The Beer Mile World Championships were held this week just off the shores of Lady Bird Lake. One Austin company is hoping to parlay the beer mile into bigger and better things.
I am attempting to run only a mile, in a contest of fitness and guts – beer guts. But before I finish, let’s go to where it all started.
This week, Austin hosted the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships. The greatest beer milers from across the land – more or less – came to our little hamlet to decide who has it within themselves – or more accurately, who can keep it within themselves – to win.
What is a beer mile, you ask?
Four beers. Four laps. No throwing up.
“The format is, drink a beer, you have a nine-meter transition zone that you can walk through while you’re chugging the beer. Once you finish the beer, take off running. You come back to the transition zone. There’s a second beer set up for you. Finish it, run a lap. Do that two more times and you’re done,” says Max Crutchfield, Director of Owned Events for Austin-based FloSports.
Think of FloSports as a stream-only ESPN for sports that perhaps aren’t the most popular, or as TV-friendly.
The company has staged, and streamed, the last two Beer Mile World Championships in Austin.
The beer mile is just one of an ever-expanding number recreational races that seem to be less and less about just running.
The popularity of obstacle courses, color runs – and even zombie races and urbanathlons – has grown in the last decade. So have some of the companies that promote those events.
Tough Mudder designs and stages obstacle course races around the country. It takes in roughly $100 million in revenue a year and just signed a deal with shoemaker Merrell. The similarly-themed Spartan Race has a title sponsor in Reebok and has a deal with NBC Sports for TV rights. Both companies will be staging events near Austin next spring. Color Run puts on untimed races around the world in which runners are showered with colored powder. There are also Color Fun, Color Vibe, Blacklight Runs – and the list goes on.
Seeing the popularity of informal beer miles grow, FloSports saw an opportunity.
“So we were like, we need professional meet standards, we need timing, we need witnesses other than the person holding the video tape to make sure this is legitimate,” Crutchfield says.
He says the company is focused on the big picture, driving people to its on-demand sports video websites.
“To get more people interested in the sport of track and field, if we have to do that by doing something wacky and out there, then that’s what we’re doing. And it’s a blast doing it along the way.”
It may be fun to some, but for many this is a competition. And for that you can blame Canada.
John Markell is an investment banker in San Francisco. A few decades ago he was a member of the Queens University track team in Kingston, Ontario. He co-authored the Kingston Rules, what have become the standard for beer miles.
“Unbeknownst to us, in time, those rules kind of stuck as the de facto standard, so from that point forward I think there was a little bit of national pride,” Markell says.
“It was kinda just a fun goofy thing. And we always had our provincial championships and titles and records we always wanted to go for,” says last year’s World Champion beer miler, Corey Gallagher.
When not racing, Gallagher’s a mailman in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“At the time like running like 6:30, you’re like (in) God mode then. It was like, that’s so crazy fast. Looking back at this three or four years ago, I never would have thought five minutes was even a thing. I would have told you they’re cheating. There’s no physical way possible. But now that I’m here, I’m like, that’s not that impressive.”
That’s right. Five minutes. The best of the best in the men’s race right now finish a mile and four beers in five minutes.
Eight of the 10 fastest times have been by Canadians.
But if the men’s power base is north of the border, many of the elite women live in the good ol’ USA, and a couple have ties here in Austin. Last year, Chris Kimbrough crushed the women’s world record Beer Mile time by 13 seconds. It was broken a month later at the 2014 Championships, but her mark still stands as the fifth fastest all-time. By the way, she was 44 at the time, she’s a mother of six and won the Cap 10K earlier in the year. Until just a few months ago, she lived in Austin.
Andrea Fisher finished second at last year’s events. She was a National Champion swimmer at the University of Texas and a longtime triathlete.
Fisher was looking forward to renewing an old rivalry with Kimbrough.
“I’ve known her a long time,” Fisher says. “When she lived here in Austin, we would show up to the same running events and I’d always get my butt kicked by her. So, this is the only thing leveling the playing field.”
Fisher came into this year’s competition hoping to improve on last year’s second place finish, but it was not to be.
Erin O’Mara of Michigan won with a record time. Fisher still beat her own personal best and owns two of the top four times ever. Kimbrough took fifth.
The men’s champion? Another Canadian: 21-year-old Lewis Kent of Mississauga beat the mailman, Corey Gallagher, by one-and-a-half seconds to set yet another new world record of four minutes, forty-seven seconds.
But don’t look now. FloSports has a competitor trying to capitalize on the Beer Mile. Next year, an outfit called the BrewMile is staging a race here in Austin, as well as other locations around the country.
Oh, yes, and that other race we were following.
How did I do?
With 48 ounces of beer in my otherwise-empty stomach, having just finished the mile in a steady but unspectacular 11 minutes and five seconds, I handed my sound recorder to KUT’s Multimedia Producer Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon and conducted this professional-level radio interview.
JM: It’s on now. Interview me.
JSL: Jimmy, it was a tough course out there today. How are you feeling?
JM: I did not… that… now… now I’m feeling a little bit of it. Just a little bit.
JSL: Did you tip your bartender?
JM: I did not. I should! That’s a good idea. I gotta go find my pants.