I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year than running around a buddy’s yard chugging beer and barfing. Actually, I can, but I chose to partake in the First Annual Winchester Beer Mile.
The New Year started with a new event for runners and beer drinkers in Winchester, Virginia. The 2015 Winchester Beer Mile served as a test-run to nail down all logistics (click here to see how the idea came about) for larger Beer Mile Races in the future. Nineteen athletes came together on Vernon Heavner’s lawn to make history.
Vern had carefully mapped, plotted and marked off a quarter mile course around his property. Tables were set up at the starting line for beers. Statistics guru, Ed Schrank, was stationed nearby with timing chips for each runner. This event had the feel of a bonafide race. Runners started arriving and sizing up their competition while strategizing how to attack the course and the beers.
I brought my friend Mike, who I assist in coaching the Winchester United U9 Soccer Team; and my wife Jen, who would serve as course photographer for the day. As Mike and I warmed up, our main concern was how to finish four beers and navigate the bumpy and slightly slippery course without making fools of ourselves. Neither of us drink very often, and when we do, it is not at a chug pace. I already had visions of my guts being spilled all over Vern’s yard and my wife angry with me for being sick, drunk and useless the rest of the day. Maybe this was a bad idea.
Some of the area’s top runners showed up for the race. We had Matt Lofton, who always finishes in the very top of all the local races he enters; Duane Williamson, who runs more races in a year than anyone I know (51 races in 2014); Alec Schrank, who is among the best high school runners in the state of Virginia; Isreal Lockhart, a collegiate runner who I can never seem to catch in local races; Jason Schrank, another member of the “Amazing Running Schranks” who I had never met but has the pedigree for speed; Alex Lane and Jamey Walters, members of Team Running Dad that tackled the Baltimore Marathon with me and helped raise money for The Lucas Fund; Chris Fishel, a staple of the Shenandoah Valley running scene; Mark Peters, a Boston Marathon finisher and local race organizer accompanied by his wife Aimee; Barbara Stamberg, who I seem to run into at every race I attend; and of course our Beer Mile director, Vern Heavner, who has a two-year-plus running streak going and is no stranger to beer. The rest of the field was made up by runners who I was not familiar with up until this race.
If you are not familiar with the concept of the Beer Mile, here are the details:
A Beer mile is a drinking game combining running and speed drinking. The event takes place on a 1/4 mile running course. The race begins at the starting line with the consumption of a standard 12oz beer of at least 5% ABV (alcohol by volume), followed by a full lap around the course. The second lap continues in a similar manner; another 12oz beer is consumed before commencing the running of the second lap. This process is repeated for the next two laps. Following the completion of the fourth running lap (and four beers), a competitor has finished the race. Competitors who vomit before they finish the race must complete one penalty lap at the end of the race (immediately after the completion of their 4th lap). Note: Not required to drink an additional beer on the penalty lap. Also vomitting more than once during the race still requires only one penalty lap at the end.
– Participants must be 21 or older
– Must have a Designated Driver, or stay and sober up before driving
– No other rules! No experience necessary! All abilities welcome!
Several of the runners were not old enough to consume beer, or choose not drink beer at all. Those participants chose to use root beer as their between-lap beverage. Vern provided beer or you could bring your own, as long as it met the 5% ABV rule. I went with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. My beer selection strategy was to go with something I know I like the taste of, in case I get to taste it again coming back up. Gross, right?
With nearly 20 registered runners, four heats were selected by drawing numbers from a hat. Heat number one included Matt, Jamey, Duane, and mystery entrant, Brent, who showed up in his New Year’s Eve party attire, before trading the jeans and loafers for running shorts and shoes. He kept the sport coat for style points. Vern gave the “Runners, on your mark, set, GO!” and the first annual Winchester Beer Mile was underway.
