Friday, February 3, 2017

2017 Third-Annual Big Johnny's Vertical Beer Mile

“Who are these people?”

Sixty-seven year-old Steve Patt – a Silicon-Valley software entrepreneur and Harvard PhD chemist – doesn't immediately strike you as the type of lowlife who wakes up in the morning and slams a few beers before breakfast. Yet, there he was, sitting alone in his car in a deserted parking lot on Saturday morning, several cans of beer in his lap, staring expressionlessly out the window at the rain. “What am I doing?” he muttered.

Outside Steve’s rain-covered window, a conspicuous-looking man with a large, full-back tattoo was pacing back and forth across the parking lot, talking loudly to himself. The man was not wearing a shirt. Or pants. His black Speedo showed off a hardened physique that Steve imagined likely came from years of lifting weights in a crude prison yard rather than a pristine, climate-controlled suburban gym. Steve was careful to avoid eye contact.

Loitering on the far side of the parking lot was a bearded, excessively muscular man dressed like a giant hot dog. It was the kind of outfit you’d expect to see worn by the mascot at a rec-league slow-pitch softball game where everyone, the mascot included, is drunk. The costume was wrinkled and splotched with what appeared to be dried mustard… or perhaps some form of bodily fluid – possibly, but not necessarily, vomit.

Another man, dressed as a giant banana, walked over to the guy in the puke-stained giant hot dog costume. The two oddly-attired individuals gesticulated wildly, and appeared to be discussing something of significant importance. Perhaps, Steve mused, the men were upset that their friend, possibly dressed as a giant stalk of asparagus, was running late for their strange food-fetish convention?

Pimpin' ain't easy
Steve’s attention then shifted to a pair of flamboyantly attired gentlemen sauntering in his general direction. One of the men was clad from head to toe completely in purple velvet with leopard-skin trim, including a ridiculously over-sized matching Fedora. The second man was decked out in an even gaudier ensemble – a three piece suit that appeared to have been fashioned from left-over Christmas wrapping paper – red, white, and blue patterns featuring snowflakes and reindeer.

“Who invited the pimps,” Steve chuckled to himself, “or who knows, maybe they’re just off-duty TGI Fridays’ managers?”

Steve looked down at his watch and then looked up to see a Giant Panda bear (well…technically a man dressed as a Giant Panda – which depending on whom you ask, is either a type of bear or a very-fat, very-distant, cousin of the raccoon). In any case, the Panda man was standing next to guy with eerie florescent day-glow green hair that illuminated everything within ten feet of him in the otherwise pitch-black predawn parking lot.

The radioactive-haired man was wearing a “jacket” that had clearly been fashioned out of a black garbage bag. The letters “B E E R” had been spelled out in in gray duct tape at a rakish angle across the front of the garbage-bag garment. “Who are these people?” Steve wondered.

“Everybody run!”

A pick-up truck with government plates and flashing lights came bouncing into the dirt parking lot spraying mud in all directions as it slid to a screeching halt. “It’s the authorities! Everybody run,” Amy Burton shouted loudly. People scattered in all directions running toward their vehicles with unopened beer cans in one hand and fistfuls of dollars in the other.

“Hurry up and pay for parking! It’s six dollars if you don’t have a State Park’s annual pass” shouted the race director, Big Johnny Burton, the man with the back tattoo and black speedo, encumbered by neither shirt nor trousers. “The third-annual BJB’s Vertical Beer/Club Soda Mile starts in two minutes.”

Note: For those readers unfamiliar with the concept of the beer mile, and the vertical beer mile in particular, you may want to read this Trail Runner Magazine article that covered the first annual BJB Vertical Beer Mile. You may also want to read the 2015 BJB VerticalBeer Mile race report and/or last year’s 2016 BJB Vertical Beer Mile race report.

Or… if you just want the Cliff Notes, the beer mile is a race that is traditionally run on a standard 400 meter track where the participants drink a 12 ounce can/bottle of beer before running each of the four laps, resulting in the consumption of 4 beers over the course of the mile race. The vertical beer mile employs a similar format, except that the participants run/hike up a steep mile-long hill (on rough dirt trails) while stopping to chug a beer ever quarter mile on their way up the mountain.

