Friday, January 31, 2014

My first-ever beer mile

A few weeks ago some fellow runners and I were chatting over beers after a run and one of us suggested that we do a beer mile.

"Great idea," I said, "when should we do it?"

"How about Thursday three weeks from now?"

I looked on my calendar. The date was perfect.

That date ended up being yesterday. It was also my 47th birthday

A beer mile, in case you haven't heard, requires you to drink four beers and run a mile, in the following sequence:

1. Drink a 12-ounce beer straight from the can/bottle (no modification of the container is allowed).
2. Run 1/4 mile
3. Drink another beer (by the way, the minimum alcohol content is 5 percent. This means most "light" beers are out.)
4. Run 1/4 mile
5. Drink another beer (you're probably starting to notice a pattern here)
6. Run 1/4 mile
7. Drink another beer
8. Run 1/4 mile

There are other rules, to do with puking, running while drinking, etc., but this gives you the general idea.

The main difficulty in planning a beer mile is figuring out where to do it. Most logical spots (school tracks, parks, etc.) forbid consumption of alcohol. We decided on a section of greenway that was relatively near town (so we could recuperate in our favorite burrito joint) and, we hoped, would be pretty much empty at 6:15 p.m., after dark.

Problem #1: Snow. It doesn't snow much in Davidson, North Carolina, but by a fluke it had just snowed a couple days earlier. We were hoping to mark off a quarter-mile section of the greenway to run on, but we couldn't find a section that long that was clear. Solution: We'd run an eight of a mile out and back. The turnaround would slow us down, but we we're planning on breaking any records anyway.

Problem #2: As it turned out, the "isolated" section of greenway we were planning on using was right next to the town's parks and recreation office. Several employees appeared to be working late. If they were paying attention they might notice some unauthorized alcoholic activities occurring right outside their windows. Solution: We tried to look as inconspicuous as possible as we sauntered past the office. Fortunately the actual event would be out of sight of the building. In the end this turned out to be a non-issue, but there were school teachers and lawyers among us for whom "getting caught" might be more than merely embarrassing.

Problem #3: I hadn't chugged a beer in over two decades. Solution: Uh, you're on your own there, Dave!

A little after 6:15, six of us lined up at the start, first beer in hand, others arrayed strategically on the ground.

We yelled "start" and cracked open our beers. I was drinking Miller High Life from a can. This stuff wasn't just fizzy, it was positively frothy. It seemed like every swallow of beer I drank doubled in volume on the way down. Drinking this thing was taking forever. I still had about a third of a can left when the first runner finished his drink and sprinted onto the dimly-lit greenway. Finally I finished and took off. I was in fourth place. My stomach felt like it was going to explode. Fortunately I was able to belch several times and settle into a quick stride. Soon I reached the turnaround and headed back. This wasn't going to be too bad.

Then I started drinking the next beer. It's one thing to chug a beer when you're nicely rested; it's another thing entirely when you've just run a quarter-mile all-out. After a couple swallows I had to stop to take a breath. The first runner was already finished and heading back out. It seemed impossible! I finally settled into a drink-gasp-drink-gasp pattern and was able to down the beer and head back out, still in fourth place. I belched my way around the cones and back to the starting area.

Now the leader was starting to struggle a bit. I think he was having trouble keeping his beer down—He was a fast runner and drinker, but didn't seem to have the stomach for the event. Meanwhile I was dealing with my own issues of froth and gasping for breath. Finally I downed beer number three and headed back out. I passed the former leader and was now in third place. The new first- and second-place holders seemed strong indeed; there was no chance I could catch them. By the time I was back to the start, they had practically finished their fourth beers. The former leader came in and was struggling to open his can. It was a very chilly night and his fingers were numb. I was halfway through beer #4 when it occurred to me I could help him—I ripped the pull tab off of my can and handed it to him to use as a lever.

Unfortunately, while I was doing this, the fourth-place runner continued to drink; he finished his beer about three seconds before I did. Now it was just a footrace; I accelerated as quickly as possible (while belching) and caught him just before the turnaround. Runners 1 and 2 had finished, but I wanted third place. I poured on the speed, but Runner 4 would not go down without a fight; I could hear him gaining on me. Somehow I found another gear and picked it up even more as I drove to the finish line in the darkness. I held him off, and managed to finish in a time of 9:54. As the other two runners straggled in, we all agreed: That was hard!

I think the hardest part was just the foaminess of the beer. It was difficult to get it down quickly when there was so much foam. I don't think drunkenness really played any part during the actual run—though naturally I did feel a little buzzed afterwards.

I managed to capture the whole thing on my Garmin. Since the Garmin captures "moving time" I got a good sense of my pace for the running portion -- 6:40 for the mile. That's not flying, but it also involved four starts and stops, plus four turnarounds. Taking a look at my final sprint, it looks like I was under 5-minute pace for that last dash to the finish.

What's more interesting are my beer-drinking splits. Here's the Garmin speed graph:

The four deep troughs correspond to my beer-chugs; by hovering over the graph on my Garmin activity page, I can figure out how long it took to do each one: 29, 46, 56, and 86 seconds; a little slower every time, with an extra-long gap on the last one due to my stopping to help my fellow beer-miler. Clearly if there's room for improvement, it's in the beer-drinking portion of the event. I'm not currently planning on doing another beer mile, but if I did, I'd definitely need to work on my beer-chugging skills.

By the way, there's a whole web site on beer miles. The current world-record is 5:04, which seems almost unfathomable. I took nearly twice that long!

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