I realize most people haven’t heard of the Krispy Kreme Challenge unless you live in central North Carolina like I do. But around these parts, this race is well-known. For the best description, I’m going to quote from the website:
“Participants begin the Challenge at the Memorial Belltower on the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Runners then travel 2.5 miles through historic downtown Raleigh to the Krispy Kreme [donut store] located at the intersection of Peace and Person Streets, where they attempt to consume one dozen original glazed doughnuts. The hardest part of the Challenge awaits them as they run 2.5 miles back to the Memorial Belltower.
This is the Krispy Kreme Challenge.“
As you can imagine, many college students from NC State University and other local colleges participate in the challenge. That seems fitting but you may be asking why on earth anyone beyond college age would choose to do something so crazy as this? Well, in my case when I finished my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states in 2021, I wanted the following year to be filled with unique and fun races. I got in the lottery to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C. that April and I was signed up to run my first night race, a 5k, in May. I was always intrigued by the Krispy Kreme Challenge. It certainly fit the bill as a unique race. Fun would be another story. I signed up for the 2022 race but it was cancelled a few weeks prior due to rising COVID cases in the area so I deferred to 2023.
Race packet pickup on Friday, February 3 (from 9 am to 8 pm) would have been quick and easy had there not been a major accident on a road by the campus. Traffic was bottle-necked and didn’t move since the roads around the student union, where packet pickup was, were one-way roads so there literally was no other way to go. When I finally found a parking spot, I went into the huge student union building, which was well-marked with signs for packet pickup, got my bib, then my t-shirt, and was on my way. There was other merchandise for sale but I didn’t buy anything else or stick around since I knew it would be a nightmare getting out of the campus and back home given the current state.
Unfortunately for me, the weather did not cooperate for this year’s race. A rainy cold front moved in on Tuesday and continued all week before the race. From Friday morning through that night, the temperature fell from a high of 47 to a low of 23 degrees. At 8 am when the race started, it was 25 degrees. I know most people in the northern states are perfectly used to running in temperatures below freezing, but in these parts, that’s downright frigid especially for running. Never would I have gone out for a run on my own that morning had it not been for the race.
I had on wool thermal underwear (top and bottoms), a pullover, a fleece jacket, double-lined pants, two pairs of socks with a pair of wool socks on top, two pairs of gloves and hand warmers under the first pair, oh and two hats and a buff around my neck. All that and I was still cold. My feet were especially cold and I couldn’t feel them for most of the race. Many people wore costumes and the smart ones wore onesies or other warm gear. One of my favorites was a group running together dressed as bumble bees and one person wore a beekeeper outfit. I saw four guys wearing only their underwear- CRAZY!
The race started promptly at 8:00 and we ran the 2.5 miles from campus to the Krispy Kreme store in downtown Raleigh. It was a mix of downhill parts with some rolling hills but nothing too challenging. Since it was so cold and I don’t do well in the cold since it hurts my lungs, I took it easy and didn’t push too hard. I didn’t want to cause an asthma attack (I don’t have asthma but had cold-induced asthma as a child and had one near-asthma attack a few years ago when it was super cold out and I was on vacation in the mountains).
My plan was to run by feel so I didn’t look at my split times on my watch. I wanted to get to the Krispy Kreme in 22 minutes or less and I believe it was around 21 minutes. Since my watch died sometime during the race, I don’t know what my split times were exactly, especially for the last half of the race because that’s when my watch suddenly went black. My teenage daughter who said she had zero interest in running this race (smart girl) agreed to be my emotional support and photographer so after she snapped a quick photo of me at the start, she ran to the Krispy Kreme and waited for me.
When I got to the Krispy Kreme store, it seemed like pure chaos but upon further examination, it was more like controlled chaos. There were stacks and stacks of boxes of donuts and volunteers handing them out to runners. Some runners were sitting on the curb or on the ground eating their donuts, but I thought if I sat down I might not ever want to get up, especially after eating a dozen donuts so I chose to stand and in fact, I walked around a bit to try to find my daughter. Luckily she was wearing a red shirt that stood out so I found her within a few minutes.
My hope was to finish all 12 donuts in around 10 minutes but that didn’t happen. Even with my method of squashing a donut in my gloved hands (I had washed them the night before), folding it in half, and in half again so it was quartered, then shoving that into my mouth and chewing as fast as I could, it took some time to get the donuts down. They were supposed to have water by the store but I didn’t see it so I asked my daughter to try to find it for me. Within a couple of minutes she came back with a bottle of water, saying it was hard to find and she had to ask a few people where it was.
