(12/18/2014, somewhere in MA) – The Beer Mile, whether you like it or not, is quickly headed for the mainstream. The exploits of athletes such as Nick Symmonds and the whole spectacle of the Flo Beer Mile World Championships are helping to bring this underground event out from the shadows and into the spotlight. Still, many people aren’t too aware of it and even more either don’t understand or don’t like it.
To me it made sense right away, and even intrigued me a little. Immediately I thought of the whole ‘playing track scene’ from Once A Runner:
“See, when you’re doing the actual thing itself, it’s so competitive and serious, I don’t think anybody really has much fun at it. Rarely in practice and never in meets. Oh, they like the idea of it all right, they like going to competitions, and they like being on a team and the general hullabaloo of being a jock. But when you get right down to it, while you’re doing the thing itself, its not a lot grins. I can’t remember a mile race in my life that was even mildly amusing.”
In the book, the athletes basically get stoned and do field events in confined spaces, etc. For the distance runner, we have the Beer Mile (and sometimes the Beer DMR). It’s like playing track, only there’s more projective vomit involved.
When I first heard of the 2014 Boston Beer Mile, I knew it was something that I’d have to try for myself. Coming on the heels of the Flo Beer Mile, I think many people were expecting it to be done under the lights, but when I showed up it was all dark except for the red glow of the official timing clock sitting there at the start/finish. The Boston Beer Mile was truly an underground kind of event. I felt right at home.
Enough people had showed to fill out three solid heats, plus more than double that was there in attendance. Despite the dark and the cold it was a highly energetic atmosphere. For many it was the first time doing this. For others, it was another chance to show off their party trick.
There was a little buzz ahead of time about Tully Hannan. He had just competed at the Flo Beer, where he finished 7th. Tully got off to a strong start there (he led after the the first lap), but faded in the middle. However, he did finish strong and still beat Nick Symmonds. Everyone was waiting to see what the affable runner from Maine would do that night. Luckily they didn’t have to wait long as he was up first. Just like the Flo Beer Mile, Bud Platinum would he his choice for the Boston Beer Mile.
I ran into Chris just before Heat 1 started and he was already drinking. At first I was surprised but then it seemed like a smart way to warm up. There wouldn’t be as much of a shock to the system if you weren’t getting your first taste just after the race started. Apparently he had just come from a holiday party to he was very warmed up, and still had some time to go. Chris was going to be in Heat 3 and he had done this before. Right then I knew being in Heat 2 was going to be trouble.
The beers used: BBC Steel Rail, Bud Heavy (2), Baxter Stowaway. [Note: we didn’t note the beers used ahead of time a couple of people didn’t divulge their beer of choice afterwards so we are missing a couple throughout the heats.]
The first, elite heat was impressive but also went by in a blur. Between the non-stop thoughts of my looming beat down (would I puke? get lapped?) and the darkness hanging over the track, it was hard to watch those first competitors after they left the ‘drinking zone’.
To the surprise of few, if any, Tully won. No puking, no drama and an incredible 5:31.94. This was a couple of seconds faster than the 5:34.91 he ran in Austin. Louis Serafini ran a remarkable race himself and put up a 5:49.49. Those were the only two gentlemen to break six minutes. Sonny Gamble rounded out the podium in 6:04.79. Six of the seven runners in Heat 1 were under seven minutes.
The Beers Used: Bud Heavy (4), Bud Light Platinum (2), Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and Blue Moon (used by the women’s champ)
This was the first open heat, with no standout backed by an impressive gastro-harrier resume. We lined our beers up on the table, which was a little crowded with this slightly bigger field (9 runners in this heat). The only woman in the field (Ashley Horton) was in this heat and I didn’t want to lose to her. Would I lose to a woman in a beer drinking contest, something so decidedly masculine?
I thought back to my ‘time trial’ held at an undisclosed location and viewed by undisclosed witnesses a week prior. It was a disaster. I couldn’t chug to save my life and I was even worse at burping. The running was the easy part, until I had to stop and walk a couple of times to get the burps out. I was surprisingly able to sprint fairly well after that foul wind was released. It took me until lap 3 to get the first one out, and even then I wasn’t home free. The pace was cut to a crawl on lap 4 until I was to loose another. After that I felt lightning quick and sprinted home. What didn’t help was having the cops show up to the school halfway through to help out with traffic for whatever event was going on. We were hidden enough but there were still police lights in site for most of our time there.
