Trails & Ales: A High-Altitude Beer Mile
The author raises a toast on top of Pikes Peak in honor of the High-Altitude Beer Mile. Photo: Brian Metzler

The painful memory of running a beer mile at 14,000 feet

Let me start by saying that drinking beer really fast is just a waste of beer, in my humble opinion—but if you are going to do it, make sure to use the stuff that doesn’t have flavor or soul, like Bud Heavy or Milwaukee’s Worst.

I take pride in being a beer connoisseur (others might call me a beer snob!), and to me, the point of beer is to enjoy it, taste it and relish the experience, not pour it down your gullet like a drunken sailor. If you want to consume things quickly, I would suggest sticking to the Krispy Kreme Challenge. That is a double shot of disgustingness and gastro-intestinal ruination.

I would personally rather sip, savor, share and consider a beer, discuss the hop varieties and use terms such as “wet horse blanket” to describe a particularly puckering barrel-aged sour ale. That being said, competition sometimes supersedes even my urge to sip beer slowly.

I enjoy all kinds of good beer, especially in the right setting like this one just after this year’s Pikes Peak Ascent. Photo: Brian Metzler

Case in point, the Pikes Peak High-Altitude Beer Mile!

“What’s that?” you ask. Well, have you ever attempted a beer mile? That’s the favorite collegiate pastime of running four laps on a track while chugging—and completing—a beer before each lap. The race, or perhaps better referred to as your personal time trial of humility, starts when you open your first beer and ends when you cross the finish line on the fourth lap. Assuming you make it that far.

Believe me, running a beer mile is one of the grueling challenges in running—and even if you don’t drink beer and replace it with soda or milk, it’s still outrageously difficult. It’s true that you don’t have to chug fast to finish respectably, but Metallica was right when they sang, “Time Marches On!”

The High-Altitude Beer Mile is a sporadically held rogue event on top of one of America’s most iconic mountains—Colorado’s 14,115-foot Pikes Peak—but I’ll get to that in a moment.

With an increase in popularity of the beer mile, so to has the performance level in this carbonated event. The world records are a blazing 4:34 for men and 6:08 for women. WOW! And here’s an amazing fact: the men’s beer mile world record is just 50 seconds shy of the actual men’s world record. WOW, again! There is actually a Beer Mile World Championships and the Beer Mile World Classic. You almost have to be at a world-class level to be competitive in those events.

But here’s the thing…you don’t have to be fast to run a beer mile. You have to be able to drink fast and run efficiently without puking. In every beer mile, there is always someone who lacks the running speed but makes up for it in digestive fortitude. Hey, we all have to find our niche in the world, right? And it’s similar to the niche of ultrarunning. Because when trail and mountain running weren’t enough, people starting running ultra distances. You still don’t necessarily have to be fast for this discipline, rather, just able to endure the long and often relentless grind of the journey.

With the beer mile, it’s a different level of grind, but there are definitely moments that feel long and relentless. Even running a moderate to slow beer mile in 10 to 12 minutes can be a huge challenge. It may not sound as difficult, especially if your best mile is much faster than that, but let me tell you, the pain is real!

The biggest concern in a beer mile is a Reversal of Fortune, which most would know in the clinical term: puking. Beer milers get a penalty lap for said reversal and that usually means the end of your competitive beer mile and the beginning of great public shame among your running friends. But if you have a Reversal of Reversal of Fortune, you are still in the clear. That means that the chunder does not make it past your lips. I won’t go into detail about the definitions of such things but you get the gist of it. It happens and I have witnessed it with my own eyes: Brooks Williams, Manitou Incline Beer Mile, 2012.

If you haven’t attempted a beer mile or have never spent time above 14,000 feet, picture opening a beer after is has been shaken up. For some reason—an elevation more than 2.5 miles above sea level, perhaps—beer seems so much more foamy over 14,000 feet, even if it hasn’t been shaken up. It has the equivalent effect in your stomach of drinking apple cider vinegar and swallowing some Arm & Hammer baking soda. And running at that elevation always feels like you’re asthmatic out-of-shape smoker. Naturally, running a beer mile up there is a recipe for dramatic projectile expulsions as the dreaded Reversal of Fortune is a constant threat from start to finish. Even if you do it carefully, the pouring process can really get you into Mount Vesuvius-type eruption problems.

