Some people go to car races for the crashes. And, at last night’s first World Beer Mile Championships, some of the folks who attended, were there simply for the puking which ensued. But just like car crashes, many were primarily there for the racing which was as intense as any major track meet. Maybe more.
Appropriately enough, the Beer Miles were held at the Circuit of the Americas—a last minute switcheroo–which proved to be an ideal location for this unusual event.
Exciting? Definitely. Unique, festive, beer-drenched and spectator-friendly? Hell yes.
In the first prime-time running of this insane, boisterous event, three world records were set, but the biggie—the men’s world mark—was missed by three seconds. And even that, set off a firestorm of bitter feelings toward the existing world-record holder—James Nielsen—who was not in attendance. More on that later.
The world records were set in two masters events and in the elite women’s race in which Beth Herndon, a 29-year-old geology professor from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, outdueled local heroines Chris Kimbrough and Andrea Fisher, to demolish Kimbrough’s short-lived world best (6:28) with a time of 6:17.76.
In one of the preliminary miles, Vera Montes, an 80-year-old grandmother from El Paso, became the oldest woman (only?) to finish one of these things with a time of 20:35. Equally impressive, Lon Breitenbach—a gifted triathlete from Austin, who is 45—finished second in the sub-elite category but chugged to a time of 5:24.40 which broke the world masters record by a whopping 10 seconds.
Unfortunately for Breitenbach, he wasn’t eligible for the prize money (or world record bonuses) that were reserved for the crème de la crème of beer mile racing. Instead, Breitenbach had to settle for some free beer that he enthusiastically pounded after finishing his race.
In Beer Mile racing, the actual running—400-meter laps on a hastily constructed “track” on the homestretch of COTA in front of the grandstand—is obviously important. But the real key in Beer Mile racing is the drinking. Contestants must drink a beer right at the start of the race then three more 12-ouncers after each lap without vomiting. Exactly who could pound a beer the fastest (the best do it under 10 seconds) would prove decisive in each race.
In the women’s mile, 14 top Beer Milers gathered, including several elite runners. But the drinking has a way of leveling the field.
Andrea Fisher, a 42-year-old mom of two, is a tall triathlete who is familiar to most of Austin’s triathletes. Her running pedigree couldn’t match some of the other women in the field, but her beer guzzling sure could.
A last-minute entrant, Fisher showed her beer drinking prowess with outstanding chugs of the first two beers. She went through the first 400 in 1:21 and by the halfway mark (reached in 3:03), Fisher was a solid second with a chance to move up. Kimbrough who had a huge cheering section, was running well but drinking poorly. She had issues downing her second and third beer which cost her valuable time and ultimately the race.
Herndon was having no such issues with the drinking—or running. She threw down her first beer in an astounding 11 seconds and quickly bolted into the lead with a 400-meter split of 62 seconds. She was able to keep up the running part, but her drinking slowed–”I just didn’t want to puke,” she later said–to about 24 seconds per beer (Fat Tire).
With 400 meters to go, Herndon could see she had a shot at Kimbrough’s 6:28 record (there were two huge Diamond Vision screens with a running clock). She threw down her final Fat Tire in 21 seconds and set fly, crushing Kimbrough’s world best, with a time of 6:17.76, earning $2500 for the victory and another $2500 world record bonus.
“My goal was 6:20,” said an obviously buzzed Herndon (mile PR of 5:03) right afterward. “But I didn’t know what to expect. I was sure I was going to puke but I guess I held it together. I just wanted to relax and run and I thought my running was better than my chugging.”
Wrong. Her chugging was the most consistent of any of the women and even though Herndon ran well, her ability to guzzle beer quickly was the difference. Ultimately, she said, with a bit more training (and drinking), “I think the record could go sub-6.”
Not exactly the historical importance of a sub-4 minute mile, but it could be the next great barrier to fall.
Fisher held on for second in 6:28. Kara Dewalt of Michigan was third in 6:35 and Kimbrough bravely finished fourth in 6:37 but was downed out to not lower her record and win. “I just couldn’t get the beer down quickly enough,” said the 45-year-old from Shady Hollow in southwest Austin who has six children. “I wasted too much time drinking.”
So did the men.
The elite men had a glittering field of good beer mile runners and at least two nationally prominent runners: Nick Symmonds, a two-time Olympian from Oregon, and Scott MacPherson, a top road racer who used to live in Austin but now resides in Missouri. But both are inexperienced beer milers—and it showed.
The best beer miler (and the most experienced) in the field was Corey Gallagher, a 27-year-old mailman from Winnipeg, who has done at least 20 beer miles. A decent runner, Gallagher is a world-class drinker.
He threw down his first beer (Bud Light Platinum, less foamy) in a mind boggling six seconds and bolted from the start/finish line. His first 400 meters was 67 seconds and Gallagher was clearly focused on bringing down the world record.
Gallagher, who has a mile best of only 4:22 (much slower than MacPherson or Symmonds), never surrendered his lead with incredibly consistent throw downs in the 8-10 second range and nearly even splits of between 67 and 70 seconds.
He saved his best for last. With the world record of 4:57 in sight, Gallagher crushed his final beer in seven seconds and somehow rolled to a 61-second final 400. But it wasn’t quite enough.
Gallagher’s winning time of 5:00.23 earned him $2500 for the victory, but itg wasn’t quite enough to take down the world record.
And afterward, he and Symmonds, who was seventh in 5:41, were pissed off. Not at each other, but at James Nielson. Especially Symmonds who was livid.
Symmonds said, “I was really happy to be part of this tonight. FloTrack did an unbelievable job. The race was great and so was the atmosphere. But Nielson is a fraud. His time is a joke and if he had any guts he would have been here tonight. I don’t believe his record. Nobody does.”
Gallagher certainly doesn’t either. “I just want to say that James Nielson is a cheat. I wanted to crush his so-called time and I’m sorry I didn’t. But it’s hard to beat fake times.” (The controversy over Nielson’s 4:57 is whether he finished his first beer. Evidently, he didn’t prove the beer can was empty by holding it upside down–a clear violation of the spirit of the rules.)
Nevertheless, Nielson’s time was the one used for record purposes and not Gallagher’s record of 5:01.6 which he ran earlier in the year.
“I believe my 5:01 is the actual world record,” said Gallagher. “My goal was to break Nielson’s time and erase his name. I’m a better drinker than a runner but I still wanted to get that record. And I didn’t.”
“Still, I’m happy with the outcome and this race tonight was my greatest accomplishment ever. It doesn’t get any better than being a world champion.”