From the start, Brent was in it to win it. Beer number one was downed in under ten seconds, leaving the rest of the field in his dust as he got out to a half lap lead. Matt downed his first root beer and took chase followed by the rest of the heat. Even with Matt’s elite speed, he didn’t catch Brent again until back at the beer table for the start of lap two. Brent’s second beer didn’t go down as fast, but he still was out of the gate before the rest of the field. But his lead dwindled quickly as his first two beers came rushing out. We had our first puker! Brent would be assessed a penalty lap at the finish of the fourth lap. It now appeared Matt had heat number one in the bag. Duane was close behind, but Matt’s speed seemed impossible to overcome. On lap three that all changed. Matt had to make a pit stop. The root beer proved to be as hard to keep down as beer. We now had a race. Matt would have to complete fifth lap. Duane continued his steady pace of beer drinking and running and managed to get through his fourth beer with no sickness. But speedy Matt could make up a lot of time after finishing his last root beer and running the penalty lap. Duane rounded the final turn of his last lap as Matt was gaining ground on him on his fifth and final lap. Duane managed to hold him off and win heat one. He celebrated by stepping off the course and throwing up all of his four beers.
The bar was set. Everyone who had not run yet had now witnessed a gut-wrenching performance by the first heat of runners, and it was intimidating. I could already hear my wife saying, “And you wanted to do this … Why?” Mike was never going to speak to me again after subjecting him to this. Nerves were starting to get to me. I was already scouting out the best places to puke. Was it too late to withdraw form the race?
Heat number two went off shortly after. I don’t remember much of this group except for Vern’s steady gallop around his yard. Even Vern deposited his beers on the lawn in the end. I was busy snacking on pretzels and trying to get warmed up for my upcoming heat. I was not looking forward to this. But my time to take the course was coming up. My goal was to keep the beer down.
Vern called all of Heat Three to get their beverages out and ready on their designated tables. I popped the top on my four bottles of beer and lined up with the rest of my heat at the start. I had my work cut out for me. I had both Schranks and Isreal in this heat. Mark Peters and I were the elder statesmen for this group. Alec and Isreal chose root beer, Jason and I went for beer and Mark chose Diet Coke. Right away, my competitive juices started flowing. I had a chance to beat Alec and Isreal in a mile race. When will that ever happen again? My nerves disappeared and I was ready to go. Game on! I grabbed my bottle, took a long drag, burp, long drag, burp, final swig, burp, and off I went!
I was behind the two youngsters for the majority of the first two laps. Jason jumped into the mix after shotgunning one of his beers. I kept the pattern of drink, burp, drink, burp, run going for the entire race. Around the back stretch, Jason and I were neck and neck, burping and giggling in perfect harmony. I then decided this race was mine for the taking. I sped up and passed Jason right as Isreal stepped to the side, hands on knees, and puked up his root beer. I just had Alec to catch and the gap was shortening. At the table for the final beer, Alec stepped aside and let loose his gut full of root beer. These boys were never going to drink Barq’s again. All I had to do was keep my beer down for one more lap. I downed that final beer, threw my hand in the air and took off. Matt joined me on the final lap with his GoPro camera, capturing me in all my glory. I haven’t seen the footage yet, but I assume I looked a lot like Prefontaine or Roger Bannister speeding around Vern’s yard. This would be something to show the grandkids one day. I sprinted down the final stretch to the roar of the crowd (I know I heard at least one person clapping). Boom! I just drank four beers, ran a mile and didn’t toss my lunch all over Vern’s yard!
I had the best time of the day so far – 9:35 – with just one heat remaining. Soccer coach Mike was in this heat. I was hoping he could manage to complete the four laps, four beers, and not hate me after his run. His heat had Chris and Alex, so my 9:35 time could fall. Luckily for me, Alex’s time fell just short, Chris threw up all his beer from the race along with his libations from New Year’s Eve, and Mike crossed the finish line without hating my guts.
I was drunk! Happy New Year!
I walked away the winner of the First Annual Winchester Beer Mile. Best of all, the event went smoothly and paved the way for future Beer Miles. I am sure Vern will find a way to make the next one even bigger and better.
There will be a big target on my back for next year. My 9:35 time is not very good compared to leading beer milers. I will need to shave a lot of time off the beer drinking portion of the contest. I’ve got a year to polish my craft. But for now, my first order of business will be to find a nice frame to put my certificate of achievement in. Maybe the one my college diploma is in.