Most of us here like to run. Many enjoy a good night on the beer. But why not do both? James Sullivan has been chatting to the man who has mastered the art of performing both simultaneously, the unofficial beer mile world record holder Josh Harris of Australia.
Josh Harris is an elite runner from Launceston, Tasmania. He has represented Australia at the World University Cross Country Championships but is better known for his groundbreaking exploits over the beer mile. At the 2012 Autumn Classic in Melbourne he set a new personal best of 5:02, to dip under Jim Finlayson’s world record for the event by 7 seconds. The time was not ratified however and is thus referred to as the unofficial world record. Harris recently set a new beer 2 mile record of 14:27 and was expected to officially break the world beer mile record at the recently held Parkville Beer Mile at Melbourne University, but on the day finished down the field in 7th place. Notwithstanding this disappointment Harris has helped the growth of Australian beer mileing significantly throughout 2012, with participation and attendance at the Parkville Beer Mile breaking new ground for the event in Australia.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. So to begin, how did you first get involved in athletics?
Josh: Thank you. As a boy growing up I used to run at school and around my backyard. I just loved to run. I was a shy boy, but eventually got the courage to go to Little Athletics when I was 10 and have loved the sport ever since.
James: Did you have a particular athletics idol growing up?
Josh: Not that I recall. I was so intrinsically motivated by beating my PB’s that I never really adopted an idol for inspiration. I suppose I went through phases where I liked athletes like Mottram, Wariner and Maurice Greene.
James: How did you first get involved in the beer mile?
Josh: My training partners and I went on a camping trip after the 2008 season where we did time trials before and after a few drinks. When we returned the following year after hearing of the famous Beer Mile we decided to give it a go! I came second in my first one in a time of 8:22.
James: For those not in the know, can you briefly explain how the beer mile works?
Josh: The Beer Mile requires athletes to drink 4 beers and run 1 mile. Each lap begins with a beer which is consumed in the 9 metre area in front of the finish line and is followed by 400m. If an athlete vomits during the race they are required to complete a 5th ‘penalty’ lap.
James: When did you realise that this event might become more than just a hobby for you?
Josh: My mates had another attempt two weeks later and I ran a 66second PB. I knew all I had to do was improve my drinking to match my mates. So I then had a 7.16 PB. The Australian record was 6.14 at the time and I believed it may be within the realms of possibility. The next year at our camping trip I ran 6.30 and knew I could break the Australian Record with a perfect race. By then I could drink one beer fast but not beer 2, 3 and 4. Anyway, I had what I thought to be the perfect race for me, ran 6.03 and thought that I will be finished with the event once I break 6 minutes. I saw a guy at a party down a beer faster than I thought possible, and this inspired me to teach myself to drink like him by watching YouTube videos. I didn’t think much of my new talent until James Hansen ran 5.24 at our camping trip in April, where a whole new world of beer mile possibilities opened up to Australians.
James: At the 2012 Autumn Classic at Melbourne University you set an unofficial world record of 5:02. Can you put that experience into words?
Josh: This was an incredible weekend in my life. I raced the night before in Launceston and ran a 5.16 (47 sec PB) with a near vomit costing me the WR so I knew I was in shape. The race in Melbourne felt pretty good, I ran controlled the first 1200m. I remember being slowish with the first beer and having some negative thoughts in the first 800m, but other than that it was flawless looking back. I think I can run 5, maybe 10 seconds faster in the first three quarters of the race and not jeopardise my drinking though. I heard 4.02 called out with 400m to go and knew I was going to destroy 5.09 and I unleashed with 340m to go. There was a decent crowd there which was a great feeling. I can only imagine doing a sub 5 in front of the crowd from the Parkville Beer Mile last weekend!
James: Despite public acclaim your record wasn’t ratified. Can you explain why? What have you learnt from this experience going forward?
