The Beer Mile

Guest blogger Chris Willis recounts his tale of his first-ever Beer Mile.

My first race of 2015 was quite the event. It was run in the dark and the cold. It was an event I’d never attempted before. And, it was illegal. I ran a Beer Mile. This is my story.

Chances are that 2014 was the year you heard about The Beer Mile. If you don’t know what it is, do yourself a favor and go read Runner’s World’s comprehensive and intensely sourced history of the origins of the event. We’ll wait.

Welcome back.

If you didn’t read the article, or were drunk while you did, here’s a refresher on the rules.

Standing at the mile-start line on a standard 400-meter running track, you crack open a can of beer, chug it as fast as you can within the 10 meters marked off for the relay exchanges, and then run a lap. And then do it again: chug beer, run lap. And again. And again. 4 beers and 4 laps. Beer must be a minimum of 5% alcohol, which rules out most light beers. No ciders or “malternative beverages.” No shotgunning or otherwise fiddling with the can. If you puke before you cross the finish line, you have to run a fifth lap as a penalty. This is an event for purists.

Lap two. Everyone alive and well.

Lap two. Everyone alive and well.

So how hard is a Beer Mile? At the inaugural World Championships (yes, they exist, and yes, there is a sizable amount of prize money) only seven of the 10 entrants in the elite men’s field completed the race. Lance Armstrong made an effort at qualifying for the big show and dropped out. AFTER ONE LAP (so apparently doping is of no aid in the event).

Obviously, I had to try it.

I’m the kind of guy who will do something not despite it sounding like a bad idea, but rather because it sounds like a bad idea. When Taco Bell came out with the Quesarito (a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla), I had two, despite the fact that I had a 19-mile run scheduled the next day in a forest preserve with bathrooms (outhouses, actually) spaced 9 miles apart. Was that a good idea? Actually, yeah. It turned out fine, and Quesaritos turned out to be delicious. This is the problem with these horrible decisions I make: I often escape from them unscathed, which only encourages me.

And so there we were, in the first week of January. We’d planned the event at a local university’s outdoor track so it would be official, and at night, to avoid unwanted attention. Because, you know, public consumption laws and such.

There were seven of us at the start line, all wearing our most intense of game faces. The Bomber (I’m not using any names other than my own because this activity is both illegal and completely degenerate, and we all have day jobs) let slip that he’d been practicing chugging cans of water to work on his “split times.” The Speedster announced that he fully intended to burn the first laps all out while he was feeling good because he thought he could put a gap on us that we couldn’t cover. (This man is a ~4:50 miler.) It was about 40 degrees at the start, and two of us were spiked up and in singlets — that’s how intense this had gotten. I was more nervous than before most marathons.

But this intense race was taking place in an atmosphere that can only be approximated as “illegal miniature outdoor frat party.” Those in our running group who weren’t competing showed up to watch and laugh. Someone made a playlist of drinking songs and brought along a speaker to blast them in the “chug zone.” Bets were being laid. The air crackled with anticipation — and filthy rap songs.

After a final announcement of the rules and a few last minute strides, we were off. Bomber had his first beer down lightning fast, then took off at a rather modest pace. Yours truly got his beer down in a decent time and was quickly off. Speedster did as advertised and came whipping around me near the 300-meter mark at what I estimated was about a 70-second quarter pace. The rest of the pack was going for a slow-and-steady approach.

So what’s it like running a lap after chugging 12 ounces of beer?

Honestly, it’s not bad. If you can burp while you run to clear the carbonation from your stomach, it doesn’t slow you at all, actually. Beer two wasn’t bad going down. Aside from the really uncomfortable sensation of the foamy sloshing in my gut, the running was a piece of cake. There wasn’t enough time in the race for the alcohol to start hitting your bloodstream, so it was really just about volume: the volume of the liquid you had to put down, and the volume of the carbonation that liquid was giving off while jostling in your gut running at mile pace.

And then we got to beer three. Meltdown.

By about 600 meters in, beer two had foamed up so much that I felt completely full. So getting down yet another warm Budweiser took forever (cold beer is too hard to chug, but, as I learned the very hard way, warm beer releases a lot more carbonation). Whereas we had been chugging our beers in 20 seconds or less at the beginning, beer three and four splits were taking a minute or more.