My time of 12:58 was still haunting me when the start command was given. I chugged as hard as I could and did all right, but it was only the first beer and people were already getting a big jump on me. As I dropped my beer and took off I heard a voice behind me complain about a half empty one that one of my fellow competitors left behind. Shenanigans!
I was in the middle of the pack and not feeling great, but not overwhelmed by the brewing belch within quite yet.
The second beer was when the wheels started to come off. I struggled to get it down and people were flying away from me. How were they doing this? Were they human? Paul Hammond asked me what was taking me so long and I think I said something about giving birth to a burp. I was in labor, and it was getting embarrassing.
After choking down Beer 2 I was on my way. At this point there were only a couple of people near me, including Ashley. A guy in front of me puked in stride. I don’t know how whole penalty lap thing works but he needed to take one. I guess we were on the honor system here and this guy was beating me. I had a few things on my to do list at the moment: try not to get beat by Ashley, avoid getting choked out by an enormous belch, don’t get beat by the puker. It was tough trying to prioritize.
I think I got through the second lap just ahead of Ashley but she hammered that beer and took off. She was gone, man. That third beer was painfully slow. My gut felt like a hot air balloon, one that was ready to burst. I was taking some heavy heckling from the Hammond corner. I was ingesting the beer molecule by molecule, carefully taking it in as soon as space opened up. It was so bad that I walked over to the group and basically started conversing. I shouted something like ‘Baby Jessica’s trapped in the well!’ It made sense at the time in my delirious state: the belch felt as big as a baby, it was trapped, and all eyes were on me wondering if it would ever get out. The nation waited with bated breath to see how it would all turn out. Third beer done and I was on my way again. The puker was just in front of me again and, low and behold, he shot out another stream of projectile vomit in stride! How is he doing this?
I kept struggling along until something wonderful/magical/spectacular happened as I rounded the back curve… I belched. It was the sweetest, most glorious belch that anyone has ever belched. To my ears, it was a choir of angels singing. To anyone else it probably sounded like a herd of elephants puking.
Belch out, focus returned, switch flipped…it was on now. I sprinted home and grabbed that fourth and final beer. I was in dead last but the puker was there and struggling with his fourth. In my mind, I chugged that last beer like a champ. In reality, it was an improvement over all of my others, but most likely still not impressive. I finished my beer before he could and took off.
All I wanted to was to not finish last. I could hear him coming so it was going to be close. I threw in what I could, felt surprisingly good, and finished with a big new PR of 10:17.82 (and didn’t finish DFL!). That PR still needs some work to be respectable.
Pete Melillo won Heat 2 with an impressive 7:13.78.
Ashley was well ahead of me in 8:52.65. She was 5th in this heat and also ran fast enough to beat most of the people in Heat 3. In other words, I wasn’t the only one who got a beat down courtesy of Ashley. Surprisingly, this was Ashley’s first beer mile and she now considers herself retired. Afterwards, she said this of her choice of beer: “Blue Moon because it’s light and one of my favorites. I appreciate the hint of orange much more when I am sipping a beer rather than chugging and running.” Don’t we all.
The Beers Used: Gansetts (2), Coors Banquet (2)
In all honesty I was too wiped out to follow this heat in much detail. What is known is that Chris George proved his warm up method worked by winning the heat in 7:45.50 and getting a new PR in the process. George won quite handily, as second place was a good 25 seconds back.
Now, most might think it’s over after your 4 beers/4 laps, but that’s not the case. What really gets you is the 5th lap, which is the after party.
The problem with running a beer mile and being a media guy is that you have beer in your system and still feel the need to try to cover things. So there I was, at the start of the 5th lap, beer in hand, and trying to get a video interview with Steph about the event. Do we hide it well? You be the judge.
Do some running (obviously)
Don’t go on camera for anything
Note: Edits were made to correct the original post that mistakenly reported Tully as a DNF at the Flo Beer Mile. Tully finished 7th in 5:34 there.