Last Updated on August 29, 2016 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Beer miles. What once seemed like a foolish fraternity stunt has now become all the rage in the running and endurance world, and as such, every time you turn around someone is smashing the previously held beer mile record. Just this month runner Corey Bellemore set the new world record, running a 4:34.35 beer mile (August 1st, 2016). Four and a half minutes is an incredibly fast time for a human being to run a mile, never mind adding 48 ounces of beer into the mix. Incase you’ve never heard of a beer mile, the premise is this:
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Drink a beer, run a quarter mile.
Four beers, one mile. And there are official rules, of course, including a beer that is a minimum 5% alcohol by volume, no shot-gunning or wide mouth cans, and vomiting results in a penalty lap (gross, but the reality of the sport).
I attempted a beer mile once. I realized very quickly that despite being a decent runner, I am woefully incapable of chugging beer in a timely manner, and further, I learned that sprinting a quarter mile with a belly full of beer is incredibly uncomfortable. As a result, my beer mile took over an hour (truth be told, I wasn’t trying too hard) and has become a running joke ever since.
Pun absolutely intended.
I’m not exactly sure how we first heard about the Copperhead 20K beer race & relay, but despite my shoddy performance at the beer mile, I knew this was an event I just had to try. Races that are out of the ordinary, experiences you don’t come across every day, and events that make me say “what the hell was I thinking?” are right up my alley. It’s safe to say that the Copperhead 20K certainly fell into this category.
The inaugural event, put on by co-race directors Jason Adams (of Lighthouse Beer & Wine) and Tom Clifford (of Without Limits Coaching) was held at the historic site of Wilmington, North Carolina’s Poplar Grove Plantation on August 27, 2016. The Poplar Grove Foundation, farm, and gorgeous trail system would be the beneficiary of this race.
Now, options for this race were as follows:
-Relay teams of 2, 3, or 4 runners would cover the 20K, splitting up the beers and distance between them.
– Individual participants, that would run the entire 20K, and in theory, drink all four beers.
It was stressed that the beers were optional, however, each beer consumed resulted in a two minute deduction from your overall time (therefore, you could receive a maximum of an 8 minute deduction per team or individual 20k participant). I figured if I was going to try a race like this, I was going all in: 20K, 4 beers. Or at the very least I would give it a my best attempt. I’ve found over the years that I’m a stronger long distance runner than a short, fast distance runner, so that had to carry over to the beer racing world, right?
We arrived at Poplar Plantation and found everything to be incredibly well organized. Parking was available on site, and people, spectators, and teams were spread around the grounds casually relaxing before the race. Race check in was inside of a beautiful barn, giving us temporary relief from the August Carolina heat. Participants ID’s were checked, since this was a beer drinking event, and then were given their race bib, team baton if applicable, and a Copperhead 20K pint glass.
Having not eaten since before lunch that day, I was excited to see a couple of food trucks on site offering everything from full meals to snacks. I knew I had to get some calories into my belly, both to fuel 12 miles of running and to potentially quell the effects of four beers. T’Geaux Boys whipped up an AMAZING Cajun grilled cheese, accompanied by barbeque potato chips and a juicy dill pickle.
A quick pre-race meeting was held, where the race directors gave pre race instructions on how/when to drink our beer, where to put the empty cups, as well as all of the usual safety info…
…and before I knew it, we were lining up in the corral.
Over 400 people had registered for the inaugural year, though only 57 of us would tackle the entire race on our own. The individual racers (all 57 of us) lined up in the corral together, the relay teams would start shortly after. I grabbed my beer and waited for the “go” signal. When it came, I began chugging my beer. Now ladies and gentleman, I’m thrilled to tell you that it took exactly 27 seconds for me to drink my first beer. That blew my previous 12 ounce beer record out of the water by probably 5 minutes or so. Sadly, I’m not joking nor exaggerating that time. A combination of the type of beer (I think it was a pilsner, and not highly carbonated) plus the fact that it was in a cup and not a can or bottle, made the fluids go down significantly faster than I had anticipated.
But despite such a quick chug, I was STILL the last one out of the corral. Turns out, reviewing the GoPro video, nearly half of the field skipped the first beer. Which of course, was certainly fully acceptable per the rules of the race, but in retrospect makes me feel a little better about being the last one out of the corral. Speaking of, if beer drinking is not your thing, don’t worry, you wouldn’t be alone at this race. According to the results, out of the 57 individual participants:
29 people drank 0 beers.
3 people drank 1 beer.
1 person drank 2 beers.
22 people drank all 4 beers during the course of the 20K.
We are each assigned a plastic bag with our bib number on it, and the bags are stapled to the fence. We are to put our empty cup into the bag to save for “proof” of completion at the end of the race.
