Beer Mile world record smashed by Kent State professor of geology


Kent State geology professor Elizabeth Herndon in McGilvery Hall on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015. Herndon ran in the first ever Beer Mile World Championship in Austin, Texas on December 3, 2014, where she ran 1 mile and drank a beer per quarter mile in a record time of 6 minutes and 17 seconds.

Mark Oprea

As runners were perched at the starting line of an Austin, Texas marathon last month, they held in their hands tall cans of Budweiser, Austin’s own Hops & Grain Brew and longnecks of Bud Light. Everything was in their reach, except for a cup of water.

This was the annual Beer Mile world championship, a mile-long race in which runners must chug a 12-ounce container of beer before each quarter of the mile. It’s where Elizabeth Herndon, assistant professor of geology at Kent State, won the Elite Women’s Race, beating out 11 other contenders with a 00:06:17 mile, smashing the previous world record by 10 seconds. Winning a Beer Mile, Herndon said, seems to attract more attention than any run-of-the-mill road race.

“I’ve had far more people congratulate me on this than any other race I’ve done,” she said. “It’s certainly the most high-profile race I’ve been involved in. I mean, how many times do you get to participate in a world championship event for any kind of event? In that regard, it was pretty special.”

The Beer Mile is not just something a college track team thought of to end the season. It began informally in Ontario, Canada in the 1980s and migrated south to U.S. colleges during the Clinton Administration, where it grew in popularity on the previously dry mile-long tracks. Groups in Kingston, Canada set the official beer mile rules in the 90s, and a Connecticut-based college track star named Patrick Butler took the Kingston playbook and put it online. There are now official beer mile marathons marked in more than a dozen countries, with about 60,000 miles recorded thus far — the oldest marathoner being an 87-year-old woman from Vancouver. Officials deem these oldtimers “Super Grand Hash Masters,” yet hand out no handicaps. The rules are universal: “One mile, four beers.”

The world championship in Austin last month was a giant step for the Beer Mile, being the first of its size in Beer Mile history. Featuring a cast of 72 participants, including one Olympian, Beer Mile participants lined the starting gate like any other marathon, in singlets and leggings, some in Beer Mile T-shirts. After the starting shot, runners grabbed their beers and gulped them in what’s called “the party zone,” the 10-meter buffer zone where beers are drank and discarded, before a quarter mile lap, and when the next can is popped open. During the Women’s Elite, Herndon kept neck-to-neck with runner Andrea Fisher for most of the race, until the final lap, when she came into a 10-second lead, earning her the win and the record.

Herndon, who is a veteran elite runner — she regularly runs in the Cleveland Elite Development group — said she prepared mildly for her record-breaking run. The eight to 12 miles with her pack of track partners kept her primed for the Beer Mile, and most, if not all, were supportive of her. As far as any secondary warmups, the zealous drinking practice often on male beer-mile runners’ agendas, she said, was not on hers.

“I did not practice chugging very much,” she said.

But Herndon’s not a stranger to the hops-laden course. She ran her first Beer Mile when she was getting her Master’s in geochemistry at the Pennsylvania State University, and her second when she completed her dissertation, proudly repping the title of “The Doctor,” according to officials. Competing against five male geologists — along with the “nauseating” taste of their Blue Moon/Molson melange — Herndon came out on top, smoking the rest of her colleagues by nearly 40 seconds. Her previous time is still on eighth on the Beer Mile women’s record list, making her a prominent figure on the top 10.

Throughout the years, many runners, like Herndon, have learned beer choice is important and chuggability is just about everything. 

Cheap beer, she said, is unpalatable for her taste and not conducive to a solid mile time.

A runner like Herndon, to pull off her world record, needs something with flavor and gusto (Fat Tire, in her case). As what goes down before each lap, must stay down — at least until the last time has been clocked. 

“The event makes you quite nauseous as it is,” Herndon said. “If you drink something that is unpleasant, it just makes you a little more nauseous.”

Not once has Herndon “had to do a penalty lap,” that is, the result of losing one’s beer on the course. It’s the reason why it took the Beer Mile to become nationally-known and rise from its underground roots: the open drinking of alcohol in public. 

Some campus-held events in the past have been shut down by local police, citing open container restriction. Nevertheless, the race in Austin was close to the glamor of the New York Marathon — yet with more cans of Bud.

Although Herndon has been running post-collegiately for eight years, her quick drinking abilities weren’t necessarily harvested in frat row as she didn’t drink beer in college. Rather, downing any beverage, to her, spans to a younger age.

“I like to think my chugging abilities came from drinking a lot of Diet Coke when I was younger,” she said. “Coke, instead of beer was my practice.”

For the non-beer-drinking or the underaged, Coke, among other soft drinks, has made its way into the category of unofficial Beer Mile. There’s also been the likes of a Vodka Two-Mile, a “Four-Lap Beer Steeplechase” and even a Rubik’s Cube mile. Yet what tops them all, for Herndon, is the infamous Milk Mile, which, she said, ends “just like everyone thinks it ends.”

“It’s true,” she said. “Everyone loses at a milk mile.”

Being the Beer Mile Queen — or the “Velvet Hammer,” as in her Austin moniker — isn’t much of bother to Herndon when considering the respect of running circles. Many of her friends are happy for her new title, even if they think of it being “a little silly.” 

Herndon said that although she’ll be proudly representing herself as beer mile champion, she won’t be hopping eagerly to any arbitrary Beer Mile in the near future. Although she has local half-marathons to practice for, she said they’ll be no beer to go along with those meets.

For that, we’ll have to wait until the next championship, when “The Doctor” runs again.

“I’ll have to,” she said. “Because I’ll be defending my crown.”

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].