The California runner is the first person to break 5 minutes in a beer mile.
Many runners start out with the 5K, move up to the 10K, try a half marathon and then go for the marathon and beyond. But longtime runner James Nielsen of Novato, Calif., decided to reverse that progression, moving from the marathon to the mile—specifically the beer mile.
“Having to revert all the way back into college days and 1,500-meter shape was certainly a challenge,” says Nielsen, who won two 5,000-meter NCAA titles when he was an athlete at the University of California, San Diego. He eventually moved up to the marathon, where he qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon.
The effort may have been a challenge, but it was certainly one he conquered—on April 28, the 34-year-old became the first person in history to break 5 minutes in the beer mile.
He ran 4:57.1, with an actual running time of 4:21 and a beer-chugging time of about 9 seconds per beer. Beer milers must drink a beer before each lap.
Training for a sub-5 effort was a three-part process for Nielsen: getting himself back into 4:20-mile shape, teaching himself how to pound the beers quickly, and, “the most important of all, extending your stomach to be able to handle that much volume of liquid and gas,” he says.
In addition to digging up his collegiate training journal and writing up some old workouts, Nielsen studied training techniques of professional eaters, such as San Jose resident Joey Chestnut.
“It’s the secret weapon in it all,” he says.
Another secret weapon? Getting up early enough to get his workout in before professional obligations come into play.
“The trick is getting your runs in before work,” says Nielsen, vice president of sales at San Francisco-based Wizeline and founder of California Runners, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to connecting runners across the state. He also has two small children at home. “If you try to do it afterwards, life takes over.”
Of course, this schedule means that sleep sometimes falls by the wayside.
“I don’t sleep a whole lot—that’s one way to do it,” Nielsen laughs. “But there are a lot of people in that boat.”
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Here are a few of his favorite things:
Favorite beer: Moylan’s
“It’s a dry Irish style that’s pretty killer.”
Favorite beer for the beer mile: Budweiser
“It’s a good old-fashioned American lager that’s got the right amount of alcohol and carbonation.”
Favorite shoe: An old pair of Nike Zoom Kennedy spikes (complete with holes in them) from college
“[After the beer mile] I actually got an e-mail from Bob Kennedy thanking me for wearing his shoes.”
Favorite workout: 4 x [beer, 400 meters as hard as you can, beer]
“I recommend non-alcoholic beer if you’re going to be driving.”
Favorite local place to run: Mount Burdell in Marin County
Favorite local race: San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers 12K in May
Favorite piece of running gear: “For Bay to Breakers I wore a beer helmet.”
Favorite post-race meal: Burger and beer