Eat, Run, Repeat: The New York Hot Dog Challenge

Greatist's Editorial Director David Tao tells the tale of competing in the inaugural New York Hot Dog Challenge, a race covering 2.5 miles and lots and lots of hot dogs.

Fact: I am not a fast runner. A podiatrist once told a 10-year-old me,  “David, you are built for comfort, not for speed.” While more capable individuals might turn such a slight into motivation to power a brilliant athletic career, I took his observation to heart. Another fact: I am a remarkably fast eater, often finishing my meals (and ordering a second course) before others are able to unfold their origami napkins.

Photo: BeyondDefeat.com

So when Greatist’s own Laura Schwecherl approached me about competing in the New York Rogue Runners Hot Dog Challenge a week before the event, I jumped at the opportunity to pit my biggest weakness (running) and biggest strength (eating) head-to-head in a battle for the ages. The challenge: A 2.5-mile run through New York’s Central Park, Midtown, and Times Square — something I wasn’t sure I could do. Along the way, competitors would have to stop to purchase and eat a hot dog at 10 predetermined food carts, something I usually end up doing an average of once per weekend.

On Saturday, February 11th, it was finally time to put my hot dogs where my mouth is. I arrived in Central Park with a small cheering section of friends in tow, though like many NASCAR fans, I think they were more looking forward to a crash and burn scenario than a thrilling victory by yours truly. And after spotting the nine other competitors — most of whom were seasoned marathon veterans — my confidence wasn’t particularly high. (Best comment I got from one of my soon-to-be opponents: “I mean, those are kind of running shoes.”)

After group pictures and a few wagers from race observers, we lined up at the starting line, first hot dogs in hand.

“Ready?”

Not really.

“Set?”

See above.

“Eat!”

Okay, that I could do.

Hungry from a breakfastless morning, I wolfed down my first dog in record time. One of several course refs confirmed that the frankfurter was indeed consumed, and I set off… in the lead! As a single dog rumbled around in my stomach, I couldn’t believe it — I was winning! I was winning! I was… getting passed? A quarter mile in, and it was already becoming clear my fast eating wouldn’t be enough to carry me through to the podium.

By the second stand at the base of Central Park, I was already stuck in the back of the pack. The other racers moved like gazelles, their feet gliding across the pavement while I was sure someone had covered my shoes in sticky tack. Four hot dogs in, and my placement wasn’t getting any better. Worse still, New York’s finest street food had begun to lose its salty luster, the once-delicious buns now sticking to my tongue like sand.

But at cart number six, the race took a turn in my favor. A few of the lead racers were standing around the cart and trying to force the final bits of dog down, their esophagi backed up nearly all the way with mystery meat. I sprung at the opportunity, throwing two bucks at the vendor (literally) and swallowing the hot dog in three bites (washed down with plenty of water, which I discovered was the trick to conquering those pesky buns). In 30 seconds flat, I’d passed all but one of the other racers and headed for a final four-stand stretch known simply as “The Gauntlet.”

By now, I’d begun to treat the race not as a distance run, but rather as a series of sprints between stands. The short stops to eat gave my legs enough time to recharge between runs, and at stand seven I finally caught up to the leader. We were neck-and-neck, our eyes locked in mental anguish as our stomachs rebelled against the challenge of consuming yet another dog. With a mighty swig of H2O, I set off first, crossing the street right ahead of my opponent.

I held the lead for the next three carts and, realizing I held a steady lead, the challenge shifted from beating other racers to defying the laws of nature themselves. My stomach felt stretched to the limit, my lungs barely getting air as the expanding food vessel forced my other organs to the top of my ribcage. I briefly considered the horrific scenario of a stomach explosion, an image that was cast aside as I remembered a promise I’d made to myself long ago: If you’re going to die, might as well die a champion.

Photo: BeyondDefeat.com

A few minutes later I crossed the finish line as my friends stood in disbelief at my accomplishment. I had run — actually run — a race, and thanks to the added challenge of consuming approximately seven pounds of processed meat along the way, I had won.

The rest of the runners gradually poured in, and, stomachs clutched in agony, we accepted our awards. After receiving my medal, I immediately announced my retirement from competitive running. It’d been a fulfilling career, but it was time to pass the torch. For the rest of my life, the smell of freshly-steamed hot dogs will always take me back to the day I fulfilled my destiny and became a true champion.

Speaking of which, can I have sauerkraut on that?

A huge thanks to the infinitely friendly New York Rogue Runners, especially event organizer Christopher Baker and the other fantastic racers. For Christopher’s recap of the event, visit his blog at Beyond Defeat.

 

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