“Three… two… one…” click, click, click, pop, pop, pop. The air was suddenly filled with the sound of twenty cans of beer (and a couple cans of club soda) opening in unison. The chirping of birds was drowned out by the loud cacophony of guzzling, gasping and burping. The vertical beer mile had official(ish)ly begun!

Big Johnny dashes off to an early lead
The race is on!

Big Johnny sucked down his first beer in 3.91 seconds and muscled his way through the crowd of slower sippers. “Amateurs,” he smirked dismissively as he sprinted through the knee-deep icy river that marked the start of the 1200 foot mile-long climb up the mountain. This was going to be the year that he finally defeated his arch-rival and nemesis, the two-time defending champion Karl Schnaitter.

“I want that belt,” Big Johnny growled to himself as he pictured Karl standing victorious atop the mountain last year, triumphantly holding the diamond-studded golden championship belt above his head as the sun shone through the trees, highlighting the fake rhinestone and gold-colored plastic of the children’s toy belt Big Johnny so deeply coveted.

The chase group: Big Banana, Big Winner, Big Wiener
Big Johnny was on a hot streak lately, having recently won the Javelina Trail Beer Mile in Arizona in October and the Silicon Valley Beer Mile Championship in November. He’d been training his ass off with two-a-day beer-chugging sessions. Losing wasn’t an option this year, much less even a possibility.

Suddenly Big Johnny heard footsteps behind and looked back to see fast-approaching chase group of runners led by a seven foot tall banana, a muscle-laden hot dog, and an out of place very serious-looking guy wearing actual running clothes who seemed to be under the impression that this was some kind of legitimate race; He’d apparently brought his own timing chip and had a bib number pinned on his shorts. He had even been spotted doing dynamic stretches and strides beforehand.

You're doing it all wrong. Needless to say
these guys did not podium. LOL.
Adam Schroeder apparently didn’t get the memo that this wasn’t a USA Track and Field sanctioned event; that there would be no chip timing, no aid stations, and no smiling volunteers with medals at the finish line. It seems that he was tricked into participating in this “historic, prestigious, iconic South Bay race” by his friend Liz who just needed a designated driver and convinced Adam to enter the club-soda division.

Adam, sober as sandwich, seemed not to notice nor care that he was racing a banana, a hot dog, and an exotic male dancer. He closed his eyes and imagined he was in the Olympic 5000 meter finals, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans while he and Mo Farrah furiously chugged cans of Safeway club soda on the backstretch of the track.

Adam put his head down and charged up the mountain to victory, “prancing off into the distance like a mischievous pixie,” as described by fellow racer Peter Battaglino, the "big banana".

1st Overall and Club Soda Mile Champion
Adam Schroeder
It’s all over but the pukin’

As Peter watched Adam flit up the mountain to victory, Peter abandoned his own dreams of glory and resigned himself to second place. He was so light-headed (from his strategy of hyperventilating for 10 seconds before opening each bear so that he could hold his breathe while drinking) that he hadn’t realized that Adam was chugging club soda rather than beer, and thus running in the separate, “lesser-but-kinda-equal(ish)” club-soda division for which the mostly-indifferent race director had yet to commission a separate championship belt.

“At least I’ll be the first banana,” Peter consoled himself, not realizing that he was leading the actual beer mile division. “I wonder if they have a trophy for first oversized food-stuff item? I better stay ahead of the "Big Wiener" just in case,” he thought determinedly.

Peter summoned all his strength and concentrated on one thing: not letting anyone pass him. Well, two things actually: not letting anyone pass him, AND not puking all over himself (and/or anyone else). Because, despite what his high school cross country coach used to say, puking on a competitor isn’t actually good sportsmanship.

As he stumbled across the finish line at the top of the hill, Peter looked up and saw Adam already finished, showered and dressed, and sitting with his feet up in a lounge chair drinking a kale smoothie. “Where the heck did he get a smoothie from,” Peter wondered. Some of life’s greatest mysterious remain forever unsolved!