The water really was the key to getting the donuts down. After my flattened and quartered donut was shoved in my mouth, I would take a sip of water, just enough to get it to be more easily swallowed, and that seemed to help. I heard many people around me saying there was no way they could finish all 12 donuts but I was determined. I kept shoveling them in and finally around 20’ish minutes after arriving at the Krispy Kreme store, I had eaten all 12 and was ready (maybe?) to run the 2.5 miles back to the finish line. Honestly, it took sheer mental strength to finish those last 3 or 4 donuts and I kept saying to my daughter how hard it was. She kept saying I could do it and giving me other words of encouragement, all the while shivering in the cold (she’s the best!).
Finishing all 12 donuts by yourself was on the honor code, since it’s not like there were enough volunteers to watch each and every runner finish all of their donuts. They did have two different chutes by the store, one for runners who had finished their donuts (you showed them your empty box and tossed it to the side), and one for runners who had not finished all of their donuts. At first it was all I could do just to walk but since it was so cold I just wanted to be done, I started a slow jog to the finish.
Never had I been so happy to see the finish line in sight and I finished in 1:07:54, which turned out to be fourth in my age group. Although there were ten people that started in my age group, only five of us completed the challenge, meaning we ate all 12 donuts and ran back to the finish line. According to the results online, my “donut split” time was 42 minutes, so that means it took me almost 26 minutes minutes to complete the final 2.5 miles, which is a 10-something minute mile, not too bad given I had just eaten 12 donuts!
When I checked the results on race day, I could see the number of Challenger participants who had signed up versus those that actually ate all 12 donuts and finished on the results page but that has since been revised so it only shows finishers in the Challenger group. I believe it was around 300 people from all age groups who did not complete the challenge, however. By the way, the top male Challenger finish time was 33:15, which is a 6:38 pace. That means this guy managed that blazing fast overall pace including stopping to eat a dozen donuts, because after all, the clock doesn’t stop while you’re eating. Incredible! The first woman finished just under 40 minutes, which is still amazingly fast especially considering she ate a dozen donuts.
I should note there were two options for the race, Challenger, which means you try to eat all 12 donuts, and Non-Challenger (aka Casual, which was on their bibs), which means you could eat as many or as few donuts as you wanted. According to the current results, there were 2878 Non-Challengers registered with 2277 finishers from that group and 1066 Challengers registered with 1066 finishers from that group. That seems confusing and backwards to me unless perhaps there were Challengers that were moved to the Non-Challenger Group during the race (meaning people who didn’t finish all 12 donuts) but regardless, there were a whole lot of people who did not technically “finish” the race, a much higher percentage than you would see for a “regular” 5 mile race. There were also Challenger Teams and Non-Challenger Teams.
At the finish, I saw no water, no bananas, honestly, not a single thing to eat or drink, but then again, I’m not sure who would want anything to eat after eating a bunch of donuts and running afterwards. Still, water would have been nice. Well, maybe. My stomach was seriously upset, and although I never threw up, my daughter said she saw all kinds of people throwing up while she was waiting on me at the Krispy Kreme. There could have been water at the finish and I just didn’t see it because I didn’t feel like walking around trying to find it. Once we checked my results online and saw I was fourth in my age group, we left. Medals were extra and I hadn’t bought one so I didn’t get a medal either.
As soon as I got home, I took a nap. The rest of the day I felt absolutely terrible. My stomach was so full and bloated and I kept burping up the taste of donuts. I didn’t even want to drink water but I forced myself to drink hot peppermint tea. Lunch was out of the question and I thought I might not even eat dinner but by around 5:30 I started to have a bit of an appetite again so I had a small salad and some salmon (I felt like I definitely needed something healthy after consuming 2400 calories in donuts). This was by far the worst I had felt after any race, including the marathon.
Now that a couple of days have passed and I’m looking back, I ask myself, “Was it fun? Would you do it again? Would you recommend this race?” My answers are, “Yes, the beginning of the race was fun, but it would have been much more enjoyable if the weather had been warmer. One of the best parts was seeing the costumes and everyone’s high energy and excitement at the beginning of the race. The race was well-organized for the most part,” “I would absolutely not want to do this again, even as a Non-Challenger. This is a one and done race for me,” and “I would recommend this race if you’re curious about what the experience of running 2.5 miles then eating a dozen donuts then running 2.5 miles back is like, because it most certainly is a unique experience and of course it’s for a great cause, UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, so it’s worth doing for that reason.”
Have you ever heard of the Krispy Kreme Challenge or a race like this one where you have to eat something in the middle of the race? Would you ever run a race like this? Do you think I’m crazy for running it and eating all 12 donuts?