By Andy Barton
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: orange;”] I [/dropcap] have this overarching theory of the Beer Mile: no one actually wins, but some lose slower than others. And there exists no greater testing ground for this hypothesis than a ramshackle, off-the-beaten-path dirt track in Metairie, where only the elephantine minivans of soccer moms dare venture. Make no mistake—this is the Madison Square Garden, nay, the Roman Coliseum of the Beer Mile. The 7th fastest time in the recorded history of the event was run here, by a man whose feats of intestinal fortitude are still uttered with adoration by the assembled, beverage-consuming masses.
For the uninitiated, a brief summary of the Beer Mile is in order. There are rules. Participants must provide four (4) beers, in cans, with alcohol-by-volume contents equal to—or exceeding—5.0. A beer is consumed prior to each lap of the mile. Those who vomit are forced to endure a penalty lap, but are spared the draconian torture of an extra beer prior to running it. Odds are, dear reader, you will boot, and you will probably do so multiple times. I truly loved writing that last sentence.
While distance running is an instinctive habit of the human species, the Beer Mile is a refutation of all the self-preservation tactics that have been hardwired into us over centuries of evolution. The pain is profound, acute, and progressive. Your first will be quick and painless, a brief surge of adrenaline and alcohol followed by a slightly subpar 400 meter dash. By your fourth and final beverage, you will be a bloated stomach with arms and legs, a mere host for the unholy mass of booze fizzing and whirling within you. My first beer was down within fifteen seconds. My fourth took roughly two minutes.
What ends in ignominy begins in innocence. We arrived at Pontiff Track at approximately 6:45, 45 minutes after the stated even time, and 45 minutes before the actual commencement of proceedings. I was armed with a biking cap, a NOTC jersey, and six lukewarm NOLA Blondes (or, if you prefer, 72 ounces of concentrated evil hiding in my backpack). The track was teeming with seasoned alcoholics; about 50 people were lined up, chatting with one another, drinking their preemptive, yeast-based aperitifs. At this point, I made a fateful decision. I opened my bag, grabbed a beer, and followed suit. One would presume that a pre-Beer Mile beer unnecessarily bloats the athlete, using up valuable stomach space and digestive faculties prior to the main event. This, in my experience, was not the case—the detriment was more mental than physical. You see, I, like most freedom-loving Americans, don’t much care for warm beer. A good English stout at room temperature is probably fine, but we don’t generally have access to that, and a warm Budweiser is quite simply a poor substitute. And in order to keep one’s throat from constricting during the event, the beer must be kept warm. My distaste for non-cold alcoholic libations aside, the hops of the Blonde are more pronounced when experienced in a beer above 50 degrees. Again, that’s all well and fine, until you have to chug it like a 15-year old at your cousin’s wedding reception*. At this point, I knew I would be in for an uphill battle. An uphill battle against heavy artillery wielding a shovel.
I signed up for the second-to-slowest heat, estimating that it would take me between ten to twelve minutes to complete the event. As it turns out, this would be my most astute calculation of the evening, and would also ensure that I would have my ass handed to me by five people who totally effing low-balled their times.
The first heat (>12:00) commenced, and I watched other Beer Mile debutantes in horror. I saw things I cannot unsee, and the sounds of liquid hitting cinders will haunt my dreams in perpetuity. No one won. Humanity was lost. My heat was next.
As I stepped to the track, I felt a familiar emotion: the urge to begin. To hear the proverbial firing of the gun, and to be released from the horrible, grating panic of the run-up. The first beer went down with ease, and the following lap—slow though it was—gave me cause for optimism. Maybe I would just throw in an extra mile on top of the first? Oh, the hubris.
By the third beer, an interesting set of phenomena besets the Beer Miler. Your body has only just begun to process the alcohol of the drinks you have so wantonly consumed, and you begin to feel a slight buzz. Physically, you are in something akin to trauma. You feel alcohol everywhere: in your mouth, your throat, your stomach, your sweat. You want to drop to the track, assume the fetal position, and wait for sunrise. You burp your merry way around the track, and tuck in to your final, most untriumphant beer. By the time you finish, you cannot feel feelings any longer, only the pulsing gyrations of your beer baby.**
Suffice it to say, then, that I watched the expert Beer Milers in a state of unabashed awe. Witnessing a man run a decent quarter, and then polish off a beer within ten seconds is an experience without parallel. Watching him do it repeatedly? I’ll leave the superlatives to you. The winner, whose name I will omit for obvious reasons, clocked in just above seven minutes. He is a hero, a figure of renown whose deeds should be commemorated with a statue at Pontiff Track***. His colleagues followed swiftly behind him, and this horrid masochistic ritual finally reached its denouement. Miraculously, there were no deaths.
At some point, the lights above the track cut out, and a disgruntled security guard arrived on a four-wheeler to inform us that our presence was no longer desired on the premises. I looked in the distance, and saw the distinct glint of pitchforks illuminated by torchlight. The 2012 New Orleans Holiday Beer Mile had drawn to a close. Nobody won, but the losses were glorious.
*You didn’t do that? Really?
** Note for this paragraph – ‘Your’: ‘My’; ‘You’: ‘Me’
***Looking at you, Metairie.
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