Josh: Because the drinks were put straight in the bin and not guaranteed to be empty. If I had tipped them on my head to show no beer it would have been ratified. In the video the last 2 beers appear to have some ‘froth’ in the bottom which is quite unavoidable at that speed with that particular beer. I think the staff at beermile.com were happy to call it a WR, but a small minority of North Americans complained and it is still listed as pending on beermile.com. I learnt that I have run the best beer mile performance of all time and that it is only a matter of time and fitness before I can call the record my own (barring a strong sub 5 minute time).
James: The recent Parkville Beer Mile was a landmark day in Australian beer mileing with 40 competitors and a strong turnout of spectators at the track at Melbourne University. Can you describe the experience of being part of such a momentous occasion? How does this compare to other beer mile races you have participated in?
Josh: This was incredible. The atmosphere was Zatopek like with the crowd packed in the outside lanes. It was a good feeling knowing that I was partly to thank for the hype and support this event got and will hopefully continue to get in the future.
James: You entered the race as the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers, but finished down the field in 7th place. Can you describe how the race went from a personal point of view? What areas of your performance need improvements moving forward?
Josh: The race could not have gone any worse. Before the race I had considered 6.30 as a worst case scenario. Nothing went to plan. I don’t want to make excuses for myself, the boys were in another class on the day, but I have gone through a number of things that went wrong to improve on in the future. We were at Melbourne Uni 90 minutes before the race and in this time my beers got 100% warm (perfect is between ice cold and warm) and consequently super frothy. The only time I have ever trained with warm beers was a disaster. I vomited by the second one. I could not get the first one down in one go which was unusual as I have done this hundreds of times before. It was a shock being behind but I still thought I could win. My next problem was that I did not burp once on lap 1. The beer must not have gone down correctly. This was serious as usually burping is the key to clearing room. I basically threw up in my mouth on the first lap and knew I was in trouble. The second beer was similar to the first with so much froth and I couldn’t get it down. From here I knew I would spew on the fourth beer at the latest and ran with my head in shame over the last 1200m. It was one of the most disappointing feelings I have felt. Being such a heavy favourite with such a big crowd, I went from being a ‘hero’ to nothing. No one talked to me on my walk from the track to my warm down beer, it was hard to take. I knew I was in good ‘ish’ form. I ran a 5.20 during the week on grass which would have been enough. I may have choked under pressure to a degree, but a choke cannot be single handedly responsible for making a 5.02 runner go through the mile in 6.08. In the future I plan to make sure my beers are at the right temperature and will refine my technique with water to ensure the drinks slide down smoothly like they did in April. I also plan to be fitter to make it easier to breathe. I was sculling cold drinks all afternoon so I haven’t lost it and will be back better than ever hopefully.
James: With the benefit of hindsight, was targeting the beer 2 mile world record in training less than a week before the race a risky move?
Josh: I don’t think the 2 mile itself caused my performance on Saturday to be so bad. The reasoning was to make 4 beers feel like nothing in comparison and to gain some publicity for the event before the record attempt. Before my 5.02 I trained with 4 sculls each of the 3 days leading up to the race and I figured that must be a winning formula. In hindsight I think the only potential consequence of the 2 mile is that I spewed so many times. I think this may have weakened my stomach during the week, and potentially mentally got me thinking it was ok to vomit.
James: The Parkville Beer Milers Club has done a stellar job raising the profile of the beer mile in Australia. What needs to happen over the coming year to build on this success and help grow the sport?
Josh: The Parkville Beer Milers Club did a fantastic job and the 3 boys and Sarah particularly deserve all the recognition in the world. World records need to be broken to keep the event successful. The race had extraordinary depth with the first 3 all running top 10 times. But sadly, this won’t get anywhere near the recognition that it deserves. In saying this I can’t see any reason for that crowd not to show up to future races. Who wouldn’t love seeing what unfolded out there? The ability to bet on the race is a huge boost to the event, and I think that acquiring elite athletes is key to keeping it big.
James: Where do you hope to see the status of the Beer Mile in 10 years’ time?
Josh: I would love to see some form of regular world championship in beer mile at some point in the future. The Canadians think they’re the best, the US think they’re the best and now the Australians are showing the most depth in the event.