Meanwhile, thirteen seconds behind Peter, an epic battle was “brewing” for second place (yes, that’s a beer pun). The suspiciously muscular hotdog – who, at least according to the nutritional-facts-label, was 100% Angus beef and completely hormone and steroid-free – was chasing down the male stripper over the final quarter mile.

Beer Mile Champ "Big Banana" Peter Battaglino
with buddy Vitor Rodrigues
“You better move that ass. I’ve got a pocket full of dollar bills and I’m ‘bout to make it rain up on this mountain,” shouted the "Big Wiener," Chris Eide, completely oblivious to the fact that it was actually already raining – quite heavily.

Big Johnny looked back over his shoulder and laughed, “Sorry Sweetie, that wiener’s not getting anywhere near me. You’ve got no relish! No onions! Come back next year with some real game.”

And with that, Big Johnny sashayed across the finish line, 3rd place overall and 2nd in the beer mile division. Chris crossed the finish line seconds later in 4th place overall, securing the final of the three beer-mile podium spots. And, perhaps more impressively, he was 2nd overall in the silly-food-mascot division and 1st place overall in the smoked/cured/processed meats sub-category!

Immediately after crossing the finish line Big Johnny ducked behind the nearest tree and shouted, "It's OK to vomit now; you're finished". And he did. Quite gloriously.

"Not sorry in advance for crashing your
podium. Hugs and kisses -- Loren Lewis"
The “Club Soda” Club

There was an unusual amount of pre-race smack talking going on this year among the entrants in the non-alcoholic / club-soda division of the race. Most – if not completely all – of that smack talking came from one man: Loren Lewis. “Is anyone else planning to compete in the non-alcoholic division this year? Because I don’t want an empty victory,” Loren quipped in one of his many, many, many Facebook taunts.

One day Loren posted a picture of his new Innov8 shoes with the captions, “These are the shoes that will be standing atop of the podium.” Another day he posted a close-up shot of his well-oiled calf muscles with the disclaimer, “Objects are much larger than they appear on camera”.

At one point he even published an 87 page thesis about why it was scientifically impossible for him to lose a liquid-chugging contest. Unfortunately Loren lost most readers on page 3 in the middle of a lecture about inviscid fluids and dynamic (shear) viscosity. I guess not everyone is read up on their Newtonian versus non-Newtonian fluids?

Sadly for Loren, calf-muscle porn and new shoes don’t win championships; mullets do. Wait…what??? Defending non-alcoholic beer mile champion Matt Ward was certain that the key to a repeat victory this year would be to again rock his patented “skullet” haircut – which improves upon the standard mullet (short on the top, long in the back) hairstyle by going completely bald/shaven on the sides and top for greater aerodynamics.

Matt Ward rocking the headband "skullet"with Big Pimp Larry Neumann
Last year Matt rocked his sweat-band and skullet to first place in the non-alcoholic division and 5th place overall finish. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fx it,” one supposes. Or perhaps more appropriately, “if it hasn’t fallen out, don’t cut it.” But even the most iconic hairdo can have an off day, and it seemed that the rain and humidity had gotten to Matt’s mullet this year. Much like the Biblical story of how Delilah once emasculated the mighty Sampson by giving him a pin-curl perm and colored hair extensions while he was passed out drunk, the low barometric pressure and relative high-humidity rendered Matt’s mullet powerless.

Before the race Matt was heard boldly proclaiming that, "Nobody chugs club soda and runs up a hill faster than me! Nobody!" After the race, “except that Adam guy, he's pretty fast!" But to his credit, even without the aid of his performance-enhancing skullet, Matt was still able to hold off every other sober runner not named Adam, earning Matt a respectable 5th place overall finish and 2nd place in the club-soda division.

Rounding out the non-alcoholic/club soda podium place was trash-talker extraordinaire, Loren Lewis, who took over four minutes off his PR from last year and managed to crack the top 10 this year with an 8th place overall finish. And one can only imagine just how fast Loren could ultimately become if he commits himself to training with the same enthusiasm, passion, and long hours that he has dedicated to shit talking on the Internet J.

Amy Burton trying to close the gap
Girls on the Run

Meanwhile in the women’s race, beer-mile rookie Suzie Farrell found herself on the losing side of an animated argument with her Pabst Blue Ribbon. Unable to finish her third or fourth PBRs, Suzie threw in her chips (which is of course preferable to throwing up her chips) and jogged it in.

