“So, how many beers did you end up drinking out on the course?”
I finished off a 6-pack…wait, who are you? How did you know that?
“I was running right behind you at one point,” explained this runner who was previously unknown to me, as we all sipped beers in the post-race hospitality area, “and I saw you with your backpack. I thought it was strange to see a guy with a pack, and then I started wondering, ‘Man, what’s that jingling inside there?’ And then I saw you reach into the pack and pull something out, and I asked myself, ‘Is….is that a fucking beer?’ And then you started chugging without breaking stride.”
All of what this man said was true. As a continuation of my tireless efforts to further integrate drankin’ into exercising, I decided that for the Halfmadness half marathon, I would drink a 6-pack of beer over the course of the race.
13.1 miles and 6 beers was the aim, but I wasn’t sure how I would manage. Could this be done while still turning in a respectable time? Would this make me throw up somewhere along the way? Could I outrun the fuzz long enough to avoid arrest for public intoxication and violating open container laws? Just how bad would warm Old Style (heavy) taste, 5 hours after it had been removed from my refrigerator?
All of these questions, and more, to be answered below.
PRE-RACE — 4am
Having only left the bar at midnight the night before the race, I set my alarm for 4am on Sunday morning was mildly surprised that I actually woke up. I wanted to be downtown by 5am to meet Dan Solera (a recurring character in this blog) and turbo-fast ultramarathon-running Jeff (how’s that for an intro, eh?) so that we could drive to Batavia nice and balls-early to pick up our race packets with time to spare before the 7am race start.
Before I left the apartment, I packed the following items in my running backpack, to carry with me during the run:
- A 6-pack of Old Style
- My driver’s license, in case I needed to show proof of age to an authority figure
- My bank debit card, in case I had to post bail (I’m not sure how that process works?)
After an “interesting” ride on the red line train south (which I shared equally with obnoxious drunks and then also athletes and their bikes heading downtown for the Chicago Triathlon), Jeff and Dan picked me up in Jeff’s car and set our bearings West for the hour-long drive to Batavia. It was an enjoyable car ride despite the early hour, and we swapped stories about birds and running until before I knew it, the hour was gone and we had already arrived.
After picking up our packets and race bib numbers (a fairly painless process), and then a stop at the Port-o-Potties (of which there were an ample amount), I announced to Jeff and Dan with curious phrasing, “I’d bet dollars to donuts that I’ll need another bathroom break during the race.” Unfortunately, I know all too well how my body reacts after a day/night of extended drinking, and the day before the race absolutely qualified as such. I didn’t have much time to worry, though — the race was about to start, and I had six semi-cold ones strapped to my back that needed to be drank.
THE RACE — 7am Start
As I lined up in the starting corral, well near the back of the chute (Jeff and Dan had positioned themselves much further forward than myself because they planned to run the race, you know, fast), a few runners commented on my backpack. One kind woman asked me if I was aware that there would be aid stations out on the course, to which I replied, “I don’t think they’ll be serving what I’m packing in here.” I realized immediately that this was a VERY strange thing for me to say, so I pulled out one of my beers to demonstrate what I meant, to the wide-eyed awe of the crowd.
At 7am, the horn went off, and we were on our way!
Miles 1-2 — The Sober Miles
I decided that I wouldn’t crack a beer until I hit the first aid station, because I wanted to get some “good and fast” (read: sober) miles under my belt first to help offset some of the slower, sloppier miles that were to come later. Despite the added weight that came from the beers in my pack, I ran my first 2 mile splits in 07:54 & 07:57, which in reality weren’t that far off of my PR pace.
My drinking strategy would be a source of internal debate for me. The way I saw it, there were 3 ways to play it with my drinking-on-the-run, all with their pros and cons:
- Drink early and often, front-loading the beer consumption in the early miles.
- PROS: This would reduce my pack weight earlier, easing my perceived burden for the later miles. Also, I would be drunk, which isn’t the worst thing?
- CONS: My later miles would all be pretty buzzed, which would likely cause me to run slower; also, I’d probably have to pee more.
- Save more of the beer for the later miles, and drink more toward the end.
- PROS: I would run more miles sober, presumably allowing me to run those miles faster and more efficiently.
- CONS: I would be running more miles with a heavier pack, hurting the quality of my miles and putting strain on my lower back. Also, this wouldn’t really be keeping in the spirit of running a half while drinking beer throughout, in my opinion.
- Hybrid Strategy — I could drink beers consistently every 2-3 miles. I wouldn’t really be maximizing the benefits from either of the dedicated strategies, but I also wouldn’t be feeling the full brunt of the cons, either.
In the end, I opted with a hybrid fluid intake strategy, starting at the first aid station.
