Back in April 2014, after James Nielsen set a new beer mile world record, his world -- and the once-murky culture of the beer mile -- kind of blew up.
Within hours of posting the video of his sizzling 4:57.0 dash -- during which he chugged a beer, ran a quarter-mile, then repeated three more times -- on YouTube and Facebook, Nielsen, a 35-year-old vice president of the San Francisco tech company Wizeline, got several dozen calls and texts from friends and family, some from people he hadn’t talked to in years.
Three days in, he had accumulated more than 1 million views on YouTube. His website, BeerMileSF.com, saw a big bump in registrations. The media, the running outlets and the usual (and unusual) mainstream outfits came after him.
“It really disrupted my life,” Nielsen said last week from his Northern California home. “There was tremendous interest in the beer mile: here’s the first guy to break five minutes. It’s been a busy year and a half. Building a company, being a husband and a father of two -- it’s a lot going on.”
You can now add "slightly frenzied race organizer" to his list of titles, for Nielsen is one of three men behind Saturday’s Beer Mile World Classic, an event that has been eagerly anticipated in the running community.
Until Aug. 7, it looked as if Nielsen would enter that competition as the favorite. Now he’s the former world-record holder.
That’s because 25-year-old Australian Josh Harris threw down four beers, ran four quarter-miles and clocked a 4:56.2. That record lasted all of 14 hours, until Canadian Lewis Kent, only 21, ripped off a 4:55.7.
Coincidentally (or not), both will be on Treasure Island in a few days, challenging Nielsen around 6 p.m. Pacific time, with ESPN on hand to record what could be another searing slice of beer mile history.
After all, it’s the first matchup of sub-5-minute beer milers, a showdown among the sport’s Holy Trinity, if you will.
“There’s a handful of guys, not just the big three,” said Nielsen, who might want to consider a career in marketing. “There’s some fast runners with a high ceiling. It’s going to be a good fight out there.”
All of the runners give Nielsen credit for thrusting the beer mile into the narrow consciousness of sports fans who focus on the four main food groups: football, basketball, baseball and hockey.
“I think it made more people aware of it globally, and, all of a sudden, there are guys from several different countries who could claim to be the best in the world,” Harris said.
To underline this, race organizers have set up a team competition. The United States, Australia and Canada will compete, with the best three runners from each country being tallied for the lowest cross country-style score.
Kent studied the world record runs of Harris and Nielsen before he went out and beat both of them. But although Harris and Kent are obviously in peak shape, there are questions about Nielsen.
“Nobody has seen Nielsen run since the record,” said Patrick Butler, proprietor of BeerMile.com, the sport’s authority.
Earlier this week, Butler rolled out a free Beer Mile fantasy game in which fans can predict the top 10 finishers in the men’s and women’s elite races. Earlier this week, Harris and Kent were already in San Francisco and visited the Mucky Duck pub near Golden Gate Park, where they were actually recognized. They happily posed for photos with runners and fans.
This probably isn’t what the Canadian trailblazers envisioned when they devised the rules of the game in the early 1990s at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. John Markell was one of four runners who wrote the now famous Kingston Rules of beer miling and, as a good friend of Nielsen’s, is one of this race’s co-founders.
“That’s our place in history,” he said recently. “I’ll be honest, James will have his hands full here.”
Nielsen, who earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford, sees a big future for the thus-far-nascent beer mile. He readily cites competitive eating, poker and mixed martial arts as models for a possible beer mile breakthrough.
“People had never seen those on television before, but they’re a staple now,” Nielsen said. “Now, you’ve got the Tough Mudder, the Spartan Race, CrossFit Games. I think the beer mile could find a place among all of them.”