Lifestyle05 Aug 2020

The Athletic Life: crazy races that combine running with food and drink


Quirky races (© Christel Saneh)


Kate CarterIn the absence of serious races, now's the perfect time to think a bit more left field and consider targeting a more fun food-based challenge instead.

Kate Carter (@katehelencarter)


If you find yourself spending more time than usual at home at the moment – and who isn’t? – and have four minutes and 33 seconds to spare, why not watch a mile race on YouTube. Sure, the time would hardly be anything special for a top male athlete, but then again, top male athletes don’t usually stop every 400m to down a can of beer. Not on camera, anyway.

If the concept of the beer mile is new to you, here are the basic rules: runners must drink a beer of 5% alcohol concentration or higher, from a 12 fluid-ounce (355ml) can or bottle. One beer per lap of the track, to be consumed entirely before running again – no more than 4 ounces must be left in the bottles. The world record holder whose majestically smooth run is featured in that video is Corey Bellemore. He actually ran an even faster beer mile in 2018 – reputedly clocking the actual running part within four minutes – but he got disqualified for leaving a bit too much beer behind. Last orders, please, Mr Bellemore...

Sound like fun, or utter hell? I’m leaning towards the latter, given I’m not sure I could drink that much fizzy beer in under an hour, even without any running in between. But then again, with precious few ‘real’ races on the calendar, I’ve found myself dreaming not of the serious races I'm missing, but the crazy bucket list ones I would love to do if Normal Life would just magically return.

When you talk crazy races, particularly ones revolving around alcohol, the first to come up is usually the Marathon de Medoc: 26.2 miles of jogging between wine tasting stops, listening to 50 orchestras providing a live soundtrack around the course. Fancy dress is pretty much obligatory, and if it isn’t your slowest marathon time by a factor of at least two, then you really haven’t done it right – or so I’m told.

The only aspect of the Medoc race that’s never appealed to me are the oyster and steak stops – I’m not sure my schoolgirl French is quite up to “Sorry, is there a vegetarian option?” after 23 wine stops. But it has made me think over the years of the foodstuffs I would like to run for. Or perhaps run between.

As some of my teammates have been talking about having their own crack at a beer mile, I started musing alternative options: Prosecco, perhaps, instead of beer. Or why not food? I’m not sure if choosing your favourite foodstuffs is a good idea or a truly terrible one: you could, I imagine, successfully put yourself off them for life. But, well, I do really love doughnuts, and though there doesn’t seem to be a doughnut mile, I've come across the Krispy Kreme Challenge – five miles, 12 doughnuts, one hour. Now that’s my kind of challenge.

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In my running career so far I've done 13 marathons, but I’ve not yet been tempted into the world of ultra runs. However, I’m sure I read once that one of the aid stations at the Tarawera Ultra in New Zealand involves a full English cream tea: scones, jam, clotted cream and all. That, and the lure of the stunningly beautiful New Zealand scenery, means it’s the only ultra that’s ever really tempted me. And running at what would be my ultra pace might even allow me to digest it.

There are in fact a surprising (or perhaps entirely unsurprising?) number of cake races or cakeathlons, though the more sensible ones leave the over-indulgence until after the running, rather than in the thick of it. Then I've also discovered the Hot Chocolate race – billed as “America’s sweetest race” – and awash with the sweet stuff from expo right through to completion. The medal looks like it was designed by Willy Wonka and the goody bag apparently includes chocolate treats galore. Sign me up.

Of course, back in the UK we do have our own version of the Medoc marathon – the Bacchus race, in the vineyards of the Surrey hills. It’s unfair, really, but my view of those hills is somewhat tainted by the fact that it’s also the venue for many a grim, frozen cross-country race. I really should try to enjoy it in sunshine with wine.

But the most tempting race in the UK that I’ve found in my recent googling is the Ciderthon, in beautiful Somerset. A half marathon through cider orchards with stops every mile for a taste, and a party at the finish. That’s the kind of race that I really am dreaming of now.

Come winter, though, my idea of running heaven would be a race in Germany or Austria involving multiple warming stops for Glühwein and strudel. If anyone knows of, or would like to invent, the Strudelthon, please consider me your first and keenest runner.