Fan of beer. Sometimes a fan of running. Always a fan of a new race format or something a bit silly. Welcome to the Jersey Beer Mile, part of the first ever Festival of the Mile.
The cause of, and solution to, most of life’s problems…
The first time I heard about the plans for the Festival of the Mile, I really couldn’t think of anything worse.
I was on a lunchtime run from the Rock N Road Run Co shop in St Helier when Rik mentioned one of the new events he had planned.
Race one was a mile, four laps of the FB Fields running track as quickly as possible. Race two was another four laps of the track as fast as you could, but with the start time adjusted based on your first mile.
So far so nightmarish for me. Literally the opposite of everything I enjoyed about running. It was even on a track, the ghost of PE classes past looming at every turn or straight.
Race three was a beer mile.
I’d heard about beer miles in the US where it seemed part of the culture around trail and college running. The rules are simple. Drink a beer, run a lap of the track.
Repeat times four.
This was exactly the kind of thing I had been “training” my whole life for. I’m in.
I was already excited to be trying a new event but what made it even better was that my race wasn’t until 2pm. What an amazing time for a run to start.
None of this 5am porridge nonsense. In fact, I was so happy with the late start time that I decided to get in some extra practice the day before while watching padel. Local tennis superstar Scott Clayton even helped my training with an extra pint. Not all heroes wear capes.
Sunday morning and I woke at a normal time. Stuck on the radio, got a cup of tea and then did nothing. Still ages to go – this was heavenly.
We did have to look after our niece but that just meant I was going to miss the first two races. Fifteen minutes before my race, the three of us hopped into the car and made the trip to FB. I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I approached but there seemed to be a great vibe around the track, more Glastonbury than Gateshead.
“What kind of time do you call this?” the volunteer joked (or at least I think she joked). I had five minutes to the race and I’d picked up my number, what more was there to do?
It turns out that the races were actually a little behind so I had arrived in plenty of time. It meant that I got to soak up a bit of the atmosphere and that the was the point I wish I had turned up earlier.
Despite the hard running, there was a real supportive atmosphere, everyone cheering everyone on, with families sat on the grass enjoying pizzas, coffee and cake, while the event continued around them.
The start of the handicap mile got underway as we arrived and it was great to see such a mix of local runners of different abilities giving it their all. The handicap format meant that there was genuine tension through the whole race as you looked to see who could chase who down.
I’d even begun to get a bit of pre-game nerves. When was the last time I’d run a mile? Probably the Interfirm relay in Guernsey in a time of 05:43. When was the last time I’d run properly on a track? Possibly never???
Not quite knees weak, arms are heavy, but I definitely wanted to get going.
Jersey Beer Mile
There were to be three different “heats” of the beer mile depending on the time you thought you could complete it. Being sensible and mainly looking forward to trying some beers from Batch, I put “over 9 minutes”.
Turns out a lot of people were taking it a bit more seriously than me so as I watched beers get poured, five people who I knew were pretty fast took to the track. The starting hooter went off and bam, first beer downed.
I liked to think that doing a beer mile was a little like boxing chess – some people will be good at the running/boxing, some people will be good at the drinking/chess. Turns out some people are good at both.
But it also turns out that drinking roughly half a pint after running 400m is nowhere near as easy as you might think but that is what made watching the races more interesting. Runners might gain a place on the track only to drop a couple downing an IPA.
Now imagine doing it four times. I was beginning to consider my life choices as the winner of the first heat came in under six minutes. Bonkers with the drinking time.
The second heat wasn’t much better for my confidence either. My only solace came in the fact that I hadn’t gone for the non-alcohol option of Coke Zero which made me gag just thinking about it (and made at least one person spray all over the track).
And then it was my heat.
They combined the two slowest heats which made me feel slightly better about not being a complete novice, safety in numbers and all that, but there was some serious speed to contend with.
My approach was the same as all races – make sure you finish, enjoy it, and possibly try to be as competitive as you can with someone else who doesn’t know that you’re competing against them.
I was “against” eight other runners, stood eagerly at the edge of the table waiting to get my first beer while around me, I could see people taking pictures on their phones and cheering. This is exactly how top athletes must feel…
The hooter honked and after starting the Garmin, I was into my first beer. Around 4.8% from what I remember and a lovely way to start off. I’ve never been amazing at downing drinks but I thought I could probably hold my own so was shocked as people headed off around the track.
Last sip and away, burping up beer fumes like a diesel locomotive converted to biofuel and accelerating at a similar pace.
It felt really hard to find a rhythm with my breathing and legs not used to any kind of pace at the current moment. I just chugged around the track, trying to keep focused on the next stop.
People overtook me on the back straight, losing any beer-based advantage I may have had, and then so quickly I was back into the transition zone for beer two.
My slightly competitive streak desperately wants to smash it back in no time but I’m struggling to combine drinking and breathing, something I never thought I would say in a race. Your mind says “down it”, your body says “just take a sec please”!
And then back out on to the track. At this point it becomes a bit of a blur of beer and burps. As the saying goes, never trust a fart after 20 miles. In this case, never trust a burp after 400m. It wouldn’t have been pretty.
Still I carried on, each lap being welcomed into transition by an amazing crowd who cheered and laughed as I tried to drink my tiny beer. Next time, go for a Sauvignon Blanc mile and I reckon I could win.
This time however, I was nowhere close. With under two laps to go, I was passed by David Holmes who won our heat in 5:59 – serious kudos.
I was battling for somewhere between fourth and ninth in our race, and literally no idea in the final standings. As I came into the finishing straight, I just prayed that nobody would overtake me or make it competitive as I really didn’t have a lot more to give.
However, somebody didn’t get the virtual memo and with 70m to go I was overtaken.
I’ve never really won anything in my life. I once won a giant gorilla stuffed toy in a school raffle while in primary. And I was once runner up Citizen of the Year for basically being a nerd.
But I don’t like losing. I never have. And I wasn’t going to give up fourth to ninth place without a fight/show for the cameras.
I picked up my cadence, swung my arms and dug bloody deep. Deeper than the two pints currently sloshing around in my stomach. I chased and chased and as I did, I could hear my own voice, like a Jedi master, saying “run through the line” which I duly did before almost heaving the content of my digestion system onto lane seven.
Sometimes your body has a way of telling you that you’re stupid. Today was one of those days.
My legs were aching, my lungs burning, my face dripping with sweat and all with a potent threat of vomiting which would not only be embarrassing, but actually result in a time penalty.
I had no idea where I had come but I had definitely pipped him on the line (officials have since given him the moral victory but I think this photo says all you need to know).
Sadly, I didn’t even have time to chat to other people as we needed to leave. But as I wobbled off, I felt a strange mix of satisfaction, achievement and regret.
Satisfaction that I had tried really hard to drink and run. Achievement that I had done probably as much as I could’ve done that day. And regret, because I hadn’t been involved in the day more.
It was such a nice vibe, athletics without worrying whether I would be good or not (this isn’t aimed at any club or people in particular, just my own personal issues).
It’s one of my favourite events of the year, as evidenced by the fact I’ve told nearly every person I’ve met about it. Also, as an athlete, I’ve already begun training for next year, with additional wine just to be on the safe side.
Jersey beer mile: come for the beer/fun, stay for the cheer/fun.
Official result: 12th place in 08:05.
Real result: 11th place in 08:04.
And just for fun, here is the GoPro video