Benefield: In Sebastopol's Beer Mile, it's all about the chug
“I know exactly how ridiculous this sounds.”
John Markell of San Francisco is talking me through pour angles, foam-to-liquid transformation, the mechanics of swallowing and preferred belch size (he likes “large, clean burps rather than a whole series of tiny, little foamy ones”). It’s the science behind the art of a successful beer mile.
And no, it’s not ridiculous. It’s awesome.
Markell, 45, said a reporter once dubbed him an “early pioneer” of the beer mile, a description he said fits better than godfather or inventor, which he has also been called. He didn’t invent the thing, he was just one of a gaggle of teammates at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada in the early ’90s who put on paper the rules and regulations (later to be dubbed “The Kingston Rules” by ardent disciples) for a race that followed the college cross country season for years.
It had been a season-ending tradition among his cross country teammates: four beers in four laps. It has since become something of a global phenomenon. There is a website with records and crucial information like most popular beer of choice. There is a world championship event every year.
And the spectacle comes to Sebastopol Saturday as part of the IPA10K and Beer Mile event at The Barlow. At 11:50 a.m., the top women race in the invitational beer mile and at 12:20 p.m. some of the best beer milers on the planet will drink four beers and race four laps around The Barlow.
This is no fun run. There are rules. And they are strictly enforced and roughly as follows: Four beers (must be at least 12 ounces and 5% alcohol) must be consumed without leaving more than the allotted amount behind. One beer at the gun, and one beer before each successive lap. The beers must be consumed in the “chug zone” roughly the size of the relay hand-off zone in track.
Officials analyze the empties to check for too much left over.
Athletes choose their own brand of beer and can go either bottle or can. But apparently using a can is a fool’s errand — according to Markell, who has become a bit of an beer mile sage to the next generation of racers.
“A can, unless you are sucking it, takes about nine seconds,” he said. “Especially the third beer, and certainly the fourth, you can’t really hold your breath for more than seven seconds.”
That means gasping for air while drinking, which can lead to a reversal of fortune, right? Vomiting, per Kingston rule No. 10, requires a competitor to run a penalty lap — so for the serious contenders, it’s a game changer.
Markell said that rarely happens in the chug zone — the area in which racers grab, open, down and drop their beers. What happens in the chug zone is pure grace if done correctly.
What beer milers do, the good ones, is not really chug, but — yes — become one with the beer.
“Imagine someone with their mouth wide open,” he begins. “They are just pouring the beer in their mouth. For that first sip while that is happening, while your gullet fills up, you take a breath in and you swallow.”