There's competitive eating, and then there's competitive eating, or in the case of the Beer Mile, competitive drinking. The concept is simple: chug a beer as fast as you can, then run a ¼ mile. Do that four times, and you've completed the beer mile. First person to cross the finish line after four laps wins. Imagine if Kobayashi trotted around Coney Island after every hot dog, or having to run a single block after eating this 15-pound hamburger.
Beermile.com is not really clear on how the event got started -- some accounts trace it back to college campuses in the '80s and '90s, which sounds about right -- but the website is the clearing house for all official results, including a 29th-place all-time record holder from Houston named Calum Neff who ran a 5:58:00 Beer Mile in 2006, an impressive feat even without the beer-chugging.
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(The overall Texas record holder is Carl Stones of Austin, who ran a 5:12 in the Central Texas Chocolate Milk Mile. He drank milk instead of beer because he was only 19 at the time. And just last week, some dude ran the San Francisco Half Marathon, stopping for a beer every mile.)
On Friday evening, I met up with some runners at the 400-meter track just north of the Memorial Park Tennis Center to watch the eighth beer mile to take place in Houston since 2005. About 45 runners signed up for the competition, and when I arrived some were doing warm-up laps while the cans of Miller High Life chilled. Houston rules designate the Champagne of Beers as the official Beer Mile beverage, so no one gets a leg up by drinking, for example, a tastier beer or one of lower alcohol content. Beers are consumed by the can because they drain faster than bottles (and also because the runners throw the cans down as they start each lap).
The event's organizers tried to match runners according to speed, but one thing became clear to me as heat after heat of racers took off: It doesn't matter how fast you can run. The race is won by how fast you can drink. Puke, and you have to run a penalty lap. While official results from Friday's race have yet to be posted, I saw one heat winner with a leg injury lapping his younger opponents thanks to his ability to down a beer (and keep it down) in less than 30 seconds. A timekeeper shared her tip with a racer -- you only have to run a single penalty lap, so if you have to "chunder" more than once, get it all out. In fact, the unofficial slogan of the Houston Beer Mile is "Every burp's a gamble."
Lest you think the race is all fratboy posturing, consider Stuart Muirhead, who ran a 6:50.1 Beer Mile in Houston in 2007. He's No. 12 internationally in the over 40 Super Masters category, and he beat his own personal record Friday by a number of seconds. He's also a veteran of the Ironman Triathlon.