This nicely set the stage for a two-woman battle between last year’s defending women’s beer-mile champion Liz Louie, and last year’s two-beer “powder puff” division champion Amy Burton who was looking to move up in distance this year.

Liz Louie works as a school teacher… but she chugs beer like a college frat boy. Liz broke into the national beer-mile running scene last year after her narrow victory over Jenny Lockwood at the 2nd annual Big Johnny’s Vertical Beer Mile. However, her win was not without controversy. Specifically there was some debate about whether Liz’s choice of beverage – a hard strawberry cider – was truly “beer” or not. Eventually the judges ruled in Liz’s favor that hard strawberry cider is in fact a type of beer – or at least a distant second-cousin by marriage.

This year Liz wasn’t taking any chances. She left the strawberry hard cider at home and came armed with four cans of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. She walked up to the starting line with a chip on her shoulder… and her diamond-studded championship belt around her waist. She was looking to silence her critics, and to become the first woman ever to win back to back vertical beer mile titles. But in order to win, she was going to have to defeat a woman whose name is revered on the Strava leader boards.

The women's race comes down to a sprint finish
Amy Burton is a small-business mogul who runs an extensive pet-care empire. She is highly feared and respected in the dog-walking (and cat-sitting) world. But she’s also a formidable cyclist and runner. At last count, she held over 500 Strava course records. And, after taking a year off running to rehab an inflamed Achilles tendon, Amy made her triumphant return to ultra-running last year with a strong performance at Rio del Lago 100 miler where she finished 3rd woman and 16th overall.

The bookies in Las Vegas were offering even money as to who would prevail between Amy and Liz. It was hard to pick a favorite. And, as expected, the race came down to the wire. Liz went out hard and opened an early lead over the first ¼ mile. But Amy didn’t panic and closed down the gap over the next ¼ mile. They arrived at the ½ mile beer stop together and cracked their third beers open in unison.

The women chatted cordially as they ran/hiked the next ¼ mile up to the ¾ mile beer stop for their fourth and final beer. Experts say that it takes about 30 minutes for alcohol to hit the blood stream for men, and as little as 20 minutes for women. Unfortunately for Liz, it had been about 20 minutes since her first beer.

An emotional Liz Louie after a hard fought battle
Suddenly the alcohol hit her. And it hit her hard. “Oh my gosh Amy, you’re such an amazing runner. I love you so much. I hope you win. Isn’t this championship belt so beautiful! Look how shiny it is. Oh look, a rainbow,” Liz started gushing uncontrollably, clearly no longer sober.

“Run! She’s right behind you. Run!” the crowd of runners on top of the mountain who had already finished screamed down at Amy as she approached the finish line in the lead. “Liz is right behind you! Run!” Liz was running hard and giving it everything she had, but she was noticeably starting to weave back and forth across the trail… and then down she went. Amy coasted across the line to victory... whereupon she celebrated by throwing up.

24/7 film crew gets cozy with Marty Strassen
The best laid plans of mice and Panda bears

Unfortunately proper training alone doesn’t always guarantee success. Marty Strassen trained his ass off for this event this year. Our 24/7 film crew followed Marty around in the weeks leading up to the big event, giving us unfettered access to his daily life. When his boss at work called him in for his annual performance review, we were there! When he headed into the bathroom with some reading material, we followed.

As captured by our imbedded film crew, we were able to bring viewers an exclusive shot revealing one of Marty’s secret training workouts. Weather forecasts were predicting torrential rain storm on race day. So, in order to prepare himself for the extreme rigour of chugging beer outdoors with a twenty mile-an-hour wind blowing rain directly into his eyes and mouth, Marty trained in the shower to try and simulate race-day conditions.

Sadly, despite his training, Marty just didn’t have it on race day and found himself in a three-way battle for DFL (dead fucking last) place with fellow runners/drinkers Jeff Clowers and Stephen Strauss. Each man seemed absolutely determined to lose… at any cost. Jeff, wearing an impractically tight-fitting holiday-themed business suit that severely restricted any movement, had his eye on last place. But Steven Strauss, who finished DFL two years ago, was back to this year re-claim his title, and not to be outdone, was running in a Panda Bear costume.

