Getting paid to drink beer sounds like a dream job. But Lewis Kent, the world's first professional beer-miler, who is sponsored by running-shoe giant Brooks, also has to know his way around a running track – and fast.
The 23-year-old Canadian pays his bills by knocking back 355ml (minimum) of five per cent ABV lager, running 400m, then repeating this three times, in extremely rapid succession.
What started as a way for collegiate track teams to blow off end-of-season steam has now become a legitimate sport, with shoe sponsorships up for grabs, races worldwide and an annual championship.
To qualify for the first championship event in 2014, Lewis studied the physics of chugging – pouring beer after beer into the sink in search of the least-gassy angle. That year, he ran 5:32.58 to place fifth, two spots ahead of Olympian Nick Symmonds. The following year, he fine-tuned further and won – setting a new world record with a time of 4:47:17 (bettered last year by Adidas-backed Corey Bellemore, whose 4:34:35 record still stands as we go to press).
Lewis attributes his success to his athletic discipline and his hard-drinking Scottish heritage. ‘It’s all about training hard and giving it what you’ve got, but at the same time not taking yourself too seriously,’ he says. He also swears by a piece of gear that Brooks does not supply: a gardening glove. ‘Sometimes bottle caps won’t twist off properly,’ he explains. The rubbery grip saves him wasting valuable seconds struggling to remove a stubborn cap.
His dedication to detail has paid off; Lewis is now the world leader in sub-five-minute beer-miling. Here’s how he breaks down the four beers and four laps for the best possible time.
Beer: ‘The first is like shooting a free throw in basketball – you should be able to get it down perfectly every time if you’ve practised,’ says Lewis. His beer of choice: Amsterdam Blonde, a Toronto craft brew in a beer-mile-approved 355ml bottle and a manageable five per cent ABV.
Run: Lewis keeps the pace fast but smooth. ‘Run within yourself,’ he recommends. The tough parts are to come. However, at his 2015 record, he shifted strategy. ‘I decided from the gun I was just going to go as hard as I could for as long as I could. It ended up turning out well.’
(Related: What a beer mile does to your body)
Beer: The second beer feels much harder to get down, says Lewis, because it’s the first time you’re out of breath. Afterwards, he focuses on forcing a belch. Burps don’t always arise naturally this early in a race, but gaseous release makes the next lap much more comfortable.
Run: Lewis checks his splits in the chug zone to ensure he’s on pace. For newer competitors, he recommends slowing down slightly at the end of the first and second laps to catch your breath. ‘You’d rather lose a second or two and be able to get the beer down in one go,’ he explains.
Beer: The penultimate chug poses the biggest mental challenge. Lewis prepares with short, hard repeats followed by guzzling non-alcoholic beer or fizzy drinks out of beer bottles. ‘I practise so that no matter how breathless I am, you can hand me a bottle and I’ll be able to get it down,’ he says.
Run: More and more, elite athletes such as Nick Symmonds are trying their hand at the beer mile. Lewis might let them surge ahead early, but relies on his experience: ‘By the time they’re taking 20 seconds on their third beer, I’ve gained 15 on them and they can’t run as fast,’ he says.
(Watch what happened when Runner's World took on a beer mile)
Beer: ‘The fourth one, I’m getting hungry for the finish line,’ says Lewis. He’s cut his final-chug split almost in half since 2014, getting down to just over eight seconds. One secret: stretching his stomach with a few huge meals of pasta or sushi, followed by chugs of water, two to three weeks beforehand.
Run: Lewis aims to speed up each 100 metres. An all-out sprint too early might trigger a ‘chunder’, which carries a one-lap penalty. Thus far, he’s evaded the dreaded retch. ‘By the last 100m, even if you’re feeling a little sick, you can usually risk it and just hammer it home,’ he says.