A humid day dawned on Saturday, May 19. Hungry competitors gathered for the annual spring food challenge. Moments before the starting gun, a sound chimed through the starting corral: the ping of a text message. Race directors checked their phones, and read the fateful text from favored competitor Chris Russell: “Going to be 5 minutes late. Fat fingered address.”
Back at her house, Sheila, watching Netflix, saw the same text, and thought . . . “Am I supposed to be somewhere?” As she scrambled to change into running clothes and head to the race, her fellow competitors began their quest for greatness.
The Cactus Kid asked the rules committee a seemingly innocuous question after the race briefing – “Can we start running with our mouth full of ice cream, or do we have to fully swallow it all before leaving?” Not seeing much of a difference either way, the committee responded that you just couldn’t leave carrying ice cream with you.
The gun went off and the Chipwich was the first treat. In a matter of seconds, the Cactus Kid was running down the driveway with nearly the entire cookie-ice-cream combo in his mouth, along with MJ on the lead bike. The remaining competitors stared in disbelief. Things had gotten serious very quickly.
Joevonne “The Kid” took off after Russell, but made quick work of him. This pattern would continue each loop: Joevonne would come in first; Tom would come in second, eat, and then leave before Joevonne. The only person quicker than Tom in the aid stations was Sweet Chris. Steffen, a race-day entry, was strong from the get-go, steadily plugging away through the eating and running, despite his feeling that “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Meanwhile, in the JV race, Patrick Hayes was kicking butt and taking names, flying up and down the hilly course with his son, Karl, in a jogging stroller. Chris “The Sheriff” Porter speculated that the stroller must have been equipped with an engine, because it seemed like Hayes was being pulled up the hills, he was so smooth and strong. Perhaps the trash-talking directed at Patrick before the race motivated his strong performance. As was noted at the finish line, “Winners don’t need to trash talk.”
|Sheila demolishing her Chipwich.|
Despite Sheila’s late start (she arrived 5 minutes after the official start), she pulled off a 2nd place finish in the JV competition, somehow packing away those novelty ice cream treats in her small frame. Had the race committee been a little stricter, she would have been awarded 1st place, as Patrick’s son was observed to be eating some of Patrick’s ice cream for him. The Sheriff held steady at 3rd place in the JV race, and his son Joe and Joe’s girlfriend Lauren brought up the rear, having downgraded to the JV race so they didn’t feel too ill to attend prom later that evening. Perhaps prom daydreams were the cause of their missed turn and off-course excursion. And perhaps, as the Deputy himself commented, “I need to start training more.” Or, as his dad said, “He needs to start training at all.”
|The reason for the asterisk . . . to be fair, it was this or a tantrum.|
Both the varsity and JV racers endured the Chipwich, Klondike Bar, and Drumstick loops. Varsity runners continued on to the Snickers, Popsicle, and finally, pint of ice cream loops. Runners in the varsity competition pretty much held their positions through the first five loops – Joevonne in first, Tom in 2nd, Steffen in 3rd, Chris in 4th, Joe in 5th, Mike in 6th, and Jason in 7th. Everyone knew the race would really come down to the pint.
The advantage to finishing the 5th loop the fastest was in getting the first pick of pint flavors. Joevonne, coming in first, chose vanilla, thinking the bland taste might be easier to swallow. Unfortunately, his 14-year-old stomach just didn’t have the same capacity as the bigger guys’, and he admitted defeat partway through, despite his strong showing up to that point. However, both Joevonne and his mom Yvonne continued the run, taking off for their 6th loop after DNFing the ice cream. One must wonder at their opinion of the Rockhoppers, this being their first impression of us . . .
|Joevonne, still looking strong with his pint . . .|
|. . . and then things took a turn.|
Bowling came in second from loop 5, and chose strawberry, as a change for his palate. Third in was Steffen, who settled on mint chocolate chip. Sweet Chris, surrounded by a harem of 3, came in fourth. This is where things took a turn. With all competitors seated and working on their pints, Bowling was the first to spring out of his chair, looking as strong as he did on lap 1. A hushed silence followed, and as the awe-inspiring Bowling took off on his final loop, the collective goose bumps of the crowd indicated something truly special was occurring. The race was over at that point; Bowling had established himself as the winner.
|Tom, with victory in the bag.|
Back at the aid station, Russell steadily shoveled in his ice cream. Despite coming in after Steffen, he took off next. Russell ran scared the entire loop, pushing hard to each turn so Steffen wouldn’t be able to see his 6’8” frame. The tactic paid off, as Steffen figured Chris had an insurmountable lead, and gave in to a walk.
It was no surprise to the gathered spectators and recovering JV racers to see Bowling smash the tape at the finish line. (Tom’s finish line comment was, “All right! I lapped Jason!”) There was still speculation about who would be seen next. Lo and behold, it was Sweet Chris, with Steffen following three minutes later. There was some heckling from bystanders that Chris was phoning in his finish – had he “dug deeper,” he would surely have broken 1:40.
Ruhlin, who has dominated every Rockhopper eat and run challenge in which he has participated until now, might have finally met his match in the ice cream challenge. He finished in a strong 4th place, and was awarded an honorary Rockhopper t-shirt by Rockhopper swag entrepreneur, Tom Bowling. Perhaps there weren’t enough calories in the race for Ruhlin, who it is rumored, stopped off at Dairy Queen on his way back to Austin, to satiate his appetite.
Schmal, who looked like death from the beginning and talked about dropping after loop 2, found a second wind and finished the race in 5th place. Jason, who chose banana nut for his pint flavor, because “I always eat bananas at aid stations,” finished DFL in his first eat and run competition. (We hope it’s the first of many.)
Bowling, in interviews after his big win, commented that this food challenge was easier for him than others have been. He credited the ice cream with his strong running performance, saying, “The sugar fuels your run!” Strava data confirms the strength of his running; he had a sub-8-minute-mile in the second lap. As Sheila commented, the big guys – Tom and Chris – dominated this race; maybe something to do with their proportionally larger stomachs? Russell’s summation of the race included the comment that “At least we finally beat Ruhlin. We brought the title home.”
Varsity (10 miles, 1900 calories)
1st place – Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling 1:37:12
2nd place – Chris “Cactus Kid” Russell 1:40:00
3rd place – “The” Steffen Andersland 1:43:00
4th place – Mike “The Ringer” Ruhlin 1:44:30
5th place – Joe “Schmo” Schmal 1:46:02
6th place – Jason “Spleen” Espalin 1:54:53 DFL
DNF – Joevonne “The Kid” Juarez (DNF’d the pint; ran all 10 miles) 1:53:34
DNF – Yvonne “The Shrouded One” Juarez (DNF’d the pint; ran all 10 miles) 1:53:34
JV (5 miles)
1st place* -- Patrick “Manpris” Hayes 44:13
2nd place – Sheila “Cowgirl” Pinkson 50:48
3rd place – Chris “The Sheriff” Porter 53:33
4th place – Lauren “Prom Queen” Love 1:26:24
5th place – Joe “The Deputy” Porter 1:26:29