James: Some traditionalists remain unconvinced about the merits of the beer mile. Does it bother you that the event perhaps doesn’t get the respect it deserves off some members of the athletics community? What needs to be done to help change opinion of the event?
Josh: I understand it, and I think appreciation is slowly coming. I am quite worried about my public reputation and hope that my antics do not cost me any running opportunities in the future, but am of the opinion that some publicity for something semi-stupid (traditionalists) /semi-awesome (mates) is better than no publicity. I have seen my name on forums and websites all around the world this year, which is cool! How many people in Australia could run under 5 minutes for a mile, and how many drinkers in Australia can repeatedly knock back beers from the bottle in 6 seconds? What we do is pretty impressive and I think we are starting to gain a following due to the 2012 performances with 6 or 7 guys in Australia running under the old national record this year. We may have even stolen the spot light off the National Half Marathon Championships over the weekend. In order to change the opinion of the beer mile it needs to get more exposure, potentially through the pro-running circuit, where traditionalists can see that this can keep running lovers and beer lovers through the gates, or to continue emerging events like the Parkville Beer Mile. If the so called ‘traditionalists’ were to try doing a chocolate milk or water mile they may appreciate the skill involved.
James: What would an average week of training be like, specifically in terms of key sessions?
Josh: When I am at my fittest I usually cover at least 140km a week. I do a lot of aerobic sessions. Sessions like 5x2km reps, 8x1km reps, 20-40 minute fartlek sessions and 10-16km tempo runs. At the moment I am recovering from a minor injury and covering about 90km per week. In terms of beer mile training, in the non racing season I have been going out most Saturday nights, but no specific beer mile training sessions until the week before the race. It doesn’t take long to sharpen up the sculling.
James: What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
Josh: Least favourite training session by far is the Friday run or the second run on session days. These runs just have to be done, but you go in thinking ‘just get it done’ and it drags on for longer than a long run! Hard to pick a favourite, but I love any session that you can compare to a previous attempt as a gauge of fitness. It used to be 300m reps on the track but my 1500m days are well over.
James: Nutrition obviously plays an important part in the life of an elite athlete. What would be your typical dieting habits in the lead up to a big race?
Josh: I’m not very strict with my diet to be honest. I worry about my weight and limit food intake accordingly, but not the specific food that I consume. It is one of those ‘one percenters’ that I plan to work on if I am borderline taking my running to the next level.
James: Have you any further beer miles planned over the coming months?
Josh: None are planned as yet. I will leave any world record attempts until I am back to 100% fitness, where I can use my pacemaker James Hansen to go with me for the first 800/1200m and maybe further, the guy has talent in all aspects of life.
James: What are the common pitfalls that beer milers face? What would be your advice to a beginner starting off? What should the inexperienced athlete focus on during training?
Josh: Most beer mile debutants go in way too confident. They tend to go in with the attitude that “I can drink a beer fast, and I can run fast”. The beer mile is a test of how you can hold 1.4L, how you can continue sculling when out of breath and how well you can run with so much liquid inside. I’ve met many a runner and drinker, who can’t run a good beer mile. The most optimal preparation should involve chugging beers while out of breath, or consecutive sculls with no/limited rest.
James: Outside of the beer mile what has been your career highlight to date and what do you hope to achieve over the coming years?
Josh: My career highlight would have to be representing Australia in the World University cross country this year in Poland. This was an amazing experience and something that I am grateful to get the opportunity to do. Apart from that it would have to be winning National All-Schools steeplechase in 2007, and winning my first ever national medal in 2005. In the coming years I can see myself as a semi successful marathon runner. I think I am cut out for the long stuff and look forward to continuing my transition.
James: That’s great Josh. Thank you for your time and best of luck this season.
Josh: No worries. Thanks for the publicity and thanks to the Parkville Beer Milers Club for putting on such a great event and in particular Hamish for everything he did to help make it successful!
You can follow the Parkville Beer Milers Club through their Facebook page.
Watch Josh Harris’ unofficial world record from the 2012 Autumn Classic here.
Watch comprehensive coverage from the recently held 2012 Parkville Beer Mile here.