By Ben Bloom of the Daily Telegraph

Down a beer, run a quarter of a mile.

Down a second beer, run a quarter of a mile.

Down a third beer, run a quarter of a mile.

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Down a fourth beer, run a quarter of a mile.

All as fast as you can, while attempting not to be sick.

Welcome to the bonkers world of beer miling.

It might sound like the stuff of frat-boy dreams, or the planned activity on a particularly energetic stag party, but this is serious business, attracting major sponsorship, a large global audience and mass participation - around 5,000 results per year are submitted by "milers" to the sport's website.

It also might, just might, be the saviour of struggling runners in a struggling sport.

Photo / beermileworldclassic.com
Photo / beermileworldclassic.com

Dale King-Clutterbuck has heard all the jokes before. If he had a pound for every time he turned up to compete at a normal athletics event and someone asked him where the beers were, his money troubles would be a thing of the past.

He is accustomed to laughing off the frequent head-shaking of the athletics purists.

But as we chat over coffee not far from his London base, King-Clutterbuck, 25, has a few misconceptions to burst.

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Beer miling might just be a bit of fun, but the potential is enormous and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics remain in his sights.

It was during the winter of 2016 that King-Clutterbuck realised things needed to change.

He had won 1500 metres bronze in the British Championships the summer before but not been given a World Championships place because he missed the qualifying standard by two seconds.

Finishing third in the country provides little in the way of financial security and the mundane reality of earning a living was increasingly inhibiting his international running aspirations.

"Running and working can obviously be done, but it's hard," he says.

"I was a landscape gardener, doing a bit of building, working in shops, a bit of everything really.

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"I remember about three days before the British Indoor Championships in January 2016, I was digging holes and my coach didn't know - and then I felt really ill on the day of the competition.

"I was getting in really good shape, but it's three days before the British Champs and I'm digging out bricks and cement. That's not the kind of preparation you need to be a world-class athlete.

"I'd run in the morning, go and dig holes for eight hours and then go and run again. So, my coach went spare at me, I got ill and I messed up the race.

"By the time I got to May for the outdoor season I was just shattered. I was working all sorts, I was knackered and my season was over."

Which is around the time the call came.

Photo / beermileworldclassic.com
Photo / beermileworldclassic.com

The person in charge of putting together an English team for the Beer Mile Classic, billed as "the world's premier drinking race", had heard of King-Clutterbuck's old reputation as something of a party boy - "I loved a night out. I'd do Ibiza and the festivals and that" - and wondered whether he wanted to take part.

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Despite never having run a beer mile in his life and with just two days' notice, King-Clutterbuck smashed the European record and moved third on the all-time list with a time of 4min 47.39sec.

It is worth considering that achievement in detail: four laps of 400m (plus a bit extra to make up a full mile) and four 355ml beer bottles containing a minimum five per cent alcohol - all in well under five minutes.

"The first time was horrible," he says, of a race with such reach that it was viewed 22 million times online.

"I was almost a bit scared because I was like, 'What's happening to me'?"I was trying to run fast and my belly was hurting. You down a beer and then you're belching the whole way round. I'm much better now - I think I've just learnt how to control the burps and get the beer down with as little air as possible. It is really hard though."

The seed had been planted.

If the leading North American beer milers - almost all of whom he had beaten - were able to train full time and enjoy sponsorship deals from sportswear companies Adidas and Brooks, then why could he not join them?

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"If there are commercial opportunities to come from it and it can allow me not to have to work so hard next season, then great," he explains.

"That's why I'm doing the beer mile - to help my actual athletics goals. I'm not doing it just to have a laugh. It is good fun, but it's things like this that keep me on the right track in athletics.

"I'm not earning money from athletics itself. There's no money in the sport unless you're right at the top."

So, while most attention is on one side of London for the World Championships next month, King-Clutterbuck will be on the other side at Saracens' Allianz Park, where he expects to break the world record at this year's Beer Mile Classic on Aug 12.

Doing so would prompt a serious spike in profile: a video of the American runner James Nielsen breaking the record in 2014 has attracted 1.6 million views on YouTube.

Photo / beermileworldclass.com
Photo / beermileworldclass.com

King-Clutterbuck's primary aim remains joining the global athletics elite and he is adamant that beer miling - he is training with fellow Classic hopeful Ben Coldray - can help him achieve his goal rather than hinder his ambitions.

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"The beer mile isn't the only thing I'm doing," he says.

"I'm training and racing over 1500m because I want to get the Commonwealth Games qualifying time.

"I train twice a day, every single day as a 1500m runner. I only do a beer session once every two weeks and the reality is that it's a few small bottles, so it's not going to affect me. There is a massive entertainment factor to it and I think people can see the harmlessness in it.

"My genuine aim is to make the Tokyo Olympics. I'd love to make the Commonwealth Games next year and every British team after that. I'm 25 so I've got a lot of time and a lot to give, but I don't think I've had that opportunity to really nab it.

"It would be great not to have to juggle work and do all these odds and ends just to pay for a flight to a race. Hopefully, the beer mile can leverage that."

Then the athletics traditionalists really will have something to shake their heads at.

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