Initially, the idea seemed like digestive and cardiovascular double suicide.
Run about 2 miles.
Eat not one but 12 Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts. All 2,280 calories of them.
And do it all in less than one hour.
However, given time and a steady running routine, my anxiety about competing in the Krispy Kreme Challenge wore off. I am, after all, training for a marathon, so a 4.77-mile run hardly scares me. Eating a dozen doughnuts isn’t something I attempt on a regular basis, but that would take care of itself. I’d starve myself the night before the race so that I’d be hungry for a race-day sugar rush. All I’d really need was about 20 minutes to polish off the doughnuts.
Two minutes into the race, I say as much to my friend and Krispy Kreme Challenge veteran Adam Pfanmiller.
“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal,” I say. “You pace yourself to get there in about 20 minutes, eat your doughnuts in about 20 minutes, and then run back in the final 20.”
If only that eating part was so easy.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Started as a dare between N.C. State University students in 2004, the Krispy Kreme Challenge is now a full-blown fundraising event that draws 7,500 entrants and benefits the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
Two months before the race, I attempted a training run with Adam and Mike Hepp. I ate five doughnuts when we recreated the race. The only other time I ate doughnuts was about a week before the race when I smushed a dozen doughnuts into one piece, just to see what it would look like.
While smushing together a dozen doughnuts may seem silly, several friends who have successfully completed the challenge suggested smushing two or three doughnuts together at a time. They also suggested that I eat very little the night before the race, so I ignored my hamburger craving and opted for a bowl of cereal and some fruit.
A nearly empty bowel, I assumed, would help me stuff down all those doughnuts. Forget about the gluttonous act of pigging out on a whole box of doughnuts. I’d probably be so hungry that I might start a second dozen. With cream filling.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
All week, the weatherman called for temperatures in the upper 30s and showers.
He was right.
Fifteen minutes before the race, Adam, Mike, and I finally leave the shelter of my car and subject ourselves to the elements. The rain isn’t pouring, but it’s steady enough to be annoying, especially in tandem with the frigid temperature.
We approach the start line just before the race begins. Surrounded by thousands of costumed- and ponchod-racers, I realize that I’ll never find John Palko (my brother-in-law) and Jacob Palko (my nephew), who are competing as Casual Runners (meaning that they’re not intending to eat all 12 doughnuts).
Mike, who has been approaching this race like a title fight, immediately sprints ahead of us, so Adam and I glide to Krispy Kreme at a nice 10-minute-per-mile pace.
Once we arrive, we grab our doughnut boxes and wade through one of the stranger scenes I’ve ever seen. Hundreds of fit, well-conditioned athletes are crammed into a parking lot and city street, some of them sitting on the ground, silently shoveling empty calories into their mouth.
Moments later, I join them in a doughnut-inspired Twilight Zone.
I follow Adam’s lead and smush three doughnuts together. I take a giant bite, awake my jaws from an unusually long slumber, chew as fast as I can, and savor the taste of sugar. Then, I repeat.
But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I’m only halfway through my first three doughnuts by the time Adam is starting his second cycle. I try to eat faster, but I feel like my mouth is moving in slow motion while Adam’s is chugging along at warp speed. I try to take bigger bites, but it doesn’t help.
Nearby, another racer vomits.
Soon, Adam finishes eating, and I’m still working on my second set of doughnuts. I tell him to go ahead without me, that I’ll be fine.
But my stopwatch disagrees. We started eating our doughnuts about 24 minutes after we left the Bell Tower and it’s taken me 12 minutes to eat six doughnuts. The latest I could leave to make it back would be when my stopwatch reads 44 minutes. And that’s assuming I can run with that much dough hopping around in my stomach.
At this point, I make a huge mistake: I look at the stack of doughnuts I’m eating.
For the first part of this exercise, I’ve been taking bites and staring off at nothing. I’ve been eating, but haven’t really been thinking about what I’m actually putting into my body. Now that I look down and see the layers of dough, I start to think about those 2,280 calories and what they’ll be doing in my body. Settling in to a nice place exactly where I button my jeans, that’s what.
Finally, I fight an urge to puke.
The feeling passes, but I doubt myself. I tell Carie, who’s filming this pathetic display, that I don’t understand how competitive eaters do it. She tells me to stop talking and eat. At one point, she even tells me to “be a man.” I’m so beaten by the doughnuts, however, that I don’t seem to care that my wife is challenging my manhood. I simply want it all to be over. I want a dry sweatshirt and a soft, cozy couch in a dark, quiet room.
For a moment, I’m motivated by the sight of John and Jacob. They’ve finished eating a combined 13 doughnuts and are ready to start running. Since they’re not running as Challengers, like me, I assume they might stick around and root me on for my final doughnuts. Instead, they decide they’d rather finish with a better time than me, and I’m back in a doughnut ditch.
I’m almost finished with the third set of doughnuts when I decide to smush them together with the final set of three doughnuts. For a minute, this gives me hope. I think there’s a chance I may actually finish in time to race back and complete the challenge. But my bites are giving way to nibbles and pecks.
I survey the parking lot and notice that strewn-about empty boxes now outnumber people.
I look at my watch. It reads 48 minutes and change.
Completing the challenge is hopeless, so I ponder the benefits of saying that I at least finished the doughnuts. In my right hand, I’m clinging to a mushed up ball of dough. Later, when I review the video, I’ll see that it only equates to a measly two doughnuts. But right now, it must weigh a pound. And there’s no way it’s going to fit in my stomach.
So I chuck it and start running back to finish a challenge I’ve already failed.
Strangely enough, I don’t feel bad about it.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
To make this a better story, I’d like to tell you that as soon as I threw away that doughnut ball, I was overcome by a Rudy-like determination to finish what I’d started. That I dug it out of the nearest trash pile and forced it down my throat while a crowd of onlookers chanted my name.
At the very least, I’d like to tell you that I barfed.
Or that I ran back in 10 minutes.
None of that is true. (Although I did pass John and Jacob.)
Instead, I had a pleasant return run. Sure, the first couple of steps were a little dicey, but I never felt sick.
The worst part was enduring some trash talking from Adam, who completed the challenge in 56:48, and Mike, who was only 11 minutes off the winning pace at 40:37.
But even that wasn’t so bad. Honestly, it was funny.
Plus, I’m actually quite proud to say that I’m a lousy doughnut eater. I’d much rather be good at a more worthwhile pursuit.
Something that really makes a difference.
Something that will define me.
Now, if only I could find a miniature doughnut eating challenge.