Sunday, November 16, 2014

British Columbia Woman Chugs For Beer Mile World Record

Runners participate in the West Valley Track Club's "beer mile" race in San Francisco in a 2014 handout photo. The beer mile consists of four cans of beer consumed over the course of a mile. The Canadian Press
Lori EwingThe Canadian Press
Kirsty Smith is a lean triathlon machine, all perfectly sculpted muscle and athleticism packed into a 110-pound frame.

She can also chug beer with the best of them.

For the past few weeks, the 30-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., has put been putting back pints like a German during Oktoberfest — all part of the training for her run at the women’s beer mile world record.

“I’ve been practising chugging beers, as ridiculous as it sounds,” Smith says. “My guy friends like it, they think it’s hilarious. They’re like ‘We’ll race you chugging beer.’ Even my mom’s boyfriend wants to race me in drinking.”

The beer mile was born, so the story goes, back in the late 1980s, when a group of Canadian distance runners were enjoying a post-workout beer.

“We thought it would be a great idea to combine running and beer drinking,” says Ian Fallas, one of the runners present on that historic night.

Fallas could never have predicted the event’s explosion in popularity. Nearly 30 years later, it’s beer mile-mania.

Next month, Smith, along with U.S. Olympian Nick Symmonds, among others, will race for boozy bragging rights at the world beer mile championships in Austin, Texas.

Smith, a professional triathlete who also ran on Canada’s cross-country team, will take aim at the women’s world record of six minutes 28.6 seconds, set by Chris Kimbrough — a 44-year-old mother of six — earlier this month.

In the beer mile, competitors consume four cans of beer (no less than 355 millilitres and a minimum of five per cent alcohol) over the course of a mile. Run on a 400-metre track, competitors drink one can prior to each lap. Runners who vomit before finishing must run a penalty lap.

Smith ran her first beer mile while in her senior year at Villanova. She was home for Christmas, and some friends invited her to one at a North Vancouver high school. She was the one woman among about 40 men.

“It was totally just for fun. I wasn’t trying to break a record, I just thought ‘Oh cool. Drink beer, run,’” she says. “But I actually won the race and beat all the guys, and they were like ‘You should probably try doing this seriously.’ I’m like ‘Are you kidding me? It’s a beer mile. It’s not real running.’”

Smith changed her tune when she saw James Nielsen break the five-minute beer mile barrier, running a world-record 4:57.1 last April. The video of his feat has over 1.3 million views on YouTube. The world record for the regular mile is 3:43.13, held by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj.

Smith has only done one other beer mile since her first but her best time of 6:43 ranks as the third fastest all-time by a woman.

“I’m super competitive, there’s no way I would sign up for this without the intention of winning the race, at least,” Smith said. “It might take a world record to win it. It probably will.”

Kimbrough will also be in the race in Austin.

“I’ve watched her video a few times, and took her splits. I’ve sized up my competition, so I know what she’s doing and how quick she’s drinking her beers,” Smith said. “She’s a good runner, she’s solid for a 44-year-old, I was quite impressed by her times.”

Canadian Seanna Robinson, who ran track at Queen’s and held the women’s world record of 6:42 for 17 years before Kimbrough broke it, will also race in Austin.

Smith describes the first lap of her rookie run as “pretty easy.” The second beer “was a little bit harder. Definitely wasn’t a straight chug-down. I had to take a few breather breaks.”

The third beer was “pretty hard. My stomach was so full, I thought I was going to throw up, and I kept thinking ‘No, you can’t throw up, it’s a penalty lap.’ Fourth beer, I was in the lead so now everyone was cheering for me, you have that finishing kick, you can deal with it, you’re almost done.

“I actually ran pretty fast, I was in shock. My boyfriend at the time was watching and said, ‘You ran a 70 (seconds) for your last lap. Why don’t you do that in a real mile?’” she said with a laugh.

“You’re pretty drunk really quickly. It doesn’t hit you until a few minutes after, but you just had four beers in like six minutes, and for me, that’s a lot of alcohol. I’m not a very big person. I’m five-foot-four-and-a-half, and 110 pounds. And I don’t drink that much, I’m a professional triathlete so it’s pretty detrimental to training to drink.”

Dr. Julia Alleyne, who’s worked with Canadian athletes at five Olympic Games, cautions that women are among those that are at the greatest risk of suffering ill effects of beer miling.

“The concern we have in sport is the decreased muscle co-ordination, visual blurring and slow reaction time, because that leads to quick injuries,” said Alleyne. “Females or people with low body weight will feel those effects of alcohol sooner. And if their running time is longer, then someone who runs a 10 or 12-minute time is also now starting to feel effects as they start to run that third and fourth lap.

“They have higher risk of injuries, we’re talking about falls, we’re talking about secondary injuries to ligaments and cartilage. And post-race you might have done well but the effects of alcohol are still occurring in your body, and can certainly be more so 30 minutes after taking fast rapid alcohol than 10 minutes after.”

Smith plans to run a couple practice beer miles in advance. She’ll bring along a friend to record it on video, lest she breaks the world record in practice.

Post beer-mile, Smith’s goal is to qualify for next year’s Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) world championships in Austria.

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