The gates open for the first ever Beer Mile World Championships, held at the Circuit of the Americas F1 track in Austin, Texas at 5 PM on Wednesday night, letting in crowds of folks in running gear, toting four packs, the less competitive amongst them guzzling beer well before their race. The event, in which competitors chug four beers between running four laps around a quarter mile track, begins with a series of open races, for amateur beer milers, and culminates with the men's and women's elite events, featuring most of the world's top beer milers, including a handful of Olympic and professional runners.
By 5:41 PM, the first stream of puke had already hit the tarmac. More was soon to follow. "Please do not vomit on the track," the event announcer called over the loud speakers. "Try to vomit in the grass beside the track, or over the barricades."
In the spirit of the beer mile, a collegial atmosphere surrounded the early, open heats. At the start line of the Men's Open event, runners hold their cans aloft and shout, "cheers," before popping the top, draining the contents, and taking off down the red painted apron of the track's start-finish straight.
On pit row, where the elite runners wait and warm up, Olympic 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds — undoubtedly the beer mile's highest profile athlete — performs a series of painful looking stretches as he readies for the start. Symmonds, who entered the event with the seventh fastest beer mile time in the world, 5:19, says his background as a Sigma Chi frat boy uniquely prepared him for this event. "I've got three years of experience chugging beer, and 15 years running the mile."
The former beer mile world record holder, Canadian master's runner Jim Finlayson (5:09) jogs past. Symmond's, who calls Finlayson "the king of the beer mile," introduces himself: "I looked up to you a lot in college," he tells Finlayson.
The evening starts with the women’s elite race, where a geology professor from Kent, Ohio, Beth Herndon breaks the women’s world record, running a 6:17.76 mile while drinking four New Belgium Fat Tire amber ales. The second place finisher, former professional triathlete, Andrea Fisher, credited her success to marital problems, saying, "I recently went through a bad divorce, so I can drink really well right now.” Then Fisher swayed and blinked repeatedly. “Okay, now I’m getting drunk,” she said.
At 7:45 PM, an air horn signals the start of the men’s race and the crowd closely watches the two favorites: Symmonds and Canadian beer miler Corey Gallagher, 27, one of the slowest runners, but fastest chuggers, crack open their respective beers (in this case, a special beer mile brew from Hops and Grain and a Budweiser Platinum). Noticeably absent is beer mile world record holder and YouTube sensation James Nielsen (4:57), furthering the suspicion surrounding his sub-five minute beer mile time. ("It’s bullshit, you can’t physically drink a beer that fast," said Symmonds, referring to the fact Nielsen claimed to have chugged his beers in four to five seconds, yet it takes roughly eight seconds to simply pour a beer out onto the ground.)
Gallagher takes the early lead after taking just six seconds to down his first beer, and turn the bright blue bottle upside down to prove its emptiness. However, a man clad in jorts, Tully Hannan, 23, of Prouts Neck, Maine surges to the front. By the second beer and second lap, Hannan fades and the field coalesces. Michael Cunningham, a student from Brewster, New York and sub-four minute miler arrives first, with Jack Colreavy from Sydney, Australia and Corey Gallagher close behind.
By the third lap, Cunningham holds a small lead over Gallagher. As they head toward the final transition zone, Gallagher closed the gap, and the two men grabbed their beers nearly simultaneously. Wearing a single glove on his left hand to more firmly grab the twist top, Gallagher opens his beer and drains it in seven seconds as Cunningham takes a painful three seconds more.
The chugging advantage is enough. Gallagher holds onto the lead down the final straightaway, crossing the finish line just three seconds off Nielsen's world record, becoming the first beer mile world champion. Cunningham finished second, with Finlayson in third, setting a new master's mark of 5:21.44.
Cunningham seemed content with his performance, even in defeat. "This is only my third beer mile," he says. Yet he questions how many more he might run. "I'm a little worried about all the press, and future employers Googling me," he says. Hannan, who failed to complete the race, shooes away photographers as he pukes over a chest-high concrete barrier.
Symmonds finishes last in the field with a time of 5:41. "I drank the wrong beer," says Symmonds, who — like women’s second place finisher Andrea Fisher — chugged the special beer mile brew from Hops and Grain. "I'm a Coors man," he says. "I should've stuck with Coors." Then Symmonds takes another sip of the beer mile brew. "It is tasty, though."
After he is awarded with a giant check and interviewed in a small press conference, Gallagher stands beside his girlfriend — a sports therapist — and her parents. His best friend, who also traveled to watch him race, holds a giant cut out of his head. A mailman in the town of Manitoba, Gallagher prepared perhaps harder than anyone for the world championships. He kept empty bottles on the back of his kitchen sink, and would fill and chug one anytime he happened to walk by. "There's a huge bar set now," said Gallagher, who admitted that his family was once skeptical of his beer mile exploits, but now supported him. "I just never thought it would get this big.”