These are the words of a true champion, describing his finest athletic moment:
“When my girlfriend called out 3:45, I thought, 'Let’s demolish this beer and I can go under.' The first 10 steps of the last 400m were vital burps, but as soon as the danger ones were out, I unleashed, finishing the final 200 meters in under 29 seconds.”
Poetry. Beauty. The thrill of victory. Who knew burps -- even the danger ones -- could be vital?
Those emailed words belong to Josh Harris, a 25-year-old Australian, who on Aug. 7 “unleashed,” downed a quartet of Cooper’s 62 Pilsners, and set a beer mile world record with a blazing time of 4:56.20.
The standard stood for less than a day, because Lewis Kent -- massively motivated by Harris’ effort, which he had seen on YouTube and broken down -- popped off a 4:55.78 as the sun set later that day in Canada.
The next day, back on the other side of the world, Harris was on the phone when an email informed him he was the former world-record holder.
“Oh,” he told his father, “looks like it has just been broken in Canada.”
Harris knows that hollow, sinking feeling: He is a two-time former world-record holder, having first set a standard of 5:02.5 in 2012.
He’ll have a chance to claim his third all-time mark Saturday evening in San Francisco at the Beer Mile World Classic, when seven of the nine best beer milers ever get down to the nasty business of chugging four beers and running four quarter-mile laps. Kent will be there, too, along with another former titleholder, Californian James Nielsen, who is hosting the event.
Harris, at least in physical stature, is an unlikely elite beer miler. A relatively spare 5-foot-11 and 135 pounds, Harris grew up excelling in the steeplechase. He won the Australian Schools Championships, but couldn’t quite match the best in his age group in the flat-ground events.
As he matured, he began improving his longer-distance times. Harris represented Australia in the 2012 World University Games in cross country and subsequently has distinguished himself in the 3,000-meter, half-marathon and marathon distances.
His first beer mile, at the age of 18 on a camping trip in his native Tasmania, was a disaster.
“It was a painful race,” Harris remembered. “I couldn’t drink a beer fast enough to save myself. I think it took me 35-40 seconds to get off the line. I ran 8:22, which included 4 minutes of drinking time.
“I finished second that day, and that is one of [only] about six times I have been beaten in beer miles.”
Training, of course, is the cornerstone to success in the beer mile. Harris does a lot of short stuff, 200- and 400-meter sprints, with a beer recovery in the final set. On Sundays, after long training runs, he’ll stuff himself to the bursting point with food, and then chug a beer to test his outer limits.
Two weeks ago in Australia, he didn’t feel that he was going out very fast. Harris can usually gauge his speed by the amount of gas he burps up -- releasing the hounds without incident is the mark of a beer mile expert -- but he was under control after he hit the halfway point in 2:28. Yet after his third lap brought him to 3:45, “I could tell that run was starting to drop as I didn’t feel 100 percent out of the clear of the penalty lap.”
This is where it should be mentioned that regurgitating the beer they've consumed costs competitors another quarter-mile around the track.
Harris knocked back his beer in 8.0 seconds, his second-best split of the day, and ripped off a 60.3-second final lap, a noble effort that marks him as a huge threat if the racers are bunched going into the last lap in San Francisco.
Watching Kent’s world record, Harris said he will focus on running harder in the two middle legs, where he tends to ease off and walk through the 10-yard drink zone to get a running start on the next lap.
Harris is betting that having meaningful company will bring his time, and everyone else’s, down.
“I can run about 10 seconds quicker over 1,500 meters when I have competition instead of solo,” he said of the impending clash, “so I don’t see why this would be much different.
“Impossible to call it. I would hope that if I’m there with Lewis and James with 200 meters to go, that I can get the win.”