The inaugural 2015 Dog Meat Vertical Beer Mile was as much about who showed up to run, as it was about who stayed home and chickened out. Several contenders were noticeably absent including pre-race favorite Nike Trail Elite runner David Roche. Also missing were ultra runners Marc Laveson, Victor Ballesteros, Jason Reed, and Greg Lanctot as well as several others -- all who offered various elaborate explanations and excuses. Race officials are currently in the process of fact-checking to confirm their alibis.
Beer miles are becoming increasingly popular and commonplace. Everyone's doing them. So naturally, anyone who considers themselves a serious drinker-slash-runner wants to take it to the next level. And that next level is the vertical (or uphill) beer mile! Why run around a flat track when you can run up a gnarly mountain. Yet, surprisingly, a significant number of the entrants in the race were beer mile virgins who were attempting the feat for the very first time. That's one way to pop your cherry!
Further adding to the excitement and drama was the last-minute announcement to the runners from the race director warning that because temperatures had fallen below freezing during the night, there was a chance that the beers (which had been left out on the course the night before) might be frozen solid or at least a bit slushy. Luckily, temperatures in the area apparently remained above 27.8 degrees which is the point at which beer freezes, as the beer was ice cold but unfrozen.
Road runner Larry Neumann showed up at the starting line wearing a hideous assortment of mix-matched neon-colored running gear. The other runners in attendance all knew each other already (as they belonged to either one of two rival trail running gangs: the home-town heroes from the Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose, and the unsavory infidels from the Excelsior Running Club of San Francisco). But who was this other guy decked out in every color of the rainbow, everyone wondered?
Check out those day glow orange compression socks. Is he even a trail runner? He looks like he raided the bargain bin at REI's end-of-the-year sale on discontinued gear? Who invited him? Oh, he's a friend of Big Johnny's? Well, then must be fast! Oh, he's Canadian eh? I guess that explains his fashion sense.
However, Karl Schnaitter was paying less attention to the color of people's compression socks, and more attention to his beer. He stood there lovingly stroking a can, rubbing it gently against his cheek. After having experimented unsuccessfully with Budweiser, the semi-official adjunct-lager-piss-swill used in most beer miles, Karl decided to go the BYOB route and showed up with four cans of Big Sky Brewing Company, Moose Drool brown ale.
Never mind that she had never run a traditional beer mile on a track before. Or that she had never even chugged a beer before -- not even in college. "If only this were a vodka mile" Bree thought to herself, "I would crush everyone. It wouldn't even be a fair fight."
The race got underway and race director Big Johnny Burton immediately opened up a huge lead on the rest of the field, slamming his first beer in mere seconds while the rest of the field struggled to gulp down their icy beers. Big Johnny was followed, eventually, by a chase pack of several runners that included dark-horse former-Marine Jeff Clowers, pre-race favorite Karl Schnaitter, and a guy named Donnie Blameuser wearing what appeared to be his wife's cutoff blue-jean shorts. But we didn't ask, and he didn't tell.
When Jeff Pace signed up for the Vertical Beer Mile he suspected he might be chasing the cut-offs, but this wasn't what he had in mind. Race director John Burton had warned runners that there would only be 18 beers at each aid station. If you were one of the last runners to arrive at any of the three aid stations and found yourself looking down at an empty box of beer, you "missed the cutoff" and were out of the race. Train harder and better luck next year.
Meanwhile, at the very-back of the pack, the women's pre-race favorites Amy Burton and Bree Lambert were engaged a tactical chess match. Neither woman wanting to finish their beer first and be forced into taking the early lead, the two engaged in what can only be described a super slow-motion beer sipping contest. Eventually Amy ran out of beer first and was forced into taking the lead and doing the pacemaking.
And in the men's Designated Driver division, sole entrant Zack Steinkamp, who had brought two cans of Safeway club soda, was learning something that most experienced beer milers already know. The real challenge of the beer mile is not actually handling the alcohol content of the beer, but rather managing the carbon dioxide. The key to doing well is to burp out as much carbon dioxide as possible while running in between beers. Often the race is won not by the swiftest runner or the fastest beer chugger, but by the best belcher.
"After only 20 steps I let loose the biggest belch of my life," said Steinkamp. "It was a belch of victory... Victory over the doubters of the Bernoulli Principal. Victory over those spinsters in the Miss Manners club. An echoing belch of supreme victory over more uptight and longer-running events."
