Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Race Recap: The Whataburger Challenge

The gang post-Challenge
Race Report: The Whataburger Challenge
Joe Schmal and Julie Koepke, Race Directors

Inspired by Mountain Outpost’s “Chipotle Trifecta” challenge, featuring Jamil Coury and Schuyler Hall, our group of San Antonio trailrunners, the Rockhoppers, recently held a similarly absurd event, with a Texas twist: the Whataburger Challenge.  For those who haven’t had the privilege of eating a Whataburger, or aren’t familiar with the brand, it is a San-Antonio-based fast food chain with most of its locations in the state of Texas.  On the morning of September 5th, 2016, 10 brave, foolish souls gathered together to compete in the challenge of eating a #1 combo (single-patty burger, fries, drink), running 4 miles to the next Whataburger and eating a #2 combo (double-patty burger, fries, drink), then running 4 miles to the final Whataburger, finishing with a #3 combo (triple-patty burger, fries, drink).  Many spectators and supporters also showed up and stayed with the runners throughout the challenge, alternately documenting, heckling, and encouraging participants.

At 8:05 sharp, the clock was started and the gorging began.  Race favorite, Brian Ricketts, took an early lead, finishing his combo before most participants had even unwrapped their burger.  Stony-faced and business-like, he strapped on his Ultimate Direction vest and sped out the door, with a singular purpose in mind.  Other early favorites, Joe Tammaro and Scott Rabb, were next out the door, albeit considerably behind Ricketts.  Fan favorite Chris Russell took off shortly thereafter, along with a group of female admirers, followed by the rest of the competitors.

Speedster Joe Schmal was the first to make it to the second Whataburger; unfortunately, however, the Whataburger Challenge is really more of an eating contest than a running contest.  The second combo took its toll on him, but more on that later.  Rabb was hot on Schmal’s heels, followed by Ricketts.  The first hiccup among the race leaders occurred here, when the friendly Whataburger employees gave Ricketts a triple by accident, instead of a double.  He didn’t notice this fact until he’d already eaten half the burger; at which point, he merely shrugged it off and put it away faster than anyone else could handle their double.  Meanwhile, Tammaro ordered a single (not understanding the rules, which were very clearly laid out previous to the challenge), so he had to correct his mistake by ordering an additional patty.  Even so, Tammaro was second out the door, with Rabb following close behind.  Tom Bowling was still under the radar at this point – leaving the second Whataburger considerably later than the leaders.  Later in the race, his pacing strategy would pay off.

By this time, the elite competitors were beginning to separate themselves from the rest of us chumps.  Schmal, despite arriving first at Whataburger #2, and full of confidence, was barely able to leave under his own power and left the building a broken man.  Other casualties at this location included Jazzy Stallworth-Ratliff and Dave Thomas, who decided not to even order the second combo; Julie Koepke, who pitifully struggled through only a few bites of her second combo; and Sam Scheffer, who made a valiant effort, but also failed to finish his meal.  Of the remaining runners, Russell was DFL at that point, but was surrounded by his typical support group of attractive females, which probably buoyed his spirits and eventually got him through his #2 meal.

At Whataburger #2
At this point, it’s important to mention that one of the competitors, Franz Konczak, has been vegetarian since March; yet, he was willing to set aside his dietary restrictions for the sake of this significant event.  Konczak was able to put away his #2 meal; however, no more solid food would pass through his lips this morning.  Strangely, although he wasn’t up for a third combo, he somehow had room for a milkshake at the third Whataburger.

Up ahead, at the third Whataburger, the real competition was heating up.  Tammaro was the first to arrive, and had a five-minute head start over Ricketts.  When Ricketts walked in, he assessed the situation, ordered his food, and sat down directly across from Tammaro, silently but eloquently communicating his intense desire to win and thereby demoralizing Tammaro into submission.  At that point, Tammaro knew the writing was on the wall.  One hour and forty minutes after beginning this journey, Ricketts ate his last bite, declaring his digestive superiority.  We don’t get many moments in life where we are overcome with pride for a loved one; however, Rickett’s wife, Cindy, had the chance to witness this life-altering moment firsthand, as she was crewing and documenting this historical occasion.  One can only assume she experienced the same kind of spine-tingling pride and joy that an Olympian’s spouse might feel after a lifetime of sacrifices culminates in a gold medal on the international stage.

The struggle is real
Despite being demoralized by his loss, Tammaro pridefully forged ahead, finishing only 9 minutes behind Ricketts.  Afterward, he went outside by the dumpsters, where he earned his second award of the day, Most Puke.  Ricketts and Rabb also endeavored to claim that award, but came up short.  Rabb, to his credit, actually ordered a #3, but could scarcely bring himself to open the wrapper.  By virtue of eating one bite, Rabb took the 4th overall spot.  He would later bemoan the difficulty of the third meal, opining that the food at the third Whataburger was extra dry, and that a single French fry ended his race.

Tom Bowling, despite the slower start, had the most impressive finish.  He blew by Schmal and Koepke, like they were standing still, with about one mile to go before arriving at the last Whataburger.  He would continue his steady push to the finish by spending the next hour slowly picking through his #3.  As soon as he sat down, there could be no doubt that the man would finish what he started.  Bowling would be the final competitor to finish all three meals.  The Whataburger Challenge had a 70% DNF rate, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a more strenuous event than Badwater and Hardrock combined.  There’s talk of a lottery for next year.

Long after all the awards were handed out, and people started going home, the misadventures of Russell continued.  Crippled by shin splints and calf cramps, as well as a wrong turn which he blamed completely on his loyal pacer, Sheila Ballado Pinkson, Russell could not even bring himself to show his face inside the third Whataburger.  Instead, he headed directly to the parking lot, where his adoring fans hung on his every word as he recapped his arduous journey.

The hype surrounding this event turned out to be well-earned.  Competitors have already started discussing what the next gluttonous competition might entail.  Time will tell . . .


Overall Male – Brian “Banjo McNaturepants” Ricketts – 1:40
2nd overall, 1st Master – Joe “Tater Tots” Tammaro – 1:49
3rd overall, 2nd Master – Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling – 2:39

4th overall – Scott “Rabber’s Delight” Rabb – 15.35 ounces remaining on his #3 meal
5th overall – 3-way tie between Chris Russell, aka The Cactus Kid, Joe “Schmo” Schmal, and Franz Konczak  – ate #1 and #2 meals; didn’t start on #3 meal
8th overall – Sam Scheffer – 5.7 ounces remaining on his #2 meal
9th overall, 1st female – Julie Koepke – 10.6 ounces remaining on #2 meal
DFL – Jazzy Stallworth-Ratliff and Dave Thomas -- #1 meal only

1st and 2nd place winners, along with Rachel, the birthday girl

Awards Ceremony