As I began lap three, it quickly became apparent that there was no way I was going to be able to continue running and burping. As I tried to burp, the beer started to … um … reassert itself.

Knowing the rules, I was aware that if I threw up, I’d have to run an extra penalty lap — BUT I would not have to drink an extra beer (making the race 4 beers and 5 laps). I decided that was the only way I’d be able to avoid a DNF, so I pulled over to the infield and tried to empty my stomach as completely, and as quickly, as I could. It was startlingly easy. Warm, foamy beer on an empty stomach; once you open the tap, it just flows out. I was quickly back at it, trying my best to keep up the pace, but by that point, I was well behind the leaders and knew several runners behind me would finish before I could complete a penalty lap.

The benefit of an empty stomach was that the fourth beer went down easier than the third, but it was still rough. I was now drinking beer that tasted like (and was essentially the same temperature as) what I’d just been puking up. Knowing there was no extra penalty for puking twice, I made very little effort to keep beer four down when I started burping off the gas and probably ditched about half of it on the backstretch without breaking stride.

The winner's trophy, made from a can of Four Loko, an American flag and some shotgun shells. 'Merica!

The winner’s trophy (made from  a can of Four Loko, an American flag and some shotgun shells. ‘Merica!)

The group results demonstrated that it’s a beer-drinking event first and a running event second. Bomber won handily with a time of 7:38.1 (it was electronically timed – yes, we really did take this that seriously), beating out Speedster (who himself drank rather admirably, but couldn’t handle the unstoppable chugging force of The Bomber) by 20 seconds. The bulk of the field came through between 8:00 and 9:00, and the final four-lap entrant, who is basically incapable of burping in any situation and yet still agreed to do this race because she’s completely fearless, came through a hair under 11:00.

I was the only person to execute a “boot and rally” maneuver, so I ran my penalty lap alone, coming in at about 12 minutes.

DFL: Dead F@#$ing Last. I decided to really savor the defeat and took off my singlet so I could run the last 100 meters bare-chested. At the time, it seemed logical. I regret nothing.

We all learned a lot. Temperature is key on the beer; you’ll want it cool, but not cold. The Budweiser was too warm, which made it both taste horrible and far too foamy. Find the lowest carbonation beer you can chug; the gas is what really gets you. Practice your chugging or leave a lot of time on the track. And never back down from a race, even if you’re afraid of it. Especially if you’re afraid of it.

From the cheering section, there are ample photographs of this nonsense. To maintain the anonymity of my fellow competitors, most of these you can’t see. However, it is worth noting that by the end of the event, every runner (all of whom are exceptionally svelte people) had a noticeably distended gut from the foamy beer. This should underscore how uncomfortable the event was.

I can’t wait for a rematch. Next time I’m going to pregame with a Quesarito. It can’t be worse.

Again: I regret nothing.

— Chris Willis is a husband, toddler-wrangler and dedicated runner who practices law in the remaining hours in the day. His best race distance is probably somewhere between the mile and the 5K, so naturally, he mostly runs marathons. He lives in Chicago.

The Day the Music Died

380-830-largeI was 5.26 miles into a 10-mile run when it happened: my phone froze.

This winter, my phone has been freezing any time the temperature drops below 40 degrees. And by freezing, I mean the cold sucks the life out of my battery like a Death Eater, and my phone dies on the spot. Since I resolved to run more unplugged miles this year, this annoying quirk has been more of a safety hazard than a running one, but on this particular day, it really sucked.

It had been an exceptionally stressful week of work (you know, the kind where you feel so overwhelmed that you might barf or cry), I was holding on to a sore throat and a nagging cough, and the hilly route home that fateful Friday afternoon was much colder than I had anticipated.

But there I was, nearly 5 miles from my house with no music, no phone and no way to tell anyone I wanted to curl up on the side of the road in the fetal position until the body collector came to sweep me up and cart me home.

So I did the only thing I could do — I kept going.

Completely alone with no music, I listened to my slapping footsteps as my mind started to wander. I quickly realized that the lack of music wasn’t my central issue. My main concern was over my lack of phone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my music – I NEED my music. But on this day, it was the complete and utter isolation that had me reeling.

Wait a minute! Who cares if I am all alone? What’s the big deal? When did I become so reliant on my phone?

I used to run without a phone all of the time. Sometimes, there were logistical issues, but by and large, I just went off the grid for hours on end.