Beer done, cup stashed, out of the corral I run.
The first stretch of the race includes a wide, very sandy, flat trail. It is easily runnable, save for the short sections where the sand runs a few inches deep. I’m quickly passing people (remember, I was the last one out of the starting gate), while still maintaining a comfortable pace. 12.4 miles is still 12.4 miles, beer or no beer, so I wanted to conserve some energy early on for the later miles. I’m enjoying myself and taking in the scenery, just cruising right along about three quarters of a mile into the race, when, BAM!
I hit a root and go sailing into the air, Superman style, landing flat on my stomach on the trail. Despite my water bottle taking flight, I’m completely unharmed, just a little embarrassed, as the runners around me all stop to make sure I’m OK. I make a quick joke about how “you should see me after TWO beers!” brush the dirt off, grab my water bottle, and we all take off running again.
About a mile into the trail, we leave the woods and start running through a mowed path through a large field. I can see the halfway point, a small aid station under a popup tent, ahead. And that’s when the first of the relay runners caught up to me. I knew they would, eventually, and I had mentally prepared myself for fast runners zooming past me. I reminded myself that a) they were only running one, maybe two laps, each, and b) I wasn’t here to compete. I was here to survive a 4 beer/20K challenge, hopefully without tossing my cookies, and hopefully come back with a great story to tell.
I run straight through the aid station, as I had brought my own water bottle. The course takes a 90 degree turn left, and another shortly after, taking us back up the opposite side of the field and back into the woods. A section of double track, a section of single track, and a beautiful bridge across a pond followed. Before I knew it, I could hear the cheering of the start/finish line.
The first 3.1 mile loop ends much sooner than I expected. That’s not to say the course was short…it wasn’t. I suppose a weeks worth of 20 mile days in Colorado two weeks earlier has skewed my perception on distance. I run strong through the timing mat, past the waiting relay teams, and find my second beer.
Lap one time: 28:59 (including beer)
I grab a beer and get right to drinking. This beer goes down much slower than the first, partially because I’m catching my breath from a probably too fast sprint into the corral, and partially because I’m chattering non stop at my group of friends standing on the sidelines cheering me on. I reenact my fall between sips of beer, finishing beer #2 in approximately 1:17. A lot slower than the first one, but still a lot faster than any of us, myself included, could have ever anticipated. Again, I’m usually the girl who typically nurses a single beer for at least 45 minutes, until it is room temperature and nearly flat.
Cup in the bag, and I’m off. I make it just a few hundred yards out of the gates and onto the trail when my stomach immediately flips and I resort to walking.
In retrospect, lap 2 is the most difficult of the day. My stomach feels ridiculously bloated, and things are starting to become a little bit fuzzy. I contemplate if I’m going to have to throw up at any point during this race. I really hope I don’t have to, as it is one of my least favorite things to do on earth. I remind myself I’m just out here for fun, for a bucket list type of race, so I give myself permission to do what I need to do to get through it. I mostly run, at a slow conservative pace, and walk when I feel it is necessary. At some point, I pass three little boys fishing off of a bridge. One of them yells “great job! You’re going to win!” to which I reply “thank you, but I’m far from winning!” He retorts, very seriously, “No. I know you are going to win this race.” Haha, gotta love little kids. Thanks for the vote of confidence, buddy!
I fill up my water bottle at the aid station, having polished off one full bottle already. I contemplate the water strategy: I’m sure my body is happy to have the H2O, but I’m certain it’s going to fill up my stomach, making it even more uncomfortable. The responsible side of me, the one that realizes proper hydration is far more important than shaving a few seconds off of my beer 20K time, decides to keep drinking the water, so I do.
Lap 2 time: 33:33
I’m experiencing the undeniable mental fuzziness of an alcohol buzz, and ponder how this is going to affect my running skills. But, as I grab beer #3 and start drinking, I’m officially more than halfway through this race. Might as well see where this goes. Beer #3 takes 1:49 to finish. A little too much talking was going on here, I admit.
I head off on lap #3 fully expecting it to suck. I expect to struggle running with a belly full of carbonated beer. I’m pleasantly surprised and happy to report the exact opposite happened.
Putting on my fitness professional hat for a second to say that for a number of reasons, I do not recommend being under the influence of alcohol and going for a run. It’s a bad idea from a physiological point of view, not to mention the safety concerns that accompany intoxicated running. Plus, I’m sure it probably falls under public intoxication laws, in some form or another. So you really shouldn’t do it.
