Every week I see someone post something in social media about another cool event they’re doing.
RAGNAR relays, triathlons, trail races.
Even something as simple as going to a local group run or yoga in the park, or taking advantage of bike valets at JazzFest this past weekend.
Sioux Falls has a ton going on lately, and a lot of it is really cool. I know it’s mid-summer, and that means a lot of people are getting ready for fall races. Our bike path is full of folks with hydration packs and training plans and miles they have to get done before it gets too hot. (Side note: Have you seen that you can get a free T-shirt if you run the entire bike loop? 605 Running Co. is recognizing how awesome it is to ring the city on foot. Details here.)
But with every serious summer of training, with every build-up of miles, inventory of injuries and perfectly executed nutrition plan, there’s a chance for something to go wrong.
It’s a lot of pressure on us amateur runners.
That’s why I’m grateful for the Wienerman Triathlon in Luverne, Minn., a race so absurd, so gluttonous and easily miscalculated, that it takes all the pressure off of its participants.
You don’t have to be amazing or fast or have trained for months. You just have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, to gag down hot dog buns soaked in glasses of water and to make a truly endless amount of off-color jokes about hot dogs, buns, and all manner of tube meat.
It’s become the highlight of my summer.
I was invited to be part of a team last year with three women who had done the race before. I couldn’t really understand them when they asked me.
“It’s the Wienerman,” Karen Lechtenberg said, like that was supposed to mean something.
“You run and eat,” Natalie Kauffman Stamp said. “It’s amazing.”
“I do the bike part,” Nancy Kirstein said.
And to all of this, of course I said, “I’m in.”
Our friend Kami Cross Petersen ended up subbing in for Natalie at the last minute, and the four of us went. We won our division – the all-female, full-food portion (you can do half portions, too) division. We got a giant trophy. Nobody threw up. It was outstanding.
So when they called again this year to ask me to be on the team, absolutely I said yes. Once again, Natalie had to bow out, and the glorious Glenda Myers Bittner stepped in.
Spoiler alert: We won our division again, and this year it’s an even more amazing trophy, with a wooden dancing hot dog on top. Dave Duffy organizes the race, and it continues to be absurd. Legend has it that some years participants have had to put together Mr. Potato Heads on the course. And every year we have to eat some ridiculous concoction.
This year there were only a handful of teams, easily a third of what there was last year. (Don’t let that diminish our accomplishment – you race against who shows up, you know.)
But that’s why I’m writing this blog post, which I’ll surely pay for next year when we lose our title: You have to go do this race.
If the thought of trying to swim through an indoor city pool after just pounding a hot dog covered in a Philly cheesesteak doesn’t entice you, then what about getting a strip of free drink tickets and standing in a hot downtown parking lot with a makeshift bar and a live band on a hot Thursday night in Luverne, while kids play in bouncy houses and you revel in your accomplishment?
It’s small town meets college meets dubious athletic achievements.
Here’s a quick recap of how it works: When the gun goes off, the team has to eat four hot dogs and buns, as a group It doesn’t matter who eats what, but all the food must be gone before the first runner leaves. You have to open your mouth and prove it, like you’re in prison, too.
You aren’t above the law for Wienerman.
The first leg runs, then eats a hot dog concoction (each “meal” is different), then runs some more (a total of about 2.5 miles) and then swims a lap in the pool.
Then she tags in the next runner, who eats something (this year it was rice and hot dogs), who then runs another few miles and tags in a cyclist. That leg eats (a hot dog with mushrooms on it) and then bikes about 6 miles. The final leg – me, both years I did it – runs about a quarter mile, eats, then runs another 2 miles.
Then you join the rest of your team, and as a team you have to eat dessert – brownies and cupcakes and muffins this year. Then you run a quarter mile and finish together, and suddenly think something like a Long Island Iced Tea sounds like a good idea (it isn’t).
There are many parts of this that were way harder than I thought. First, it makes no sense, and even after doing it twice now, I still don’t quite get how each leg works. I just waited for Nancy both years (including this year, when she overshot her turn and came from the wrong direction).
I underestimated how disgusting it would be to witness my teammates take a hot dog bun, jam it into a plastic cup of water and then inhale it. I couldn’t even look. The thought of a soggy bun makes me want to gag – I just ate the hot dogs, in much the same way my old Labrador retriever would sort of gulp them down. There’s not a lot of chewing going on.
I also underestimated how difficult it would be to eat after running. Natalie had warned me about this the first year (when I had to eat a hot dog covered in macaroni and cheese and Froot Loops). It’s way harder than I thought.
This year, I ran my quarter mile and felt ready – I knew what would happen, where I was going. I had a general idea of the course from the year before. I knew that the team would carry me when I got to the desserts, too out of breath to help them.
But when I stopped in front of the Pizza Ranch in downtown Luverne and opened my box of food, I wanted to cry. Friends, it was an entire pizza. Sure, it was a 12-inch thin crust pizza (Dave isn’t the devil, after all), but it was covered in hot dogs. In my mind, that makes it like a family size double stuffed crust monstrosity.
I took out a piece, took a bite, began chewing.
My friend was there as the team Sherpa and photographer, and he took a few photos – each one more horrifying than the one before, in retrospect.
The volunteer at the stop suggested I flip the pizza over, make it into a sandwich – it was a genius idea, and I did that. I chugged water after each bite, so I could chew less and eat faster. It still took forever, it felt.
When I was done, I started to run. My first mile was a 6:58, and the next a 7:15. I didn’t feel like I was running that fast. Let’s be honest – it’s the fastest I’ve run in a long time, maybe since the race last year, when I was actually in shape.
I ran through downtown, weaving through the revelers. Dropped into the city park and ran around the campground and playground, back out and over the bridge, down a side street. My team was cheering for me as I raced toward them, and then they began stuffing desserts into their mouths as I leaned over my knees and tried not to embarrass myself.
As a team, we raced through downtown again, with Nancy yelling from the back. “It’s hard to run with a fannypack on,” she said later.
We slapped hands as we came through the chute, laughing and comparing notes about what we had to eat and how it all went.
This is what strikes me when I look at all the photos from that night: Everyone looks so happy. Everybody. The volunteers. My team. My friends. The other teams. The people in the background caught on camera as an elite endurance event takes place in their midst.
It’s a great time. Get a team together. Work on your cast-iron stomach and bad puns. And then come out next year. I’ll be sad when the field is stacked with teams – and the chance to win diminishes for us – but then I’ll look at the photos and see more people cracking up about something so revolting, and I’ll feel better again.
Besides, “Team Hot Mess Express” will always be engraved first on the traveling trophy.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.