will run for pizza

“tell me more about this pizza gathering…

and running, I guess.”

At 11:30 a.m. Friday, I wrote that response to a vague email I had received about pizza and a 5K. At 3 p.m. Saturday, I started running around Red Hook track, downing a slice of pizza every lap.

12.5 laps. 12 slices of pizza. It took me about 43 minutes to eat a 14-inch pie and run a 5K. Here’s how it went down.

the challenge

Eleven of us took on The Red Hook Invitational Pizza 5K (we paid $15 each, to cover our pizza and water). The rules required us to eat a slice of pizza (one 12th of a 14-inch pie) before each lap, but prior to taking off, we had to open our mouths and show that we had completely eaten the slice. We could drink water to help the ‘za go down, but the rules prohibited dunking (à la hotdog eating contests). Should a competitor vomit, they would have to run a penalty lap. Vomit during multiple laps? Run multiple penalty laps. Bathroom breaks were allowed, but everyone agreed to an honor system re: puking.

the competitors

I was the last one to sign up, and I was a tad intimidated by my competition. Here’s who I was up against (photos below by Adam Iannazzone):

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Jimmy (not pictured: Pizza Pi shirt)
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Shan (aka The Cheetah)
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Crystal (not pictured: her pizza paddle)
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Aditi (not pictured: pizza socks)
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and then there was me

There had been a healthy amount of smack talk going on in the Facebook event feed and a private message thread among the competitors. Shortly after I signed on for these shenanigans, Jimmy posted a poll, and some clear favorites emerged.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 1.18.19 AM

But a poll is just a poll. It all came down to strategy — and stomach.

I don’t know what everyone did to gear up for the challenge (and I’ll add here if I learn more), but a lot of us took the same, simple approach: work out early in the day, eat very little afterward, show up hungry, throw down.

  • Crystal ran 10 miles (and ate a burrito) early in the day.
  • Noah went for a little more than 5 miles right before the race.
  • Adam started the day with 6ish, then ran 3 to the track.
  • Jimmy didn’t eat much, but then slammed a birthday cake Gu after a warming up with a couple of laps on the track.
  • I ate a typical breakfast, went on a 70ish-mile bike ride (including a muffin stop, among other fuel), had a little snack after that and moseyed to the track shortly after.
Before the race. We were so happy then. Also, check out the sweet bib numbers Jimmy made. [photo: Adam Iannazzone]

the play-by-play

We started halfway down the track to get the 0.1 of the 3.1 miles out of the way, and after a brief countdown (thanks, Jana), the pack darted off, eager to knock out those 200 meters and ingest a lukewarm slice. (I reached the transition area, aka Pizza Zone, last.)

In Pizza Zone, we greeted our assigned pies with determination (we sported pizza-shaped bib numbers, handcrafted by Jimmy). Our organizers and friends had thoughtfully arranged our pies and water bottles by our numbers, as well as audited the pizza joint’s slice job, running a pizza cutter through each division to ensure swift transition from box to bouche. (This was a test of strength and endurance, after all. No one should have to waste energy on tearing apart a poorly cut pie.)

I’m not sure exactly how that first slice-to-lap transition went, but I remember being impressed by how quickly so many of the contestants got through it. One by one, the runners showed they’d conquered Slice One (big thanks to Heather for dutifully inspecting our mouths lap after lap), and off they went. I was either the last or close-to-last runner to finish my first piece and start the first full lap.

Here I am rolling into Pizza Zone after the first 200, while others are well into housing their first bit of pizza. [photo: Adam Iannazzone]
From what I recall observing, most people went with a straightforward shove-the-pizza-in-your-pie-hole approach. Crystal opted to first dump water on hers pizza. I believe Sarah and Aditi went with a tear-and-taste strategy at some points, though I also saw Aditi go crust first on several occasions. Shan did whatever worked best for getting the slice through the cheetah mask — impressively, he wore it the entire time.

Before I get into my tactical details, I must give a shoutout. On our morning ride, my friend Christine Meyer and I spent a not-insignificant amount of time pondering the quest ahead of me. It was she who suggested I commit to crust-first consumption.

I knew that on most days I’d lose a foot race with most, if not all, runners in the field, so I hoped going slow and steady was my best chance for success. After each lap, about 10 steps before Pizza Zone, I started to walk so I could take deep breaths to prepare myself for the binge. I started with the largest slice (they weren’t totally equal) and worked my way to the smallest pieces as the laps wore on. Once I’d conquered the crust and washed it down with water, the rest of the slice wasn’t too bad.

