The second official Flotrack Beer Mile World Championships were held in Austin Texas on December 1st. The timing of the event is conveniently placed between the end of the American cross country season and anything else kicking off.

For the first time the current world champion and the world record holder went head to head in the men’s event to add another dimension to a competition that is evolving into becoming a more serious event, but fingers crossed it doesn’t get too serious.

When I read Nick Symmonds’ outstanding autobiography My Life outside the Oval Office I couldn’t help but smile when Nick mentioned the Beer Mile he took part in during 2005. It bought back childhood memories for me!

I think that due to Nick’s participation, there has been a renewed interest in the Beer Mile and looking through the official list of all-time rankings, the performances posted over the last few years supports my view that we’re seeing more competitive, more focused beer miler emerging.

For those not familiar with a Beer Mile, the event has a decent history behind it, although according to the Brief History of the Beer Mile, the earliest documented races were held in the early 1980’s, coming out hash house harrier events, but also from a few harrier clubs and university campuses.

In more recent times, as an event, the Beer Mile became more formalized and standardized thanks to the internet. The Beer Mile has garnered most support in the U.S and Canada (particularly among university fraternities) but also in Australia, and to a lesser extent, here in New Zealand.

The current record for doing this belongs to Lewis Kent from Canada, a 22 year old student at the University of Western Ontario who is gets paid by Brooks to drink and run. His record time was 4:51.9 going into the world championships which he won lowering that time to 4:47.

Well before ‘records’ were held – so I’m going back beyond the early 1980’s into the mid 1970’s – my harrier club had some very ‘social’ members. A part of the harrier experience was that after early season pack runs, senior members retired to a pub for a well-earned beer, and this is where many a crazy idea was born, so I’m told.

The unofficial watering hole for my running club was often the Paekākāriki Hotel. One of the first crazy ideas to come out of that pub was to stage a race from outside the pub doors to the top of the hill beside it. The steepness of the hill was so acute it required competitors to climb the hill on their hands and knees to the top, then skid back down on their bums. The rules required participants to consume a jug of beer before the race started. The other crazy event that came from these sessions was a beer mile, however this beer mile wasn’t quite like the Beer Mile of today. There were no Queens’s rules for starters. The current race rules today are that competitors must skull a standard can of 5% beer, run a lap of a 400m track, skull another beer, run another lap until they’ve done a 4 lap mile.

Sheer and steep, huh. I wasn't kidding!

Paekākāriki Hill | Sheer and steep. I wasn’t kidding!

The pre-organised ‘original’ Beer Mile I watched as a kid went more like this: Drink a 355ml bottle of 5% beer and run a measured 1 mile road loop, then drink another beer and do it again. If a competitor chundered (threw up) their race was done. Alternatively competitors retired once they couldn’t drink another beer. The winner of our Beer Mile drank close to two dozen beers, at which point I think he might have run out of beers! That meant he was drinking and running for 22 miles until he’d seen off all challenges, essentially running close to a marathon! That was a mighty effort but it also had the effect of wiping him out for some time afterwards.

As told to me, in the aftermath of that Beer Mile, members of our harrier club decided to lodge the feat with the Guinness Book of World Records. It was rejected as not being something to be encouraged. In researching for this blog, I noted that there is now a ‘record’ for the half marathon (13 miles) set at 2-hrs 14.05, although I’m still not sure if the event has been legitimised yet by being included in the Guinness Book of World Records. I suspect not.

For the world championship event in the U.S, I noted the terms, conditions and liabilities was very comprehensive and laid out for full disclosure to competitors, as appropriate to the world we live in today. All the rules, regulations and liabilities certainly haven’t deterred competitors. The event appears to be more popular than ever before – and now includes a women’s world championship as well. I’m sure the event is just as social as any hash house harrier ever was afterwards.

As a one off event, and with due care taken, the Beer Mile is one of those novel races that is sure to attract runners out looking for a new challenge, a good time, and a few beers. Sounds like a good event to do one day.