Originally published in Get Out There Magazine
Beer & running go together like race kits & Instagram, and in Canada, we pair a race and a chaser very, very well.
In one discipline especially, The Great White North is in a class of its own. The beer mile is Canada’s gift to the running world. Four, 400-metre laps, each preceded by a full beer. Nearly a litre-and-a-half ingested before you’ve even started your final circuit (and none of that light stuff either – each beer has to be at least 5.0% ABV). Is it even remotely surprising we not only invented the sport, but continue to dominate?
It started back in 1989, when seven friends in their late teens and early twenties got together for the first, unofficial run in Burlington, Ontario. One of those was 17-year-old (underage drinker) Graham Hood, who would go on to finish ninth in the 1,500 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Members of that original seven brought the concept to Queen’s University, dubbed it the Kingston Classic and set down the official “Kingston Rules” which still govern the sport today.
In 1997, Canada’s Seanna Robinson set the Women’s world record in a time of 6:42. Her mark would hold up until 2014.
Still, the sport maintained a pretty low profile until American James Neilson (ahem, born and raised in Canada) became the first person to go under five minutes, in 2014. The video went viral and suddenly runners and beer drinkers around the world woke up to this previously underground phenomenon.
The following year Mississauga’s Lewis Kent set a new standard – a blistering 4:55.78 – narrowly besting the time Australian Josh Harris ran just one day earlier. A fresh-faced 22-year-old who would look equally appropriate in a Mountie recruitment poster as he does in a singlet, Lewis parlayed that success into the first athletic apparel sponsorship deal for a beer miler. Brooks kitted him out and even booked him on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, just before he raced Australia’s Harris head-to-head for the first time, at the 2015 Beer Mile World Classic in Texas.
On that December day in Austin, Kent would set a new, world-beating mark of 4:47.0, a second ahead of the Winnipeg’s Corey Gallagher.
I spoke with Kent in July. The National Beer Mile – a series of public races held across America – has been hyping the Western University graduate’s attendance at several of its stops. We met in Buffalo.
Although National Beer Mile events are more about the afterparty than the 1,609 meter circuit, Kent was still focused on remaining competitive. The 2016 Beer Mile World Classic, to be staged in the British capital, was only weeks away.
“I think I still have some time I can shave off,” he remarked. “While I can’t drink the beers much quicker, at 22 years old I am far from my peak running-wise. I still have lots of room to improve, and if I can stay consistent and healthy there is no reason why my mile – and beer mile – time shouldn’t drop.”
But this is how quickly the sport is growing in popularity; how serious the competition has become: the day before the World Classic, 21-year-old Corey Bellemore landed in the U.K. with a last minute invitation to compete. Just a couple days earlier, the Windsor, Ontario track star had unofficially beaten Kent’s WR by nearly eight seconds. The video quality was poor, but there was no mistaking this guy was for real.
On July 31st Bellemore left no doubt whatsoever when he rocketed to the front of the elite field at London’s Allianz Park, continued to extend his lead with every stride and broke the tape at 4:34:35. The second place Brit crossed 13 seconds later.
What is it about this country and beer? Even in the 40+ category, Victoria, B.C.’s Jim Finlayson owns the best three times and is the fastest in any age category for a double beer mile (eight beers, two miles in 11:39). “I think it is ingrained in Canadians,” says Kent. “Whether it’s after a hockey or baseball game, or just a long day at work, it’s a part of our culture. At the end of the day that helps us out when it comes to giving the beer mile respect.”
SIDEBAR – Tips from Lewis Kent:
What advice would you give someone intimidated by their first beer mile?
“At all the beer miles I have been a part of quite a few people do it as a relay. Whether that is four people doing one beer and one lap each, or two people doing two beers and two laps each. If you feel confident attempting the relay then you can try the full distance next time!”
How long before running is a good time to stop eating?
Any types of food a beer miler should avoid?
“I tend to avoid anything heavy. Stick to bread/wheat products.”
Is it better to show up thirsty or hydrated?
“Hydrated all day, but thirsty on the start line.”
Common rookie mistake?
“Thinking it is easy!”