Lewis Kent is very good at doing two things extremely quickly: He can run. And he can chug a lot of beer.
And, as he proved on Tuesday, he can do both of those things at the same time faster than anyone else on the planet.
Kent utterly shattered the world record in the beer mile, which challenges competitors to chug a 12-oz. beer, run 400 meters, and then repeat that three more times—without "losing their beer" in the process. A rangy fourth-year kinesiology student at Western Ontario University, Kent completed the boozy event in just 4:47.17 at the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships in Austin, Texas, averaging under 9 seconds a beer en route to the first sub-4:50 beer mile ever recorded.
While a beer mile may rival a cakewalk calorically, it's anything but easy: As anyone who's ever competed in a brewery run will tell you, hauling ass while knocking back tallboys is not for the faint of heart, spirit, or stomach. Champion beer milers cannot run on intestinal fortitude alone—winning takes technique, and technique takes training. (For example: Beer milers must practice holding their breath, so they can chug beers quickly without breathing, even when winded.)
So we talked to Kent—the only beer miler sponsored by Brooks—about his training methods, the most important characteristic in a champion beer-miler, and why he prefer blondes—or at least one particular blonde.
MF: What got you started in beer running?
LK: The beer mile all started as a fun event that college/university cross country and track athletes did between seasons for fun. It has expanded to include most cardio sports now (i.e. varsity rowers, triathletes, and swimmers enjoy jumping in). I had only done two going into last October, when I heard about the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championships while injured. Once I got back on my feet and running, I made it my goal to race at the championships and race against the best in the world.
Take us through your training regimen for this event. Do you always drink beer while training, or do you substitute with any other beverages?
A vast majority of my training is done with water when I am just practicing chugging, and non-alcoholic beer when on the track doing intervals. If I want to practice my technique, I'll just fill a bottle up at the sink. For planned training interval sessions, I use non-alcoholic beer in order to simulate the carbonation.
It seems like the race is more like four 400-meter sprints, rather than a mile of constant running. Do you have a more sprint-focused training regimen, or do you focus on distance training?
The majority of my workouts are tuned towards being in optimal 1500m/3000m shape. I just came off my cross country season (September through November), so that definitely gave me the base I need to run a quick mile. In the three to four weeks leading up to the championship, I tuned my workouts towards speed work, running intervals ranging from 800m to 200m and making sure to get some quick strides in. I try to push myself as hard as I can during the four sprints while keeping in mind that I need to leave enough in the tank to finish the whole race. It’s like a starting pitcher in baseball: You’re looking to go 9 innings, which means you won’t throw 98 mph heat in the first inning. You gradually want to manage your speed and not empty the tank early. That applies pretty well to something like the beer mile too.
Do you do any drinking-focused training to improve your chugging speed? (Besides holding your breath, of course.)
When I know I have a beer mile coming up, I definitely do some drinking-focused training. This mostly consists of filling up an empty beer bottle with water or non-alcoholic beer and drinking it as quick as I can (sometimes 2-3 consecutively.)
What do you do to prevent cramping?
I eat massive meals in the days leading up to a race, and makes sure to get in a few chugs while my stomach is full to get a good stretch.
Do you drink water during the race, or would that hit your stomach too hard?
I do not drink water throughout the race. It is so short that hydration is only important in the hours and days leading up, not during. When you are already drinking 1.4L of volume in under 5 minutes, you don't need anything extra weighing you down.
What makes or breaks a good beer runner? Is a cast-iron stomach absolutely essential, or can you muscle your way past that?
I think you nailed it. If you’re not the kind of person who can drink a lot of beer and not be fazed by the alcohol content, then beer running probably isn’t for you! I have plenty of lightweight friends who have a pint or two and are good for the rest of the night. If you’re one of those people, then it’s going to be really hard to build up your tolerance to chug 4 beers in such a short period of time while maintaining an optimal performance level. Dealing with the carbonation (having a stomach of steel) is the most important factor no doubt.
Does beer-running ruin beer for you? Can you still enjoy casually drinking beer?
Absolutely doesn’t ruin it for me. If I didn’t enjoy beer, I wouldn’t have even thought about running a beer mile in the first place, let alone continue to do it! I casually enjoy drinking with my friends, especially less mainstream beers—I’ve gone through a lot of popular name-brand beers in my life, and they’re all pretty similar to one another. Running the beer mile has made me appreciate beer on a different level. When I’m out there, I’m just chugging. I don’t taste a thing. It’s a completely different mindset when you’re out at a pub with friends.
Budweiser is a popular choice for beer milers. What beer did you drink during the competition, and why?
Amsterdam Blonde. I’ve tried a lot of beers over the years, and I just found this one flows down the smoothest. The last thing I want is a beer that’s rough on the throat. Amsterdam Blonde works well, so why fix what’s not broken?
When does the alcohol really start to hit your system? Does it seriously inhibit your athletic ability, or can you train your system to fight through the alcohol’s effects?
That first chug is really when your body starts to react to the beer. You’re burping for a bit, trying to get your stomach settled. But once you’re past that point within the first 30-40 seconds, my system really does adjust. I’ve practiced enough times that I know what to expect at this point: a rocky first post-chug, followed by my body telling me "okay, let’s keep it going." I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I’m used to it and am able to handle it had I not trained as much as I did. When I first started off, I had to get used to chugging while running, but I also had to improve my own chugging ability. I got really good at chugging before I started the beer mile, and I feel that was also key to being able to run the mile.
Which do you identify more closely as: A beer drinker who likes running, or a runner who likes drinking beer?
Definitely a runner who likes drinking beer. I have been running for 8 years now and enjoy setting out a couple of hours every day for practice. I compete on my university team here at Western and hanging out and training with the guys is a great break from school. Of course, we like to go grab a couple of pints once or twice a week after practice for a little reward for all the hard work we put in.