The advent of the Nike+ app seemingly solved my logistical problems. I could track my mileage, carry my music — and I had a lifeline to the outside world. It was easy to find friends and family after races, and I could text my husband to let him know where I was and when I’d be home. It did, however, mean that my mom would occasionally interrupt my runs from time to time “just to gab.”

Soon, the always-on mindset crept into all areas of my life.

I became always-accessible, and my job became more flexible. I could answer emails and texts and questions wherever, whenever. On top of that, I added two kids to the equation. If someone got sick or hurt or who-the-heck-knows what, I was the first responder.

But as I slowly chugged my way back home while my feet smacked loudly on the pavement, I realized the “flexibility” my phone “allowed” me actually robbed my of my personal time.

That night, I bought an iPod shuffle, and it changed everything. Now, I leave my phone completely behind, and when I come back from my run, everyone is still alive and well. Especially me. Because that hour of freedom and total solitude is something I am not only ALLOWED to take, it’s something I DESERVE.

Most days, I don’t even get to take a shower uninterrupted, so I literally need to run away from my life (even if it’s just for a quick mile or two), so I can plug back into it again. And it took a technology defect in the middle of a crappy run for me to realize it. — Aidz

Hip Check 2

i-m-tired-of-this-crap-oThe saga of my nagging hip injury seems to be never-ending.

I was scheduled to go in for my super-special, difficult-to-administer, hard-to-reach cortisone shot from a referred orthopedist on Monday afternoon — a full 17 days after an MRI revealed my ridiculously inflamed ischiogluteal bursa. I drove back from my long weekend trip to Cincinnati on Monday morning, changed clothes and was preparing to leave for my appointment when I got a call from the orthopedist’s office.

“We have to cancel your appointment for today because not enough time was scheduled for the procedure.”

Excuse me, what?!?

“The next available time is Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. Does that work for you?”

NO. NO IT DOES NOT.

I was flooded with anger. How does this happen? How?!?

“I’m going to be out of town Feb. 27 to March 8. There seriously isn’t anything available before that? Your office is the one that messed this up, and you’re telling me you can’t make any accommodation? I am in pain.”

“I’m terribly sorry, but no, Dr. Weber only performs these procedures on Fridays. The next available appointment then would be 1 p.m. on March 13.”

I was in shock. My eyes flooded with tears. My hands were shaking.

“I’m going to call my orthopedist and ask for a different referral. This is unacceptable.”

I called my doctor and reached his personal secretary, Anita. “Can you refer me to anyone else?”

“Why?”

I breathlessly explained the situation, my voice cracking. She informed me that, unfortunately, Dr. Weber is the only orthopedist in their group who performs this particular procedure. She transferred me back to the first woman who had called to cancel my appointment. Through clenched teeth, I scheduled a March 13 appointment.

Five minutes later, Anita called me back. “Maggie, you can get in to see one of the specialists at the hospital. I already faxed over your information, and here’s the number you need to call.”

I called, left my information, and about an hour later, someone called me back and I was finally able to schedule another appointment. For Feb. 26.

I promptly ordered a mountain of sushi on GrubHub and ate my feelings.

So, two more weeks of pain — which now has gotten so bad that I have to put a throw pillow on my kitchen chair while I eat dinner — thanks to some outrageous incompetence. I’m really tired of this. — Mags

Bad Angel Rule #195

Barefoot Running Club

Day 1 was cold and windy, but we tackled the hills together.

Start a Running Club.

I run twice a week right after work, and people at the office constantly tell me they want to join me. So, it just made sense to start a running club. And guess what? Over 25 people have signed up! What what?!

This isn’t the first time I’ve started a running club, but here’s how I approached this one:

  1. Send out the all-company email. Keep it light and to the point. Gently remind folks to reply to only you.
  2. Give people two days to choose from. In our club, we run on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:45. People can sign up for one or both.
  3. Send out invites and block calendars.
  4. Remind folks to come when they can. Of course, work comes first.
  5. Assign a route for each day. Tuesdays are our “hard” days with bridges (re: hills) and Thursdays are our “easy” days, when we run flat and slow. Put a link to the route in the invites for reference.
  6. Assign two group leaders. One person can run with the faster folks, and one can go with the slower folks.
  7. Remind everyone we are here to support each other. Racing is optional and must be set up before each run. Jokes are welcome.
  8. Have fun! And get ready for some serious camaraderie.

