A Mile Away From Ordinary

I felt kinda scared when I arrived at the track that night, dressed suavely in the guise of darkness, a plain white t-shirt, and a scrummy pair of shorts Clorox can’t save. Because I have paranoia levels befitting a mother of suburban teenagers, I feared the cops could arrive, administer punishment via nightstick and then haul us to county jail. I feared I might faint or die.

OK, I really didn’t think that. That would be overdramatic. But I did anticipate excruciating pain, excruciating but voluntary pain for choosing to participate in an endurance test of sanity better known as the Beer Mile.

The name of the event sounds like a terrible comedy movie that goes straight to DVD. Actually, I suppose, it is a mash-up of “Beerfest” and “American Pie: The Naked Mile,” two terrible comedy movies that went straight to DVD. The event involves little in the way of explanation. You drink four beers and you run a mile. Sean William Scott’s slapstick is not a necessary ingredient, though I would consider it a worthy addition.

If the Beer Mile sounds like a terrible, pointless idea, like combining coffee and Slim Jims with landscaping, that’s because it is. The race begins with chugging a beer. Then you run a lap. Then you chug another beer. Then you run another lap. Then you chug another beer. Then you run a lap. Then you chug a final beer. Then you run a final lap. Far as I know, this is exactly the type of dignified event Pheidippides had in mind when he invented the sport of running by dying on a beautiful Greek plain 2,500 years ago.

I first heard about the Beer Mile last year, working on a story about running for the Dallas Morning News. At the annual White Rock Marathon down there, a local bar hands out free beers to runners at about the twenty-mile mark. My buddy who had run the race told me the beer had saved him one year. I researched whether beer actually aided runners, interviewing, among others, members of a group called “Runners Drink Beer.” One of them had three beers during a marathon and still beat his girlfriend. He was freaking crazy.*

*But soooooo nice. Seriously, they were all great people. The main guy I interviewed texted me a few weeks later to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. Only in the Midwest!

The Beer Mile is for people like them, the hardcore runners and the hardcore drinkers. By hardcore, I don’t mean superfast, Frank Shorter circa-the-1970s type runners – just people who enter a ton of races and maybe post one of those 26.2 stickers on their car. By hardcore, I don’t mean alcoholics – just people who drink for reasons besides being able to blame intoxication for why they are singing and dancing to Taylor Swift on Friday nights.

I’d consider myself hardcore in neither category. I run about three or four days a week, rarely racing and never wearing a watch or even those thigh-hugger short shorts only Steve Alford and serious runners allow themselves to be seen in. It’s far from an obsession. I know people who prefer to stay in on Friday nights because they plan to run thirteen miles or some type of astronomical number on Saturday mornings. I know people who buy crazy shit like Gu and reflective jackets and thermonuclear t-shirts that would make your body feel like a toaster in Fargo. Those people are real runners.

Lookin’ good Steve!

As for drinking, I drink socially, only with other people and pretty much only on Friday and Saturday nights. I know people who must unwind with a glass of beer or wine when they finish work. I know people who use the word “hoppy” in regular conversation and actually understand what the hell it means. Those people are real drinkers. The Beer Mile is for them.

Once, just before I moved out of Dallas, my friend suggested late on a Saturday night that we needed to do a beer mile, and we agreed to run it the next day, another friend deciding to join. We didn’t do it because when we woke up the next morning we were sober.

But many people do attempt the Beer Mile, runners from all over the country (and one in Accra, Ghana!!). The website Beermile.com chronicles these races and lists the fastest times in history for men and women. While scrolling through the list of beer mile locations,* I noticed an inordinate amount from Pennsylvania. Smaller cities like Altoona, Bethlehem, Elizabethtown, Emmaus, Greensburg, Hopewell (??), Lancaster, Millersville, and, of course, State College have hosted these events.

*My favorite of the list is probably “Middle of the freakin’ forest.”

This is incredibly provincial for me to say, but maybe Pennsylvania is some sort of capital for running and drinking at the same time. This wholesome, family-friendly activity has lured me in since I moved here. In June, I started occasionally running with The Hash House Harriers. They carve out cool trails in the wilderness and offer beer at a couple of checkpoints during each run.

Yes, running and drinking does suck at first. After a while, though, you get used to it. On those Hash runs, it doesn’t feel entirely different from drinking hoppy* water.

*Is that a correct use of hoppy?

The Beer Mile is a different animal. I suppose maybe a Bengal tiger. You have to drink four beers in an incredibly short amount of time while running as fast you can. It is not a leisurely run through the woods. The Hash House Harriers actually hosted a Beer Mile earlier this month that I did not attend because I was out of town, a development not followed by any regret. I had little interest in running it.

But I am quickly convinced to undertake activities that don’t necessarily appeal to me if someone just calls me and asks if I want to join them. I pray that none of my friends turn into arsonists who need a helpful, fiery hand.

About a week ago, a friend, Jon, called asking if I wanted to run a Beer Mile at 9:30. I asked if he meant 9:30 at night. He did. I was in. Six of us would run it at a location I cannot divulge on this HEAVILY-TRAFFICKED blog. That night I ate dinner early, chicken Caesar salad, and I drank enough water to fill a Super Soaker XP. I was actually nervous and pumped up, deciding to jog to the track so my legs could be loose and so I could listen to some hot jams on my IPod to get my head in the right place.

I arrived at the track (or was it the middle of the freakin’ forest?!), finding Jon and four of his friends. They completed a few warmup laps. It honestly felt like competitive sports all over again, combined with a rave.

They had planned this beer mile for two occasions. Occasion the first: One of Jon’s friends had recently completed her doctorate and thought that a PhD’s were best celebrated by running at a fast pace with an outrageously-dense volume of liquid in one’s stomach.

Occasion the second: This friend happened to be really, really, really fast. She very nearly qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon. She was going to try to run the world record for the Beer Mile. She also purchased the beer: Molson Canadian Ice and Blue Moon.

The Beer Mile, as hard as it is to believe, has a set of rules stricter and more thought-out than most Mississippi laws. Foremost among them are the ban of shot-gunning and the governance of beer selection. You cannot drink anything with less than five-percent alcoholic content. That means no Bud Light, Natty Light, or even PBR. You have to chug Grandpa’s Old Cough Medicine for realz.

We lined up our four beers in separate lanes and got to running/drinking. The first beer went down in 14 seconds for me and the first lap in about 70. Then the searing truth that I’m not a hardcore runner or drinker kicked in. The next beer took about three times as long, and the next lap was run at a Paul Ryan pace.

The best way to describe the final beer is to say that it tasted like Floam, the probably-radioactive Nickelodeon creation you could mold and bounce and contract asbestos poisoning from. I never ate/drank that stuff, but in my mind the beer by this point had mutated into a solid. That’s how much the final chug sucked.

The last Blue Moon

It took me at least two minutes to finish. While I told my liver to shut up and just process this final beverage, I was actually witnessing the fastest beer mile ever run by an American woman and the third-fastest beer mile ever run by a woman in history. Beth crossed the line as I drank, finishing in 6:48. Seriously, take a look at the Beer Mile record list, and you’ll see Elizabeth “The Doctor” Herndon.

I stumbled in four minutes later, in fifth place out of our six, the run having flooded my mind with rich endorphins, the alcohol having thinned my blood into gossamer. My time was 10:52.

I had told a friend in Kansas City the night before about my plans to partake in this race. “Why the hell,” he asked, “would you ever want to do that?”

It was a damn good question. Maybe I’ll have a proper answer for him before I do it again next year.

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