Only the strong will succeed in London's Beer Mile World Classic

For discerning drinkers, pub-hopping is commonplace. But the thought of a horde of beer-swigging runners? That has to unnerve most people in charge of public venues.

That brings us to the Beer Mile World Classic 2016, the ultimate running-drinking competition, which for the first time will take place in London.

The three previous ambitious global competitions -- two in Austin, Texas, and one in San Francisco -- were staged on makeshift tracks on a Formula One layout, in a windblown park and a restaurant parking lot. Most of the best times have come when a lone runner attempts a record on a deserted high school or college track.

Never before has a truly elite field been assembled to race on an official quarter-mile track. Until Sunday, when the Beer Mile World Classic 2016 splashes down at a proper venue, the Saracens' stadium in Allianz Park, a rugby facility several miles north of London.

"A real track should be more conducive to a faster run," Lewis Kent, a 22-year-old Canadian, told ESPN.com a few days ago. "You can wear spikes, the bodies are a lot closer together. In theory, it should be quicker."

Which is saying something, since Kent has run the fastest beer mile in history, a blazing 4 minutes, 47.17 seconds, fueled by Amsterdam Blonde, back in December.

No fewer than 10 nations will be represented when the men's race goes off at 5:30 p.m. local time (12:30 ET). The combatants will adhere to the long-established beer mile routine: quaffing a 12-ounce beer of their choice, provided it is at least 5 percent alcohol, before running each of the four quarter-mile loops. As always, leaving dregs of more than four ounces or spilling the contents of your stomach will result in disqualification.

A new world record, according to Beermile.com proprietor Patrick Butler, would help advance the sport's growing profile.

"I'd love nothing more than to see a record set on a legitimate track," Butler said earlier this week. "I think there's a good chance. You are definitely going to see people gunning for the record, not just to win, as in the past. I'm fascinated to see this thing go down."

Butler is the de facto commissioner of the beer mile, and one of his many duties is validating the records that are sent to his website. On July 18, a 27-year-old Californian named Brandon Shirck submitted a YouTube video that purported, at 4:47.7, to be the second-fastest beer mile ever run. While Butler said the murky quality of the video did not permit him to ratify the run, Kent was impressed.

"Looked pretty legit to me," he said. "He's run some pretty quick times on the track."

As it turns out, Shirck will be in the field Sunday. And, in the absence of injured Manitoba mailman Corey Gallagher (his 4:48.62 is the second-fastest official time ever), Shirck could be Kent's biggest threat. Shirck said that his run not being validated by Beermile.com didn't bother him, as long as it secured his spot in the fastest heat Sunday. "I think it's going to take [a record] to get the win," he said Wednesday, after arriving in England. "[Kent] is a better drinker, so if I can hang and keep him in contact, it should be exciting.

"That time-trial means nothing if I can't back it up when it counts."

American record-holder Garrett Cullen, who ran a 4:54.5 back in the spring in San Francisco, will also be running. He eclipsed the mark of James "The Beast" Nielsen, the first man to crack the hallowed 5-minute barrier.

Erin O'Mara, another American, owns the women's world record, 6:08. Although she's battling injuries, she remains the favorite in London.

Meanwhile, Kent is enjoying the spoils of the beer mile's ascendance; he's signed a contract with the Brooks shoe company and travels the world as a spokesman for the National Beer Mile circuit. If the beer mile doesn't work out, the bachelor's degree in kinesiology he just received from the University of Western Ontario should help him find a career in physical training.

The only thing Kent's worried about?

"The weather," he said, laughing. "In Britain, you can get all four seasons in one week. I'm looking at the forecast now. Looks like low 70s and maybe a little rain.

"Hopefully, it's clean and quick."