By Joanna Harper
The 2012 version of the Cascadia Beer Mile Championship was held on a rainy evening at a track in Portland Oregon. Turnout was good despite the weather, as 40 or 50 dedicated beer milers lined up at the start. That I was one of them would have surprised the heck out of me, just two years earlier.
I was never one of those people who chugged beer for recreation in college, and as I got older I switched to wine for most of my alcohol consumption. I also thought that drinking contests were stupid. I do admit that I enjoyed watching the beer mile, but would have never thought to do one.
But after watching teetotaler Kelly complete one in 2010, I knew I could do it too. I entered in 2011, and actually discovered that I had some talent, finishing as the second female, despite being unable to run faster than a jog, due to injury. When the invitation to this year’s race was sent out, I knew I’d give it a shot.
In the days leading up to the race, I found out that the 2011woman’s champion Silke would not be returning to defend her title. But 2010 champion Leigh said she would be back, and there was a new threat too. Stephanie, also known as Texas runner girl, was talking some serious smack before the race. Frankly, since she was new to the event, I didn’t take her that seriously, but you never know.
Since I don’t actually keep beer in the house, I went to the grocery store on my way home from work the night of the race to pick up a six pack. Much to my horror, there was no Labatt’s Blue, my beer choice of 2011, or even any Canadian beer, where I stopped. I wound up settling for six of Henry’s Blonde, even though I had recently died my hair darker.
I decided to wear my “lucky” pink dress that I had worn last year. By lucky, I don’t mean that I got lucky last year, just that I performed well, and the extreme pinkness of the dress helped me stand out from other competitors.
It started to rain just as I got to the track; after all it is Portland. The rain was pretty consistent during my warm up, which consisted of a couple of laps of jogging, but no actual drinking.
As I was warming up, Amy told me that Leigh wouldn’t be running, and it was up me to uphold the honor of the race, by not letting a novice prevail. She implored me to beat Stephanie saying “you can’t let Texas runner girl win”.
While I was warming up, I wore a rain jacket over my dress, but the bottom portion got pretty wet. Fortunately, the rain stopped just before the race and I was able to strip off the jacket. I stepped out onto the track into a veritable sea of pink. There were about dozen competitors who had stolen my color choice, including four or five men.
One guy was dressed in a skort and pink top that couldn’t cover his ample beer belly. While someone with his physique would normally be mocked at most races, he was clearly a competent drinker, which is the most important component of successful beer miling. I’ll call him beer man.
Anyway beer man and I set our six packs on the track next to each other, and he said “we are dressed alike tonight” and then, as he looked me over, added “you look hot in your outfit”. I have never being known for taking compliments well, and I replied “I’d say the same for you, but I’d be lying”.
Race organizer and two time victor Jacob gave instructions, and then the starter Tim, called us to the line. The drinking started and I knew right away that this part wasn’t going to go as well as it did last year. Whether I had made a poor beer choice, or my stomach was tighter this year, the beer didn’t flow quite as easily as last year.
But still, I was the second woman off the line. A gal I didn’t know, but who told later told me her name was Lindsey, or maybe Francine, my memory got a little blurry later, had 40 or 50 meters on me as the running started.
I really didn’t make up any ground on Lindsey during that first lap, and Stephanie caught me with about a hundred to go and sprinted past. She’s running too hard I thought, as I mentally counted her out. Last year I didn’t even start a watch, but I had this year, and I split right at 2 minutes for the first beer lap.
My second beer went down only slightly slower than the first one did, and as I started back running, I noticed that Lindsey’s lead was down to 20 meters. Stephanie was nowhere to be seen. Again Lindsey and I ran about the same pace for this lap, and I reached half way in about 4:30.
Lindsey and I drank our beers, while anxiously looking each other over. Although I still wasn’t up to last year’s standard, I finished mine before she did, and took off for my penultimate lap. Last year four or five guys lapped me, but this year only Brendan, winning for the second consecutive year, caught me, and it took him almost the whole lap to do so.
I looked down at my watch after he passed, and saw that he would easily break seven minutes, but then I forgot to check it when I crossed the line. Of course, I might not have remembered my time anyway. I was probably not much over seven minutes, and I still had a chance to break ten, my prerace goal.
My last beer was the toughest, but I really didn’t slow down that much. By the time Lindsey reached the line, I was more than half way done, and I knew I had the win in the bag, as long as I kept everything down. I knocked back the rest of the beer and never looked behind me.
On the final curve, Jacob roared by me; he had obviously had some drinking problems tonight. It’s kind of sad to see a former champion beer miler reduced to outkicking an old lady, but everyone’s glory days are numbered.
I finished strongly, and stopped my watch at 9:47. I saw Stephanie gamely trying to finish her last beer, but nausea was written all over her face. I think it took her nearly ten minutes to drain the sucker, but I had to give her credit for finishing; she has the heart of a champion, if not the stomach of one.
Speaking of stomach, beer man had loosened his top, as it probably restricted his. While he hadn’t been a pretty sight at the beginning, he looked even more comical at the finish, with his top undone and exposing his freaking heart rate monitor. Was he planning on drinking slower if his heart rate got too high?
Brendan and I accepted our awards and posed for pictures. I was going to visit friends in Southern Oregon the next day and was looking at a five hour drive, so I skipped the after party.
The next day, as I posted my result on facebook, I noticed that Pete Magill was still trying break 15 minutes for 5K. Pete has made a big deal of trying to be the first runner over the age of fifty to duck under this mark.
It occurred to me that this might be the first time an AARP eligible female athlete has broken 10 minutes for the beer mile. In truth, I have no idea whether or not this feat has been accomplished previously, but until I hear otherwise, I am claiming to be the first to this milestone. Eat your heart out Pete.