SAN FRANCISCO -- Two nights before the Beer Mile World Classic, Canadian Lewis Kent found himself out and about, exploring this eclectic city.
"Yeah, I was planning on only having six beers or so," he explained Friday night, "but I think I had eight. Or maybe it was 10."
Oh, to be 21 years old.
Kent -- the world-record holder -- was merely training for the event he was seemingly born to run. After a relatively easy night of "three or four beers" on Friday, he obliterated the finest beer mile field ever assembled at the Beer Mile World Classic. In difficult conditions on Treasure Island, Kent ran a largely uncontested 5:07.7, ahead of American Brian Anderson (5:14.7) and Canadian Jim Finlayson (5:16.6), a long-time beer mile veteran.
Kent's beer of choice: Amsterdam Blonde, which he imported himself.
"I'm on top of the world," the lanky Kent said afterward, whose 4:55.78 remains the world standard. "This was my shot to represent my country. I'll probably never get to do that in [non-beer mile] running. I probably could have done a 5:05 if I had been pressed."
A spirited crowd of more than 1,000 attended the quirky event.
Former world-record holder James Nielsen of California struggled from the outset and was eventually disqualified (he would have finished sixth) for having more than four ounces of dregs in his four discarded beer cans. That helped Team Canada win the team competition and the Kingston Cup; Jeff Mountjoy, 25, placed seventh overall and was the third Canadian across the line.
Australian Josh Harris, who held the world record for 14 hours until Kent broke it on Aug. 7, lost the contents of his stomach in the chugging zone of the third lap -- "the Chunder from Down Under," public address announcer Josh Muxen aptly called it -- and was assessed a debilitating penalty lap.
Caitlin Judd, 31 and recently married, was the women's winner in 6:48.2. Even with the temperature at 66 degrees, she wasn't even sweating immediately afterward.
"I'm from Charleston, South Carolina," she said, beaming. "This is cold."
Judd attended Wake Forest and was the USATF South Carolina Distance Runner of the Year in 2013 and 2014. Her time was seven seconds slower than her personal best. On the medal stand, she quipped, "If you're not first, you're last."
Chris Kimbrough, a 45-year-old mother of six and former world-record holder, was second in 6:59.5, and local Berkeley runner Lyndsay Thompson was third in 7:05.6. That podium sweep allowed the American women to run away with the team competition and secure the coveted Queen's Trophy.
The point of the race, according to organizers, was to crown the true beer mile champion -- in a race. While many world record assaults come on virtually empty tracks -- including the record runs of Nielsen and Harris -- this funky venue was anything but a sterile vacuum.
Thus, there were a number of factors working against a world-record run.
The course itself, measured by a certified course surveyor, was not a typical quarter-mile oval track. Rather, it featured longer straightaways and shorter, sharper corners. There were a few daunting obstacles, including storm grates and a pronounced piece of curbing at the end of the fourth turn. And the formidable wind, whipping sideways across the track, was measured as high as 25 mph on the breezy edge of San Francisco Bay.
"They told us there'd be a crosswind," Kent said before the race. "Hopefully, we'll figure it out."
Said Nielsen, "We might not get a world record, but I think that opens up what a lot of people see as a three-man race into a five-, six-man race."
That's not how it happened.
Kent beat the pack out of the opening beer round, followed closely by Nielsen and Harris -- so all three recent world-record holders were where they were expected to be. Kent had already opened up a lead of several seconds when he blew through the second beer, and that was the one that took Nielsen down.
"When I opened up the first beer, it was really warm and foamed up all over my hand," said Nielsen, also one of the race organizers. "I didn't have a good feeling about it. It turned out to be a complete disaster."
Indeed, Nielsen clearly was laboring down the second back stretch and seemed on the edge of irreversible misfortune. At the same time, Harris was having warm beer problems, too.
"Right away, I knew I was in the trouble zone," Harris said. "Yeah, I lost it there at the start of the first lap. That's the beer mile -- you never know how it's going to go."
Usually, the beer mile forces a grimace on the face of competitors, particularly at the end. Kent, on the other hand, was all smiles down the last straightaway.
"You see it so many times, the Olympic guy running to the finish line with a big lead, smiling and waving," Kent said. "Now I know why they're smiling. This means everything to me."