By Dan Clarke
What’s a more natural go-together than sports and beer?
Beer triggers many barroom conversations about sports. Most often these involve questions of the day. Like will Tiger Woods ever return to form? And what’s causing all these retirements by 49ers who would seem to have a few seasons left? (It’s best if there’s no demonstrable exact answer, so everybody can have an opinion.)
Usually the topics are imponderable, like would Ruth have hit fewer than 714 home runs if he had to deal with night baseball. Or, had he been exposed to modern weight training and maple bats he may have hit more. Who’s to say?
I enjoy the offbeat and esoteric in these matters. Once when I was enjoying a few brews after a Rugby game in Golden Gate Park a fellow from the other team asked me if I had raced a cable car up Nob Hill. It was a popular test for young men growing up in San Francisco, he explained. My memory might be a bit hazy, as they say, but it seems he said this contest was to involve the California Street line, not the Powell Street route. Except when stopped, cable cars run at a steady 9.5 miles per hour. It’s not difficult for a runner to exceed this pace on level ground and many a young athlete was way ahead of the car until he got to those steeper blocks near the top of the hill, said my friend. Then the tortoise and hare effect reeled in many a challenger. I’ve no idea which bar we were in when I heard about this intriguing athletic contest, but it’s likely we were somewhere out in the avenues. Thank God we weren’t anywhere near the eastern end of California Street or a my-team-vs.-his-team interruption of our happy rehydrating might have ensued. This cable car race may not have been dreamed up by people drinking beer, but the recollections of it surely were carried further in that environment. And, unless you were to be run down by a taxi, it was safer than many challenges taken up while the suds were flowing. (I recall two teammates knocking back shot glasses of some of the hottest salsa I’d ever encountered. The contestants put dollar bills on the table for each shot, with the guy who didn’t quit first winning the pot. Or, after another game, drinking glasses of flaming Drambuie just for the fun of it—no bet at stake. These were also athletic contests of a sort, but borderline dangerous.)
So recently I heard about the “Beer Mile.” The idea is pretty simple. You just run a mile—four laps around the standard track. A lot of guys could slide off a bar stool and accomplish that. However, there’s one kicker—you must down a 12-ounce beer before starting each lap. Sounds like even a slow jog would be uncomfortable under those circumstances. But to run a Beer Mile and run it fast is another matter. While there’s no NCAA, AAU or other lettered organization to certify such times, www.beermile.com lists times indicating some men and women have accomplished impressive feats in this somewhat peculiar endeavor.
Last year James Nielsen became sort of a latter-day Roger Bannister when he became the first runner to break “the five minute barrier” in this curious event. And that really is a hell of an athletic achievement.
We don’t know who dreamed up this idea or in what circumstances, but beer is involved now and it seems likely it was there at the creation. Nielsen ran his 4.57 Beer Mile in Marin County on April 27, 2014. The You Tube video below includes an explanation of the record holder’s training method and documentation of his run. It take about nine minutes. We suggest you open a beer and enjoy watching it.