Miles 3-6 (Beers 1,2, 3, & a Port-o-Potty stop) — The Dark Miles
I slowed down to crack a beer just past the first aid station at Mile 2, and while it opened without much spray, I learned during my subsequent jog-with-an-open-beer that I needed to keep my beer hand steady or else the jostling would make the beer foam up and out of the can. Lesson learned, glad I got that one out of the way early.
After polishing off my first beer within about half a mile of opening it, I took a short walk break to open my second Old Style right around Mile 3, as you can see in the labeled chart above. During these beer openings, I had a few surrounding runners give me some odd looks, but most of them were too focused on the 10+ miles ahead to go out of their way to say anything to me. One almost-disturbingly fit girl scoffed and gave me a VERY judgmental look as I opened my 2nd beer, and I took great joy in speeding up to pass her shortly after I drank my brew down to a more manageable level.
After crushing my 2nd beer, though, I felt rumblings in my stomach, and I knew that another bathroom break was imminent. Fortunately we were near an aid station just past Mile 4, and I flew downhill and into the welcoming comfort of a Port-o-Potty (there’s a sentence I wager I will never repeat). After taking care of business, I emerged a new man, and received a somewhat concerning amount of applause from the gathered spectators as I accelerated back to my race pace.
The course then turned onto a scenic bike path that ran along the river, which we would run next to for the next 3 miles. I opened my 3rd beer right around the 5.5-mile mark, and beer #3 did NOT taste right. After taking a hearty pull, I nearly vomited, the mediocre taste of the Old Style** dovetailing horrifically with the ever-increasing temperature of the swilling lurking inside the can. (**Editor’s Note: I opted for regular Old Style instead of a light beer, so that I couldn’t be accused of watering down this challenge. It seemed like it mattered at the time). This wasn’t an oppressively hot day, but it was warm out at the least, and the beers had been out of my refrigerator for 3-4 hours at this point. I gulped down the rest of my beer without ralphing, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink another beer for the next 2 miles.
While I’d run my first 2 miles in sub-08:00 splits, my splits for these middle miles were 08:51, 08:55, 09:16, and 09:04. I was keeping it together, but the initial thrill had waned.
Miles 7-10 (Beers 4 & 5) — Don’t Call It a Comeback
I wasn’t sure if it was mostly mental or not, but I was starting to feel buzzed around Mile 7 — I had just drank 3 beers in the previous 30-35 minutes, and ohbytheway I was still running at a moderately speedy clip. The mini-break in drinking was very welcome — I turned in my splits for Miles 7 & 8 at 08:43 & 08:40, and I was starting to feel good about breaking the 2-hour barrier for the race if I could just hold it together. I didn’t feel like anything was sloshing around in my stomach, either, so that was good. Even though all I did was transfer the weight of 3 beers from my back to my stomach, I was glad for the reduced weight of my pack.
At the Mile 8 marker, right before one of the only mini-uphill stretches to speak of, I opened Beer #4. The drinking part was going according to plan, at least — if I could finish this beer over the course of the next mile, that would leave me 4 miles in which to drink my final 2 brews. As far as I could tell, the toughest part was over.
We were running through neighborhoods again at this point (I think? Again, I’d been drinking), and as the runners surrounding me started looking for things to distract them from the running, I started fielding inquiries about what in the goddamn hell I was doing. I could feel myself getting drunker, because suddenly I was REALLY chatty, and I was engaging in conversations with anyone that would put up with me. Other than 1 or 2 disapproving looks, most of my new friends delighted in my misguided mission of inebriation, and for about half a mile there was an impassioned debate among 10 or so runners about whether it was best to drink early, drink late, or drink at a steady pace for something like this.
I felt renewed by my peers’ approval. Miles 9 & 10 both featured extended walking/drinking breaks (my splits were 09:58 & 09:40), but I had finished my 5th beer by the end of Mile 10, which meant that I had 2 miles of uninterrupted running ahead of me for the course’s extended downhill portion. My brain was foggy, but my pack was light and I was ahead of my target pace.
One guy told me that he wouldn’t run behind me anymore because he could smell the booze on me, which felt a bit unnecessary, but he didn’t have to worry about that for long because I soon accelerated and left him in my belligerent dust. I was a bit wobbly, but I knew the end was near.
Miles 11-13.1 (Beer #6) — The Homestretch
By this point in the race, I was properly drunk. Not buzzed, not tipsy, not a little rosy-cheeked, but I was drunk. I didn’t have a breathalyzer on me (a TRAGIC oversight that will not be repeated), but my 5 beers in an hour and a half were making their presence felt. Fortunately, Miles 10.5-12.5 are all either flat or downhill, and I felt as if I were flying as we ran down a pleasantly shaded bike path. Somewhere during the 11th mile, I made a new friend that I stuck with the rest of the way. I don’t remember how we started talking (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I’d been drinking), but he and I started talking about racing and that led to him asking why I was running with a backpack, and then he legitimately guffawed once I told him about my story.