At least, that’s how the first six laps went. I think it was at that point when Adam ran past me and asked how I felt.

“Pretty OK,” I said. “You?”

“Pretty full,” he responded. “This is harder than I thought.”

In retrospect, I realize he probably had about three slices to go at that moment. By the time I had made such progress, I understood how he felt.

But before I get to that, let’s talk about the pizza. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. The race organizers got it from Brothers Pizza, and Puffy explained to me why they chose it: “Brothers Pizza came up as one of the few closest to the park that offered 14-inch pies and was fairly rated online. The pizza was hot but cooled quickly.”

It started out warm-ish and relatively tasty — remember, I had hardly eaten after my ride, so I was all about the salty, cheesy goodness at first. After three slices, though, my hands were covered in grease, and a few slices later, a similar film lined my teeth and the roof of my mouth. It got gross fast.

I had slowly gained ground on and passed others, but after eight slices, I started to feel full. I consistently downed the first seven slices in less than a minute-30 each and ran 400s in 1:40-1:50, but then things started to slow. Slice Eight took 1:30. Slice Nine, 1:36. I started burping out 400s in the 2-minute range, and Slice Ten took a minute-57 to go down.

Still, I found myself in the lead, having eaten my 10th slice more quickly than Claire, but my stomach really started to hurt. For a fleeting moment, I felt a kind of discomfort I had never experienced, and I thought, “I don’t think I even felt this bad during my ironman.” Claire and I rolled into Pizza Zone at about the same time, so things looked OK.

But Slice Eleven didn’t want to go down. I chewed and chewed, uninterested in swallowing, worried it might trigger the whole thing to come up in protest. Eventually, water helped. Three minutes and 37 seconds after entering Pizza Zone for the 11th time, Heather gave me the all clear to take on the next lap, but Claire was already 300 meters into hers.

Slice Eleven. Struggling. Claire is back there chewing like the champion she is. [photo: Matt Welch]
I got my hit of end-of-race adrenaline going into the final slice, and that one went down pretty easily. Claire was out of reach, as was I to those behind me, so I put down a comfortable sub-2 final 400. I may not have been the winner, but I broke the (electrical) tape like a damn champion. (Thanks for letting us all get that tape-breaking experience, friends.)

I achieved my goals: I had fun, ate a lot of pizza and didn’t puke. I’m happy to say no one else vomited, either.

Nailed it. [photo: Matt Welch]
Not sure on the final standings, but I know Adam won the men’s division and Claire won the women’s. I maybe finished fifth overall. Having been truly humbled by their pies, Puffy and Jimmy DNFed, opting for resignation over regurgitation.

UPDATE: We have the official results, plus some run paces I was able to pull from Strava.

  1. Adam, 29:52 (OH MY GOD) — average run pace 6:51/mile
  2. Noah, 32:10 — 5:37/mile
  3. Kamen, 34:52 — 7:10/mile
  4. Claire, 41:26 — 6:19/mile
  5. Me, 43:00 — 7:35/mile
  6. Shan, 44:57 — 7:04/mile
  7. Aditi, 47:18
  8. Crystal, 48:50 — 6:59/mile
  9. Sarah, 52:58
  10. Jimmy, DNF (10 slices consumed)
  11. PaFoua, DNF (4 slices consumed)

Honestly, we’re all winners (though Adam and Claire deserve all the glory and bragging rights), because gave this absolutely absurd undertaking a shot. I have since learned that Puffy had previously only consumed 2 slices in one sitting, so this is a major PR for her.

HUGE thanks to Puffy, Jimmy and Crystal for organizing this absurd event, and thanks to all the PPTC friends and family who came out to support us. And thanks to MW for supervising my slow walk home and being cool with spending the rest of our Saturday doing literally nothing but sleeping and watching Netflix.

{main image: gotta burn off those pizza calories. and yes, the thing tucked into my shorts is a barf bag. I’m also wearing an old pair of running shoes — I didn’t want to puke on my newer ones. [photo: Adam Iannazzone]}

Speaks for itself. [photo: MW]
definitely added this to my medal display



7 thoughts on “will run for pizza

  1. In-freakin-credible. Bravo Christine! You raced like a champ and it was honor to make sure you ate all your slices. Thank for not puking on me. xoxo – Heather aka Mother Checker.


    1. You’re the best Mother Checker there ever was! Thanks for letting us open our mouths at you for many many laps.


  2. Christine, I’m so glad you decided to join in on this train wreck last minute! It wouldn’t have been the same without you. This recap has to be my favorite so far!!!


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