But, taking my professional hat off and trading it for my blogger/runner who likes to do ridiculous things hat (most likely, that one is a trucker hat) I’m going to tell you that drunk running is really freaking fun. Lap three consisted of me floating down the trails in a very happy, content, Zen like state. I sang to myself, laughed at my own jokes, and smiled my way through 3.1 miles. I walked a little, but ran for the most part. I also stopped to refill my water bottle again, it was incredibly humid and I was sweating like crazy.
I decide lap three is the perfect time to stop and take pictures for this blog post. You know, while my vision is already a little blurry. Sorry about these…
Lap 3 time: 32:07. How about that, I ran a little faster.
Weee only one more lap to go! It’s getting dark and I’m a wee bit tipsy. Though I certainly would have been fine on my own for 3 more miles, when Geoff offers to run the last lap with me to film these shenanigans, I don’t turn down his company. Beer #4 goes down slowly. I couldn’t tell you how slow, because we had a GoPro malfunction at this point, but needless to say I was happy it was the last one I had to drink.
I was also happy to gloat: Geoff previously bet that I’d only make it through one beer. HA! Look how proud he looks:
We take off running. And we surprisingly don’t stop for quite awhile. I’m flying through this stretch, much to Geoff’s amazement. I look down at my GPS watch, you know, that thing I hardly ever use, and see we are hauling along at low 7:00 minute miles. Actually, truth be told I had to close one eye and squint at the GPS in order to read it. Yay, beer! But we’re flying along, somehow, don’t ask me where that came from. My guess is a numbing effect of the alcohol to my brain has left me with a much higher pain and discomfort tolerance. I’m giggling to myself wondering if the beer is now considered a performance ENHANCING drug, but knowing deep down that this effect is certain to be short lived.
And it is.
We make it to the halfway point and I need a walk break because I’ve pushed too hard. I take a few more over the next mile, and then run the entirety of the last mile, dangerously picking my way across the trail and over the roots in the dark. But before I know it, the finish line appears, and for me, the race is over. I truly can’t believe how quickly it passed.
Lap 4 time: 31:55. Though just slightly faster than lap three, I know my beer drinking time was nearly double the previous loop, so the actual running portion of this loop was much faster.
GROSS TIME: 2:06:34 (this includes time drinking beer)
NET TIME: 1:53:55
HANDICAP ADJUSTED TIME: 1:45:55 (minus the 8:00 beer bonus)
This put me as the 6th female finisher (out of 21), and the 23rd out of 57 individual runners overall. But, because even though I pretend to not be competitive, I secretly am a little bit deep down inside, I want to point out that the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place female finishers drank zero beers. Does that mean that I could have run faster without 48 ounces of beer sloshing around in my stomach and blood stream? Maybe. Probably. But I’m pretty sure it also means those four women just make better life decisions than I do.
I end my race with a water bottle full of hydrating tailwind, a bag of pretzels, and a grin from ear to ear. Partially because, well, I just drank four beers and that tends to make me a little silly. But mostly because I had a fantastically fun time.
AS A WHOLE, the 2016 Inaugural Copperhead 20K went off without a hitch, from a participants point of view. Everything seemed incredibly professionally and smoothly executed. The course was impeccably and clearly marked, not to mention beautiful and quite runnable. This trail is perfect for beginners and experienced trail runners alike. The beer drinking corral and relay exchange area was organized and flowed well. And the atmosphere was lighthearted and fun, with great music playing, and plenty of lush grass to spread out on both before, during (for the relay participants and spectators) and after the race.
The concept of the race is indeed a relatively unique one, and is a fun “bucket list” type of race, or even a bonding event for friends, family, or coworkers to compete together in.
Also, for the record: a beer 20K is SIGNIFICANTLY easier than a beer mile. I’m glad I gave it a try.
Needless to say, I would highly, highly recommend this event to my fellow adventurous runners, or simply those who want a fun, lighthearted event for a change of pace from the normal racing scene.
IF YOU GO: Remember that drinking is absolutely NOT a requirement, and is instead simply a fun spin on the standard race concept. But that said, be absolutely sure to bring a designated driver if you plan on drinking and running. Also, bring some extra cash for delicious food from the trucks, as well as some extra race swag. After I finished, Geoff presented me with this awesome trucker hat. I’m not sure if it was a congratulations gift or an “I’m sorry I ever doubted you” peace offering, but I’ll wear it with pride either way.
Thank you to race directors Jason and Tom, Poplar Grove Plantation, and all of the sponsors for bringing this unique event to reality. I had a wonderful time, and will definitely be back next year…hopefully with faster beer and running splits.
For more information, follow the Copperhead 20K Facebook page.
Let’s hear it: what’s the craziest, off the wall race or event you’ve participated in?
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.