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A Staggering Success? S.F. to Host Beer Mile Showdown

If you’ve ever had trouble deciding whether you should drink beer or exercise, there is an event coming to San Francisco this summer that will make that decision easy — or, better yet, obsolete.

The ambitiously titled Beer Mile World Classic will hit Pier 70 on Aug. 22, and if you’re confused about what the event is, well, it’s exactly like it sounds.

Participants line up, chug a beer as quickly as possible, run their first lap and chug another beer, then repeat the process over the course of four laps.

Among the slim list of rules: The beer must be in cans, must be 5 percent alcohol or higher, and ought to stay down. Those who vomit incur a penalty lap.

While the beer mile may sound like a deleted scene from a B comedy about fraternity hazing, the “sport” has some sincere competitors, including current world record holder and San Francisco native James Nielsen, who somehow ran 5,280 feet and power-chugged four cans of Budweiser in 4 minutes, 57 seconds.

Nielsen, 35, of Novato said the beer mile is a pretty common challenge among collegiate athletes and runners looking to blow off steam after big races.


“We used to do it in college as a fun way to cap the season,” Nielsen said. “I was always good at it, but I never took it too seriously.” Nielsen was a two-time NCAA champion in the 5,000 meters as a UC San Diego runner.

Things got a little more serious in beer mile action when Nielsen set out to break the elusive 5-minute barrier. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, so he worked to prepare both his body and mind.

“I’ve spent extensive amounts of time training my stomach to be able to expand to be able to intake the massive amounts of carbon dioxide I’m about to put into it,” he said just before he broke the record in April 2014, in a video posted to YouTube.

He consulted with experts on carbon dioxide displacement and studied the anatomy of the human esophagus to minimize the amount of time it takes to down a can of beer — about five or six seconds during his record-breaker last April.

Asked what he was better at, drinking beer or running, Nielsen said he was better at running, “but my specialty is when I can combine the two.”

It should be noted that Australian beer-miler James Hansen is said to have completed the event in 4:56.2, but his time is still being verified by, which appears to be the authority on all things beer mile.

Believe it or not, folks regard the event soberly. In fact, as news of Nielsen’s feat spread, a crop of doubters sprouted up on Internet message boards who accused him of doctoring his video — or drinking some beverage other than beer.

“I mean, the video is just of some dude with his wife recording him on a track, so of course there are skeptics,” Nielsen said.

That’s one of the reasons he is looking forward to the Beer Mile World Classic — which he said will bring together the best beer-milers in the world, with teams coming from as far away as Canada and Australia to compete on a level, albeit beer-soaked, playing field.

Nielsen said he is most excited that the event will be open to the public, as other San Francisco events known for debauchery attempt to clamp down on rowdiness.

Drink up

“Bay to Breakers is trying to eliminate alcohol from their

event, but at the Beer Mile, it’s not only encouraged, it’s required,” he said. “And all in a safe and legal environment.”

Registration for the race is open, so lace up your running shoes and pour yourself a cold one, because it’s never too early to start training.

Kale Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @sfkale

Soaking up the Beer Mile

Register: To register to run in the Beer Mile World Classic in San Francisco, visit

Video: To watch James Nielsen setting the world record, visit

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