Chug, Run, Re­peat

Rac­ing for glory at the Beer Mile World Cham­pi­onships

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Rhi­an­non Rus­sell

Rac­ing for glory at the Beer Mile World Cham­pi­onships

Ten run­ners in sin­glets and thigh­high shorts sprint around a tree-lined course carved out of a park­ing lot in ­Austin, Texas. Lewis Kent, a lanky twenty-oneyear-old ki­ne­si­ol­ogy stu­dent from Mis­sis­sauga, On­tario, leads the pack, his flu­o­res­cent-yel­low shoes glow­ing in the night. Two thou­sand fans cheer him on, some wav­ing over­sized cut-outs of his grin­ning face.

Kent dashes up to a ta­ble at the side of the course and slows to a walk. In one smooth mo­tion, he grabs a bot­tle of ­Am­s­ter­dam Blonde with his left hand, twists off the cap with his gloved right hand, and pours the am­ber liq­uid down his throat.

Kent isn’t the fastest run­ner, but his chug is su­per­hu­man. He’s spent months re­fin­ing it, and, at 5.15 sec­onds, it is world class. At the end of the “chug zone” — two beers down, two to go — Kent springs back ­into a run. “That was a hel­luva beer right there!” a com­men­ta­tor yells.

At the FloTrack Beer Mile World Cham­pi­onships, ban­ners lin­ing the course read, “CHUG RUN RE­PEAT,” and Kent makes it look as ef­fort­less as it sounds. By the fi­nal stretch, the rest of the field has fallen back, and he and his world record-swap­ping ri­val, Corey Gal­lagher, a mail­man from Man­i­toba, duke it out for boozy glory. Kent crosses the fin­ish line first, his right hand raised in vic­tory, in four min­utes and forty­seven sec­onds, a new world record. Later,

af­ter throw­ing up, he’s awarded a tro­phy and a $5,000 (US) cheque.

The beer mile was born in the late 1980s, when run­ners at Queen’s Univer­sity in Kingston, On­tario, de­cided to com­bine their love of rac­ing and drink­ing. They com­peted on de­serted tracks un­der cover of dark­ness. In the early ’90s, they wrote of­fi­cial rules: four laps of a 400-me­tre track (plus a nineme­tre chug zone), four brews (355-millil­itre cans or bot­tles, at least 5­per­cent ­alcohol), no shot­gun­ning, a ­penalty lap if you puke mid-race. At track meets, the team passed their cre­ation along, and it spread covertly to uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges across North ­Amer­ica. Then, in 2014, an Amer­i­can broke the five-minute mark. Within the com­mu­nity, it was a feat that had been thought ­im­pos­si­ble, akin to Roger Ban­nis­ter break­ing the four-minute mile in 1954.

Kent, a mid­dle-of-the-pack track and cross-coun­try run­ner at Western Univer­sity in Lon­don, On­tario, was ­in­trigued. He ­carted a six-pack to a dirt track near his house. It was hell: he was so out of breath by the third beer, it took him forty­five sec­onds to get it down. But he kept at it. For weeks, Kent guz­zled six cans filled with water ev­ery day while ­clutch­ing a stop­watch, and an­a­lyzed ­videos of his chugs. Count­less test pours in his ­kitchen sink demon­strated how ­liq­uid flows ­faster from a bot­tle than a can. It was ­fluid ­dy­nam­ics 101. To train his stomach, he gorged on large piz­zas, fam­ily-sized ­lasag­nas, and nine-pound watermelons.

The nau­se­at­ing train­ing paid off. Last Au­gust, he broke the world record and then won the first Beer Mile World Clas­sic, in San Fran­cisco. Kent signed with an agent and ac­cepted a spon­sor­ship deal from the ap­parel com­pany Brooks — clothes, shoes, and an undis­closed amount of cash — a first for the sport. Tra­di­tional run­ners were ­em­bit­tered, which Kent un­der­stands. “There are peo­ple who train ten years of their life to get a spon­sor­ship deal and never get a free pair of shoes,” he says. “And then all of a sud­den, this guy can drink beers and run, and doesn’t even run that quickly?” In De­cem­ber, he ap­peared on The Ellen ­DeGeneres Show . She sent him home with a one-year sup­ply of his rac­ing brew.

At univer­sity track meets, Kent would over­hear older coaches trash­ing him. A­for­mer Cana­dian Olympian tweeted that when he was done be­ing a “se­ri­ous ­ath­lete” per­haps he’d dab­ble in the beer mile. One elite racer called it “a bas­tardiza­tion of the world’s most ­pre­his­toric sport.” But for peo­ple who find track races dull, adding four beers cre­ates drama, says John Markell, who helped write the rules still in use to­day. “It’s kind of like watch­ing a train wreck,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it. Any­one can puke at any time.”

On a rainy March day, Kent is train­ing for the Beer Mile World Clas­sic that will be held in Lon­don, Eng­land, this July — the first time an elite race will be run on a ­real track. Most runs are still qui­etly or­ga­nized and held at night on tracks like this one, where Kent and Phil Par­rot-Mi­gas, his room­mate and the world’s ninth-ranked beer miler, dodge pud­dles and prac­tice with lighter 0.5 per­cent Mol­son Exel.

It’s not the booze that makes the beer mile chal­leng­ing; the body can’t ab­sorb enough alcohol in five or six min­utes to get drunk. It’s the car­bon­a­tion that turns the stomach. Dur­ing one race, Par­rot-Mi­gas threw up mid­chug. “On the footage, you see Phil,” Kent says, tip­ping his head back while hold­ing an imag­i­nary bot­tle, “and the beer’s go­ing down, then it goes back up, then it goes back down.”

They laugh, and then sprint off again, for one more lap and one more chug.

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