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Although I pledged several years ago, I still have vivid memories of some of what occurred that semester. Much of the period is foggy due to the passage of time, as well as the complete lack of sleep and food I got during those few months, but the recollections of the more savage bits of the journey are as clear as the water in the SI Swimsuit edition. As much as pledging sucked, it was an awesome way to bond with future brothers and test my physical and emotional limits. Looking back, pledge semester really wasn’t all that bad. I can’t say the same for running in the Krispy Kreme Challenge.
If you’re not in the know, the Krispy Kreme Challenge is an annual race on the campus of NC State. It began in 2004 as a dare amongst some buddies, and has grown into a race of nearly 10,000 participants. The Challenge is a total of five miles: 2.5 miles from the NC State Belltower to the downtown Krispy Kreme, and back. No big deal. It’s the eating a dozen donuts part at the midpoint that sucks like a Dyson. 12 donuts, 2,400 calories, and then 2.5 miles back. All in less than an hour.
I trained for the Krispy Kreme Challenge by running a little and eating a lot. I even had a large dinner and some beers the night before the race, because like most fraternity men, I only think about instant gratification and never long-term consequences. In this case, the consequences were that I NEEDED to use the john minutes before the race started, and the line for the portable toilets was at least one-hundred people deep. I could hear the starting gun fire while finishing up my business, so I was already off to a slow start. Fortunately, the dense crowd of people crossing the starting line at the same time meant that I wasn’t really late. It just meant I had to spend the first 2.5 miles weaving through the fatties who started ahead of me.
In addition to the challenge itself, there are smaller competitions associated with the race. The most popular being the costume contest. I saw the entire Power Rangers squad, all of whom had prostheses in their uniforms to simulate a pregnant belly. There was a group of narcissistic Spartans, running in briefs and red cloaks, all carrying cardboard swords and shields. I ran by a guy in a parking lot who was changing out of his ape costume because it was too heavy. Some homeless guy is now the proud owner of a King Kong body suit. I passed another guy who was running in a three-piece suit, and was also carrying a briefcase that was leaking clear liquid behind him. I like to think he was a depressed accountant who carries vodka in his briefcase, but that the bottle broke and ruined the project that had consumed so much of his life that his wife divorced him and his kids were already calling the new guy “Daddy.” My favorite costumes belonged to the group who dressed like police officers, but who were carrying donuts on their utility belts. I’m sure the cops working crowd control didn’t think them as funny as I did.
I finished the first 2.5 miles in about 18 minutes, even though I was stuck behind thousands of people slower than me. I grabbed my box of 12 donuts and ran over to the water tables for some lubricant. There are several techniques for eating a dozen donuts very rapidly, but the most common is to smash four into one dense donut patty, and then devour it. Regardless of how you try and eat them, it fucking sucks. Warm Krispy Kreme donuts are delicious (I had three the night before), but these donuts had been baked no less than 12 hours before the race, so they were cold and stale, the way exactly no one likes them. After only the first bite I knew I was in trouble. I had a mouthful of dry, stale, tasteless dough. I needed three gulps of water just to finish the first donut. I had planned to eat each donut individually in 4-5 bites, but that wasn’t happening. I needed to play some mind games. I stacked two on top of each other to halve the load. There was nothing to do except chew and drink water, and look around at the shared misery. I heard multiple people say “This is so much harder than I thought it would be!” That’s what she said! Actually, that’s what I said. Shit was hard. Many people just had their eyes closed, focusing on nothing except biting and masticating. I switched back and forth between a catcher’s crouch, to a standing position, hoping to simulate the famed “Kobayashi Shake.” Champion “gurgitator” (competitive eater) Takeru Kobayashi claims that wiggling his body as he eats forces the food down his esophagus, and then makes it more compact in his stomach. I must not have the same rhythm, and I ultimately had to sit on the ground with my box of donuts, several cups of water, and a sullen attitude. I wasn’t going to be able to finish.
Almost 15 minutes and six cups of water later, I had the last couple bites in my hand. As I was walking towards the judges to prove I had eaten them all, I shoved the last big bite in my mouth. My gag reflex was immediate and severe, and some poor guy in a Virginia Tech stocking cap almost felt the power of my projectile spew. I reached down deep into the inner-strength I had built through pledgeship, and somehow kept the mouthful inside me. His face of fear quickly morphed into a laugh as he clapped me on the back and offered congratulations for finishing the dozen. Now I just had 2.5 miles back to the finish line, and less than 30 minutes to finish.
I knew I was going to throw up, I just needed to find a spot where the onlookers wouldn’t be staring at me as I turned my stomach inside out. The entire length of the course was lined with fans, many of which were families with young children. I’ve puked in front of girlfriends, family members, pledge brothers, strangers, and one time a group of howling Native Americans at some weird bar after a free shot of Bacardi 151, but I had never puked in front of an innocent child. Today was not the day. After the first half mile, it was if the donuts had never existed. I felt great, and the only trace of the donuts was the glaze coating my left hand. After the dozen Krispy Kremes, I would have rather licked a San Francisco bathhouse floor than suck the icing off my fingers.
I finished the race with about ten minutes to spare, crossing the finish line and then immediately jumping a pile of party-digested donuts that had been left by someone before me. It was not the only pile. The area was littered with puke stains, like a Cambodian rice paddy is littered with land mines. I am proud to report that none of them belonged to me, and after using a bottle of water to rinse my glazed left hand, I was a Champion of the Krispy Kreme Challenge with no ill effects whatsoever. Like pledging, this was a challenge I had willingly undertaken, heartily endured, and triumphantly completed. Unlike pledging, this challenge had no rewards (at least for slowpokes like me).
Telling people about the race is a roundabout way of letting them know I am a fat, over-indulgent, commercialist pig. In other words, a typical American. So, maybe the race is a lot like pledging. They’re both disgusting, nonsensical, and so over the top insane that you could only do them in the good ol’ US of A. They’re both activities that would make any Frenchman raise the white flag of surrender. I am proud to say that I have completed both, and I’ll forever argue that the 15 minutes eating donuts was worse than any 15 minute period of hazing.