I love running and I love my job, so I can’t tell you how fun it is to be able to bring these things together. I’ve also met people from other teams I would never have known otherwise. I love the energy it brings to the office while sharing the benefits that come from running — stress relief, community and fitness.

If you are lucky enough to be able to do this at your place of business, I highly encourage it. Happiness is only real when shared, so get out there and share the love of running! — Amie

Rookie Rule #25

Pump [CLAP CLAP] You UP.

A week ago, a friend and newbie runner asked me, “Can you help me with some strength stuff? I don’t even know where to start.”

Sometimes I take my background as a jock for granted, and I neglect to realize that unless you’ve had a coach breathing down your neck while counting your bench repeats, you probably have no idea what the heck to do in a weight room. Or where to start with “strength stuff.”

Fear not! You can build strength and speed without a single piece of equipment. All you need is a little guidance and a little gravity.

Start by breaking strength into three key areas: Arms, abs and legs.

Push-Ups

Arms:

  • Push-ups: Yes, they can be hard, but that is because they are the most effective upper-body strength exercise you can do. If you need to put your knees on the ground for support, it’s totally fine. Make sure your back is straight, your eyes are looking down and your butt is tucked in (no air-humping and passing them off as push-ups). Suggested: three sets of 10 with a minute rest in between sets.
  • Dips: Sit with the heels of your hands on the edge of a sturdy chair seat. Slide your butt off the seat and support your weight with your hands. Bend your elbows back and slowly lower your butt toward the floor. Keep your elbows tucked in. Your body should just clear the seat. Suggested: three sets of 10 with a minute rest in between sets.

Crunches

Abs:

  • Traditional Sit-ups: Just like you used to do in gym class! Lay flat on the ground with your knees slightly bent and your feet flat on the ground. Cross your arms over your chest and sit up slowly. Lower your torso back to the ground. Repeat. Slow, steady movements are the key here. Suggested: three sets of 20 with a minute rest in between sets.
  • Crunches: Lay flat on the ground, cross your ankles and raise your knees in the air. Place your hands behind your neck and crunch up toward your knees. Remember, you want to engage your abdominal muscles, so don’t use your arms to yank your neck up. Suggested: three sets of 20 with a minute rest in between sets.

Lunges

Legs:

  • Forward Lunges: Stand up and put your hands on your hips. Step your right foot out a stride’s length (your knee should be at a 90-degree angle to your ankle) and lunge forward as your left knee dips toward the ground. Step back. Repeat on the left. If you do them right, you’ll FEEL IT the next day. It’s the feeling of getting stronger, so deal with it. Suggested: three sets of 10 on each leg with a minute rest in between sets.
  • Cross-over Lunges: These work the same as standard lunges, only instead of stepping your right foot out, step your right foot across your body a stride’s length. Suggested: three sets of 10 on each leg with a minute rest in between sets.
  • Calf Raises: Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart. Place your hands on your hips. Then, quickly raise up to your tippy toes. Hold it for a few seconds and lower slowly back to your heels. Repeat. For added difficultly, balance on one leg or go to a step. Suggested: three sets of 10 with a minute rest in between sets.
  • Clam Shells: Lay on your side, bend your legs slightly, keep your feet together and raise your top knee like a clamshell. Suggested: three sets of 10 on each side with a minute rest in between sets.

As a general rule of thumb, I alternate an arm exercise, a leg exercise and an ab exercise into a set. Then, I pick a new set of exercises to rotate through. For example:

  • Set 1: Push-Ups/Sit-Ups/Forward Lunges
  • Set 2: Dips/Crunches/Cross-over Lunges

You get the idea.

Another easy way to work strength training into your exercise is to incorporate it right into your run. Since you don’t need any equipment for these exercises, you can do them on the go. For example:

  • If you’re outside, stop half way through your run and do a few sets of strength exercises. Complete your route and do a few more sets of strength exercises.
  • If you’re inside, warm up for 5-10 minutes on the treadmill. Do a set of strength, and hop back on the ‘mill for 2-3 minutes. Alternate running and strength exercises for 30 minutes. Cool down on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes.

It’s that easy. No weights, no dumb bells, no need to feel intimidated. Now, go get your strength on. — Aidz