My new running buddy asked if I thought he could keep pace with me to the end, and I told him there was only one way to find out. I feel we both did an adequate job, because my splits for Miles 11 & 12 came out to 08:52 & 08:31, respectively. Sure, it was all slightly downhill, but it was not lost on me that my 3rd-fastest mile came during my 2nd-most-intoxicated mile. Hooray for not learning any real life lessons.
I was having such a good time talking and running that I had to do a double-take at my watch when I saw we reached Mile 12.5 — I had less than a mile to go, and I still had one beer in the holster. I took off my pack and pulled out my final Old Style, then asked my new very best friend if he minded holding the beer for me as I put my back on and re-attached my chest & waist straps. He was very agreeable to this noble charge, and as a result I was able to whip it out (the beer, perverts) and strap it on (the backpack, perverts) without losing hardly any time. TEAMWORK! I took a brief walk break to chug my beer down to a manageable level that wouldn’t spill, and then sped up to catch my buddy, with the intentions to drink the final half of my beer as I crossed the finish line.
While the next pack of runners were far ahead of us on the path, I turned around and was startled to notice a sizeable clump of runners running directly in my wake. Feeling dick-ish for possibly (and unintentionally) blocking people from passing, I apologized loudly to no one in particular if I had been blocking anyone’s path, at which point an older woman and a younger man both admitted that my topic of conversation had helped take their minds off of the pain they were feeling in their legs. More jovial conversations ensued, and I called out the distance remaining & our group’s pace, so that those who weren’t wearing GPS watches knew exactly how they were doing.
As we made a final turn across a bridge, I can say now with confidence that I was legitimately hammered. The reason I say this is because as I noticed a woman coming up fast behind us, I told my buddy, “Watch out, someone coming up on the rear, might want to make room for her….waaaiiit a minute, OR WE COULD JUST RUN FASTER THAN HER!!” And then without another word, I took off. For the previous mile or two, I’d apparently forgotten that this was a “race”, since I’d been so content to just jog and talk and drink and make friends. As a result, I had huge reserves left in my tank, and so I kicked it into high gear with my beer in hand.
In the end, I dusted the girl in the pink that was roaring up behind us, and she trailed far behind in this final finisher’s photo that I am disproportionately proud of:
As I crossed the finish line, I flashed my now-empty can to the race emcee, who gleefully announced “Old Style representing at the finish line!” I don’t recall if he announced my individual name or not, but that was enough for me to take pride in. I had forgotten to stop my watch right when I finished (again, I’d been drinking), but I looked down about 15 seconds later and confirmed that I DID break the 2-hour barrier. I was later delighted to learn that I even ran faster than an arbitrary 09:00 mile pace, finishing in 1:57:33.23, good enough for a 08:59/mile pace and 342nd out of 986 finishers.
For the second time in the day, I thought I was going to throw up. After 13 miles of not feeling like beer was sloshing around inside my stomach, that final 0.1-mile kick made my world spin. As I waited for some teenaged volunteer to remove the chip from my shoe, I was terrified that I was going to toss cookies right onto the top of his head. Thankfully, I was able to keep everything down, and I sloooowwwly made my way to the post-race refreshment area.
After grabbing some water and 2 slices of pizza (nice touch, race organizers), I found Jeff & Dan seated, drinking beer and looking at me expectantly. I started like I was going to say something, but I couldn’t get the words of my mouth, and I just started laughing my ass off. I was well and truly rocked. I started going on and on about my race experience as the two of them patiently nodded listened to my semi-lucid ramblings, until it dawned on me after about 10 minutes of nonstop chatter that I hadn’t let them get in a word edgewise. After inquiring about their respective races, it turns out that Jeff had set a new PR, and Dan had a fine race in his own right.
As if I hadn’t had enough beer already, the post-race hospitality area featured what was essentially unlimited Sam Adams Boston Lager, a fine choice to accompany the unlimited pizza and cookies that I had just wolfed down. After 2-3 beers apiece, we decided to set sights East for the drive back to Chicago.
I’d run this race again — the course was scenic enough, there was a positive vibe all around, all the runners and volunteers seemed genuinely friendly, the course was never crowded, and the post-race spread with pizza and beer was primo. If I had my druthers (I’m bringing that phrase back, you guys), I would like for there to be more aid stations than just every two miles, but this wasn’t much of an issue for me and my backpack loaded with drinkable carbs.
Oh, and you’ll never believe this, but I slept in the car the whole way home.