Friday, December 4, 2015

Is the Beer Mile ruining Track & Field

The legendary Beer Mile has been a hot topic in the running world lately and even got some love on major news outlets. For those that don't know the official rules laid out by beermile.com: each competitor drinks four cans of beer and runs four laps, ideally on a track (start - beer, then lap, then beer, then lap, then beer, then lap - finish). The beers must be finished within the 10 meter zone before the start/finish line. Of course no throwing up, if you do, it warrants a penalty lap (or disqualification in some circles) that must be tacked on to the end. The rules get more specific about what beers can be drink and how they must be consumed. For those that haven't done one, it's as agonizing as it sounds, but a lot of fun when done with friends, teammates, or even rivals. Almost every distance runner I know has done one (legal or illegal) at least once during their career. It's sort of a right of passage in some ways. Over the last 10 years though I have watched beer miles go from underground to mainstream events with sanctioned rules and entry fees. A far cry from sneaking onto tracks late at night in hopes of not being caught.

When the Beer Mile first started grabbing some headlines in the last few years I thought it was awesome. I even saw where a few were actually becoming sanctioned events. But starting in 2012 the publicity really seemed to steam roll each year. A lot of it started with Nick Symmonds (2x Olympian and World Championship Silver Medalist at 800m) talking a big game on social media and Flotrack about training to break the World Record back after the Olympic Games that year. Nick has done wonders for publicity of the track and field athletes and found creative ways to market himself and make his product valuable to sponsors. At the time I thought that the beer mile was a punk rock way of making running a bit cooler to the masses by seeing an Olympian pound beer and run his ass off. He has been very vocal about how his beer mile on YouTube has more views than any of his other race videos (which I don't think he counts his 2012 Olympic race). Which to me and hopefully Nick is a little disturbing. Hopefully Nick will be remembered by the masses as a clutch performer that won U.S. Titles and World Champs medals, opened avenues for track and field athletes to make more money, and leave the sport a better place than when he started, not by his ability to chug beer and run 4 laps.

If track and field ever wants to be taken serious how can one of the biggest draws be an event involving chugging beer? While it is a skill, not really an athletic event. The beer mile belongs more in the circus than an athletic competition. Would you ever see the MLB, NFL, NBA, MLS, or NHL include an event that involves chugging a beer and doing their sport? Even dizzy bat at baseball games is reserved for lucky fans or mascots to do for entertainment, but not sport, and more importantly no beer. While it can be fun to watch, it should never be the main draw at a sporting event. In a sport that struggles to get respect from many other athletes and the public, do we want to be doing more to hurt our credibility. It's sad that a beer mile "athlete" got on The Ellen Show before an actual Olympian or Olympic hopeful ever could. Many will argue that any press is good press, but in this case, I'd rather see no press. This wasn't an Olympian or Professional track athlete that also can chug beer really well, it's a guy with very modest times that happens to be able to chug beer really well. And we wonder why we struggle to get respect from full-time professional sports and new outlets when we as a sport have chosen to make this a huge deal.
 
Another issue I take with big time beer mile races is that they are offering big cash prizes and getting sponsorship opportunities to be a "professional beer mile athlete" by running shoe companies that supposedly care about promoting the brand of track and field. I think it is getting out of hand and doesn't deserve to be considered professional or a part track and field. Would the likes of Brooks and Under Armour be sponsoring beer mile athletes if they were the main sponsors for track and field like Nike, Adidas, or ASICS? I say no. I think it goes against the integrity that those companies support for in track and field. It is a side show that belongs beside color runs and zombie runs for people that are looking to have fun on a Saturday with their friends. 

 Events like the recent FloTrack Beer Mile "World Championships" takes attention and money away from real professional track and field athletes, many who struggle to live above the poverty line. With athletes like Nick Symmonds, Adam Nelson and many others fighting for our rights to be able to make more money and support ourselves in a sport that has no support from a league or teams, having a group like FloTrack waste money and publicity on a goofy side show is a big step backwards. If they really want to bring "Track Back" then they and their partners should be spending all of their resources on making the sport more appealing to the masses, not dumbing it down for a laugh and a few internet views. The $5,000 that was just rewarded to each winner at the FloTrack Beer Mile "World Championships" could've gone a long way to supporting struggling athletes in track and field. That is money that could've been poured into an event that was great for the sport like the FloTrack Throwdown this past August. With a few thousand dollars spread across a few races, that would've guaranteed people would've have shown up to compete and show new fans what real racing looks like!

Track meets like the FloTrack Throwdown, Hoka One One Long Island Mile, Sir Walter Miler, St. Louis Festival of Miles, and many others that are popping up are Bringing Track Back and great examples of growing the sport at the grass roots levels, connecting athletes with an audience and giving athletes a chance to compete on our home turf in United States in front of big crowds. All of these meets brought spectators out by the thousands for a chance to see top American athletes racing their balls off for the raucous crowds and a payday. The fans got to see up close and personal what the speed of top level athletes looks like. They also brought out tons of kids: the people we need to hook at a young age who will become life long fans of the sport. Having had the chance to participate in several of these events, kids of all ages go nuts with the chance to be so close to athletes and interact with them before and after the races. I know so many of us felt like real professional athletes after these races when kids and adults were swarming everyone for pictures, autographs, high fives, and selfies. We weren't racing in front of a bunch of other athletes and a few family members. We were racing in front of real crowds, with real enthusiasm for racing. Is a beer mile good at bringing a community together or the sport to inspire people with their abilities? Are parents going to want to take their kids out to watch a bunch of people chug beer and attempt to run? I guess the question isn't for me to answer, but the sport and the public to answer.


Sport!

Sport?