In a dizzying finish, American scientist Elizabeth Herndon set a new women's world record in the Beer Mile World Championships in Austin, Texas, last night, breaking through a tight field to obliterate the previous mark by 11 seconds.
In the men's race, Canadian mailman Corey Gallagher relied on fast drinking to separate himself from the field, turning in a time a hair over 5 minutes, just three seconds off the men's world record.
Herndon, an environmental geochemist from Fort Wayne, Ind., used a steady pace and a strong final lap to pull away from several runners who had traded the lead back and forth. Her final time was 6:17.76.
Her competitors included Austin native Chris Kimbrough, who made headlines last month when the 44-year-old mother of six set the previous women's world record with a time of 6:28.6. On Wednesday, Kimbrough struggled to keep up with her opponents' drinking and finished fourth.
To remind you, the beer mile is an event that was for years a mostly private pursuit of uniquely motivated athletes, who drink one beer at the start of each of 4 track laps. But it's grown more popular recently, and the beer mile went viral – or bacterial, one might say – when James Nielsen made a video claim to the first-ever sub-5 minute time (Nielsen did not compete in last night's race).
And in case you're thinking these aren't serious athletes, consider that the men's field included an Olympian.
This realm of sport does have its penalties. As NPR's Beth Novey wrote this spring: "In case you were wondering (because I definitely was): If you throw up before you finish the race, you have to run a penalty lap at the end. Rules are rules."
The organizers of last night's event have posted race footage online. In the men's event, you'll hear announcers breathlessly recount both guzzling times and the field's pace, as American Michael Cunningham used blistering speed to take the lead mid-race, only to fall to second in a duel with Gallagher.
The event fosters a unique brand of sportscasting. To whit: "We mentioned Cunningham – he's the one with the 54-second final 400 speed. Corey Gallagher cannot match that speed. He's got to out-drink him on this final beer."
Gallagher did just that, quaffing a cold one in just over 7 seconds. He then sped around the track, his arms and legs pumping – and wearing a lone glove on his left hand that he uses to snatch and open bottles. He finished at 5:00.23.
U.S. Olympic runner Nick Symmonds, who won a silver medal in in the 800 meters in track's 2013 World Championships, finished last, with a time of 5:41.71 that he blamed in part on finding it hard to chug the beer the organizers were serving.
In a post-race interview, Symmonds said, "Even though it was a gut-buster, I had a lot of fun."
He added that after leaving the track, he'd probably drink some more beer.