Just ask Greg “Flash” Gordon (alias used to protect identity of the participant), he knows. Flash was the first one to reenact the Exorcist at the Pikes Peak High-Altitude Beer Mile. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Even if your brain is down with your eagerness to pound a beer and run fast, your gastrointestinal system most assuredly will not be.

When I competed in this dastardly event in 2015, there were only a few brave (idiotic) souls who dared suffer the madness. It’s difficult enough to run a beer mile at sea level, but doing so up in thin air, where it’s hard to breathe while merely walking, adds a new dimension entirely. Let me take you through my experience of the High Altitude Beer Mile, lap by lap, chug by chug, ounce by ounce, belch by demonic belch.

Lap 1: Pound 12 ounces of beer fast, ease into a high-decibel belch before hitting a full-on sprint because I have to get a good lead before the next beer. This one is definitely the easiest of all the laps. It’s just a small taste of what is to come, along with a little taste of bile {burp}. Hey, this isn’t so bad!

Lap 2: Arriving back to the start line for beer #2, I can’t even breath, so how can I expect to get in 12 more ounces of foamy PBR in my stomach?? The tunnel vision begins to set in, which instantly affects proper brain function. Have you ever put your head on a whiffle ball bat and spun around in circles then tried to run, it’s similar to that. My legs might have been willing, but my mind was obsessively telling me: WTF ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!?!

Lap 3: The penultimate lap went by both really slowly and all too quickly, given that I have crammed 36 ounces of foamy mess down and it feels like my car’s airbag just inflated in my stomach. At this point the verping begins—a scary combo of vomiting and burping. Here is where a Reversal of Reversal of Fortune is the best I can hope for, and I begin questioning my poor life decisions. I don’t really know what is going on around me, but I seem to be watching that scene in the Exorcist. “I DEFINITELY should not have done this!”

Lap 4: At this point, a Reversal of Reversal of Fortune is all I’m hoping for. Yes, 48 ounces of beer is a lot, but the amount of foam generated from shaking up the stomach is beyond comprehension. Some people find sweet relief from the Reversal and call it a day for their competitive beer mile. I definitely feel like I’ve been possessed by dark forces and the belches erupting from me at this stage resemble the wicked howl coming from the bowels of a zombie’s dirty rotten core.

After 8 minutes and 30 seconds, I cross the finish line victoriously, and, more importantly, I have kept all that liquid down. But wait…that’s when it starts to hit me. That’s when the alcohol hits everybody.

Imagine sitting at a bar or even in the calm confines of your kitchen and drinking four beers in 10 to 12 minutes with a few friends. You would NEVER do that, even if your college experience resembled something out of Animal House. For those 10 to 12 minutes, it’s the liquid that’s the challenge. But soon after you finish, it’s the alcohol that hits you like a tsunami. Even though you might have shown up entirely sober 15 minutes earlier, upon finishing you immediately feel like you’ve been on an all-night bender. Before you even get back to your resting heart rate, you feel like it’s 2 a.m. and the devil is bartending at Cheers pub in Boston … and Norm is sitting on his corner stool laughing at you.

Why would anyone do that to themselves? I don’t know, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s just that the beer mile is a challenge that a lot of runners—including me—are drawn to for inexplicable reasons.

Some people give me grief about being “too fancy” with my beer and call me a “beer snob” because I would rather have an East Coast IPA over a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed a PBR in the right situation. But, to me, drinking a beer with little-to-no taste is like saying you are going for a proper mountain run on a completely flat stretch of gravel. It’s just boring. So why not turn the boring into excitement by adding extremely high altitude or ridiculous amounts of elevation gain?

Editors Note: Please run your beer miles responsibly! Have a designated driver and stay away from steep ledges or mountain cirques. Once you are done with the beer mile, have one quality craft beer and savor your accomplishments.

Peter Maksimow
Peter Maksimow is an inov-8-sponsored trail runner based in Manitou Springs, Colo. He not only runs trails and imbibes in fine beers all around the world, but is also the Outreach & Partnership Specialist for the American Trail Running Association, a coach for the Kokopelli Kids youth racing team, the race director for the Barr Trail Mountain Race, “The Prez” of Team Colorado, a member of Team USA’s silver medal-winning team at the 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland, and all the other things he forgot to mention. Plus, he once organized a beer mile race at the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak and up the 2,000-foot Manitou Incline. His other sponsors include Enduro Bites, Swiftwick Socks and Manitou Brewing Co.