long way behind a man who was, at that very moment and in his own peculiar way, repositioning the boundaries of human ability.
Corey Bellemore, a 22-year-old from Windsor in Ontario, Canada, broke his own world record for the beer mile on Saturday night, clocking 4:33.6 in San Francisco.
For those not familiar with this event, that means he chugged four beers and ran four and a bit laps of a track in 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
If, like me, you suspect that’s not possible by an actual human being, I can verify that Bellemore is, at least from what I saw, an ordinary guy—just one with an extra-terrestrial ability.
Me? I was once above-average at running a mile and have always been above-average at chugging a beer, so three days before the race, when a Facebook message popped through from Beer Mile World Classic organizer Nick MacFalls, I said sure, what’s the worst that could happen?
The race took place in Kezar Stadium during halftime of a San Francisco Deltas professional soccer game—which resulted in the biggest ever audience for a beer mile—and organizers had flown in Bellemore along with other world-class beer milers such as Corey Gallagher and Garrett Cullen.
I had run one of these before, clocking 5:50, which meant that my chief goal when racing the world’s best would be to not get lapped (oh, and also: not to puke, which comes with a one-lap penalty).
Two days before, I both started and finished my training for the race by running around the block three times and chugging a glass of fizzy water before each loop.
It confirmed what I thought: I was a chump about to race the champs.
Shortly before the race, I asked Bellemore for some advice. “Keep moving,” he said, “and don’t stop drinking.”
With that, he acknowledged a cruel paradox of the beer mile: that your brief chances to rest and recover must be ignored. The short break at the end of each lap must be solely dedicated to draining a 12-ounce Coors of its contents. Breathing? Forget it.
The first beer, like all first beers, went down easy. The regret always comes later.
My research told me it was best to race on an empty stomach, so I avoided food and water for a few hours before, which meant I was craving that first gulp of golden suds.
Ten seconds later it was gone and I was off and running, already several seconds behind the leaders, already asking myself: how?
My rivals advised a cautious first lap, which I ignored, charging after them as the soundtrack of whooping and drumming from the bleachers flooded my system with adrenaline.
Beer two went down okay, but there was nothing enjoyable about it, not when I knew three laps of hard running and two bottles of hard drinking were still lying in wait.
Coming to the end of lap two, my body started sending out distress signals. Breaths became shorter, more frantic, the need for oxygen in the muscles now greater than before—a need that was told in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up.
Beer three was even less fun, a series of gulps and foam and short gasps as I asked myself why, why, why I had agreed to this. But like all troubled times, it passes, and I soon found myself running down the back stretch for the third time.
As every miler knows, the third lap is what makes or breaks the race. Too far from the finish to feel connected to it, but far enough from the start to be in full suffer mode.
By this point I was learning the key to a good beer mile: burping.
Beer milers need to burp the way ordinary runners need to breathe. Without it, you will not reach the finish without spewing.
Midway through lap three, I felt a huge flow of carbonated air escape in the most heavenly burp of my life, freeing up some precious space in my bloated stomach.
During beer four all you want is air, the one thing you can’t have. It’s a feeling every runner who’s done a hard workout knows, that gasping sensation after a repetition.
At that point, forcing another beer down the hatch seems sadistic, and it is. The first gulp caused a tremor in my stomach, a worrying rumble in the jungle of my digestive system. The second and third were no better, and on that fourth and final gulp, as the last remains of foamy hell slid down my throat, my beer baby was starting to kick.
My stomach contorted, bundled into a knot, then tried its best to unload everything. It took every ounce of willpower to hold it all down—and then start running.
As I set off on lap four, burps were now too dangerous to attempt—who knows what would come up—so I suffered on.
I hit the back stretch, and the commentator’s cries rang out across the stadium: a “newwwww world recorrrrrrrrd,” which gave me a sudden rush of energy. If Bellemore could do that, then surely I could do this.
I imagine the fourth lap of the beer mile must feel like the 26th mile of a marathon. Yes, you’re physically in more pain than before, but the elation of knowing how soon in will end overrides it all.
With no one around me left to race, I nonetheless shifted through the gears and kicked for home, hitting the finish in 5:25.2, finishing fourth in the field of eight. Despite my nation’s long and proud tradition in both miling and drinking, it was apparently the fastest ever by an Irishman.
But it was also 52 seconds slower than Bellemore. Garrett Cullen came home second in 5:07.5, with Corey Gallagher third in 5:14.9 – both guys well off their best but still well ahead of me, even on their bad days. The vast majority of runners will never see the right side of a five-minute mile, but these guys do it while pausing four times to chug a beer.
And sure, some may see that as a dumb frat-boy thing to brag about, but the guys themselves are far too modest to ever do such a thing, not to mention committed athletes themselves with impressive achievements in non-alcoholic races.
Would I recommend doing a beer mile? Truth is, I don’t know.
As Mark Twain said about classic books, they’re something “everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
Like many races, you won’t enjoy doing a beer mile all that much, but you’ll sure enjoy having done one. Midway through the race I told myself I’d never do another. But as soon as I reached the finish? I knew I was lying.