At the front of the race, Big Johnny Burton was already in trouble. He still had a small lead, but he was struggling to burp effectively. Every time he tried to belch out carbon dioxide, he instead burped out a mouthful of foamy beer. And if you've never tried it, re-swallowing your own beer-vomit (foamy or otherwise) falls under the category of "things that are surprisingly unpleasant".
Karl Schnaitter on the other hand was having no problems keeping his beer down. Still tucked in behind Big Johnny in second place, Karl was getting increasingly optimistic. As they approached the the next beer station, Karl boasted to Big Johnny, "I'm really looking forward to drinking my beer; it tastes so good." Big Johnny, who was dreading even the thought of choking down another wretched Budweiser gave up mentally; and then he spewed.
"I've got to get away from this guy before he pukes on my shoes," Chris thought to himself. That thought was immediately followed by, "What the hell am I doing with my life... Saturday morning pounding beers in the mountains? Whatever it is, it felt right."
Tim Thompson, a former pro mountain biker turned trail runner, was looking forward to making his beer mile debut. He hung toward the front of the pack all day, but ultimately wasn't able to handle the fourth and final beer. "I burped a lot going to the last beer station up the super steep part of the trail. I felt like I had enough room to put away the 4th one but 20 yards later it came back up" confessed Thompson. "I finished out the climb feeling good but that was only cause I lost half the beer I'd consumed."
Karl Schnaitter went on to claim victory, while his Excelsior teammate Chris Eide finished second. The relatively unknown Larry Neumann would later round out the men's podium.
Amy Burton, who took the lead early in the women's race, had been running (un)comfortably out in front all day with a slight lead over Bree Lambert, who was hanging back in striking distance -- perhaps waiting to make her move. Neither woman had ever run a beer mile before, so they had both elected to run the two-beer option of the race which involved chugging (or in their case, politely sipping) one beer at the start and then another at the 1/2 mile. They had also discussed possibly substituting Chardonnay for beer, but luckily race officials got wind of the plan and interceded.
Zack Steinkamp, who created (and I guess won?) his own new division by only bringing only two cans of club soda (rather the 4 cans required for the official Designated Driver division) charged up the last hill like a rocket, momentarily passing Big Johnny at one point. "Maybe it was the emboldening effect of the CO2, or perhaps it was the single filtered Modesto water that Safeway uses in its canned soda, but that last climb was no match for this guy," boasted Steinkamp.
Jeff Eisenman's official finisher status is currently under investigation following a too-close-to-call finish line puke. The official rules state the runner must have their finisher medal in hand before puking. But Eisenmann is arguing the race director, who may or may not have been stumbling around drunk, failed to provide his medal in a timely manner. The International Panel for Sports Arbitration is expected to rule by March.
Other runners to cross the finish line and claim glory include Jeff Pace, Stephen Strauss, Donnie Blameuser and Marc Bauman. Donnie, who had gone out hard with the early leaders -- presumably to encourage other runners like Jeff and Stephen to try and get ahead of the cutoffs -- faded hard after his second beer. When pressed for details, Donnie chimed, "The second beer took longer to go down than my first high school girlfriend and I quickly lost position." Marc Bauman, who finished DFL and took home a bottle of Pliny the Elder for his efforts joked that, "this was certainly my A race for the year, at least so far".
As if on cue, moments after the last finisher arrived on top of the mountain, park rangers showed up to congratulate everyone! Well, I suppose they came to check on us and to make sure everything was OK. They reminded us that events with 20 people or more require a permit (thankfully we were fewer than 20). But they also asked that we inform them of future events, even if we have less than 20 people and no permit, just so that they can be close by if needed. Seems reasonable enough.
Special thanks to the official race photographers Nina Giraudo, Keith Lubliner, and Sean McPherson.
And thanks again to Jeff Clowers for helping hike some of the beer up the mountain and for generously providing the bottles of Pliny and box of wine for the winners.
Finisher's List in Order of Finish
- Karl Schnaitter, 13:17
- Chris Eide,
- Amy Burton ** women's two-beer division
- John Burton * puke division
- Zack Steinkamp ** two-soda division
- Larry Neumann
- Chikara Omine
- Bree Lambert ** women's two-beer division
- Tim Thompson * puke division
- Jeff Clowers
- Greg Hales
- Jeff Eisenman * puke division
- Loren Lewis
- Jeff Pace
- Stephen Strauss
- Donnie Blameuser
- Marc Bauman