Much like the 2012London Olympic's scandal in which eight female badminton players were disqualified for deliberately trying to lose their preliminary matches (to avoid having to play higher ranked teams in the later rounds), Jeff Clowers made no effort to win. After apparently finding himself way too far up in the pack for his liking after the initial river crossing, Jeff stepped off the trail and let everyone else pass.

Jeff Clowers tries to take a dive buStephen Strauss calls his bluff
Not to be outdone, Steven and Marty both daintily nursed their beers, sipping politely as if they were having noon tea with the Queen of England. As the three men made their way to closer to finish line, each slowed to a crawl, daring the others to take the lead. Finally, no longer able to tolerate the excruciatingly slow pace, Marty broke down and reluctantly pulled ahead.

It was now a two-man battle for last place, each contestant desperately wanting to avoid actually beating anyone. It was now or never for Stephen Strauss. He pulled out all the stops and shifted down into the lowest, slowest gear he had. Jeff Clowers, unable to physically move any slower, was forced to take the lead.

Jeff, not yet willing to concede defeat, gave it one last shot and feigned a dramatic last-minute series of slow-motion stumbles and tumbles. But Stephen wasn’t falling for it. He slowed his roll further still, and tip toed up the mountain like a Panda Bear wearing two-sizes too small ballet slippers. Victory was his!

Steve Patt sets new American age-group record
Age-Group Records

Sixty-seven year old Steve Patt has raced many distances in his life including 100 milers. But he’d only ever contested the mile once – almost 30 years ago back in 1997 where he ran a 6:24. Sadly, Steven did not improve his mile PR this year Big Johnny’s Vertical Beer Mile. In fact, his finishing time for the mile this year was 30:31 seconds, nearly 24 minutes slower than his last attempt. I guess it just goes to show that unlike bottle-conditioned beer, runners don’t improve with age J. That being said, remarkably it appears that Steve may have actually set a new national age-group record for the vertical beer mile. The race director is considering looking into it... someday.

Sixty-two year old Stephen Strauss, who successfully re-claimed his DFL (dead fucking last) title from two years ago (after not competing last year), somehow found himself on the second step of podium in his 60 – 70 year old division, finishing second in his age group behind Steve Patt. Technically there were only two runners in the 60 – 70 age group. But hey, sometimes it’s all about showing up and gutting out the finish!

Fifty-one year old Larry Neumann easily won the Super-Master’s (50 – 60) category. Granted, he didn’t have any real competition – nor even any imaginary competition for that matter, as he was the sole competitor in his age group. But hey, he ran the entire race in a heavy non moisture-wicking purple velvet suit. It was unclear whether Larry had come directly to the race from his second job as a pimp… or if he is just a really big Prince fan.

Totally Unofficial (Sorry I was Drunk) Results

1) Adam Schroeder, 17:47, Club Soda Mile Champion
2) Peter Battaglino, 18:38, Beer Mile Champion,
3) Big Johnny Burton, 18:51, 2nd place Beer Mile, 1st Master's (40+)
4) Chris Eide, 19:00, 3rd place Beer Mile,
5) Matt Ward, 19:20, 2nd place Club Soda Mile
6) Karl Schnaitter, 19:47
7) Vitor Rodrigues: 20:00
8) Loren Lewis, 20:11, 3rd place Club Soda Mile
9) Patrick Rabuzzi, 20:32
10) Larry Neumann: 22:11, 1st Super Masters (50+)
11) Thomas Anderson: 22:20
12) Jamey Slaton, 22:43
13) Allen L: 26:00?
14) Jason Wimmert, 26:20
15) Amy Burton, 26:40, Women's Beer Mile Champion
16) Liz Louie: 27:08, 2nd place Women's Beer Mile
17) Suzie Farrell, 30:12
18) Steve Patt, 30:31, 1st Super-Duper Masters (60+), new American age-group record
19) Marty Strassen: 31:00
20) Jeff Clowers, 31:30
21 ) Stephen Strauss: 32:30, DFL

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