Running the Beer Mile

Ciarán Crowther tracks the rise of athletics newest phenomen, the Beer Mile.

Running  is all about pushing yourself to the limit. Runners are always trying to improve their personal bests and run faster than they ever have before. To do this at a high level involves certain lifestyle choices which help to maximise performance, such as nutrition and sleep, as well as training hard and in the correct manner. Another vital component of an athlete’s lifestyle is their hydration. This aspect of training is sometimes overlooked but is just as important a component as the rest. Hydrating properly in the build-up to training and races is crucial for an athlete looking to maximise their performance and indeed can be even more important for athletes trying to compete in gruelling events like the marathon, ultra marathon or Ironman triathlons. Attempting to run fast over any distance while actively dehydrating your body would typically be seen as a crazy thing to do, but this is exactly what participants in the beer mile do.

What started initially as a joke over a drink among seven Canadian runners in 1989 (one of whom, Graham Hood, went on to represent Canada in the 1500m at two consecutive Summer Olympic Games in 1992 and 1996) quickly took off in the United States of America and Canada and eventually the rest of the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the beer mile has always thrived on college campuses and this has allowed it to become a semi-serious event today. Indeed, there is an Annual Irish Beer Mile Championship which is now in its sixth year. However don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard anything about it. Any regular or annual beer mile event tends to be discreet in organising a date, time and location due to the laws in place around drinking alcohol in public.

The official rules of the beer mile are quite simple: each runner has to run 4 laps (or 1609m, to be exact), drinking one 12 ounce can or bottle of beer before each lap. Each bottle or can of beer must be at least 5% ABV. Additionally, reinforcing the fact that it is just as important to be able to hold your drink as it is to be able to run a good mile, if any participant vomits at any point during the beer mile, there is a penalty lap enforced. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, whether you consider yourself a good drinker, a good runner or both!

Someone who has proved he has both of the aforementioned attributes is the Canadian Corey Bellemore, the current world record holder for the beer mile. His name has lately become synonymous with the beer mile. Bellemore’s world record stands at 4:33.60 (Bellemore ran 4:24 at the 2018 Beer Mile World Classic but was disqualified because he did not completely finish all of his beers), and when you consider that his total chugging time for his four twelve-ounce beers is approximately 30 seconds, this is an impressive achievement. The Canadian is also a professional athlete signed with Adidas and ran a 3:57.42 mile in Cork during the summer this year, a new personal best.

Bellemore is proof positive of how the beer mile has taken off to become a serious and competitive sporting endeavour, particularly in the US and Canada. In fact, Bellemore’s world record was set during a halftime entertainment show in a professional football match in California between the San Francisco Deltas and Jacksonville Armada. In 2015, the Beer Mile World Classic was the most-viewed race of the year. This is even more impressive considering the IAAF World Athletics Championships, featuring the biggest stars of the sport, took place in Beijing, China in the same year.

Despite the widespread success of the beer mile as a quasi-sport, any associated health benefits are a debatable grey area. Anybody that has spoken about their experience running the beer mile emphasises how awful it makes the body feel. Simultaneously challenging the strength of both stomach and legs, a beer miler has to concentrate on not vomiting as well as running the classic distance as fast as they can. There is some scientific research which suggests that the relief of anxiety and buzz which one can get from beer could adequately sustain the ‘runner’s high’ you get from running if the beer is consumed shortly afterwards, but in truth, beer offers little as a recovery drink. Beer does contain complex B vitamins and antioxidants, but the dehydrating effect of beer due to its alcohol content clearly outweighs the benefits which any small nutritional aspects may offer. As much as this may disappoint any students enjoying the drinking culture of the college lifestyle, if you’re thinking of trying a new drinking game, well, the beer mile beckons…