31 Miles, 7 Donuts

By Anne Baker

For the past four years I have run the Women’s Distance Festival two-mile race in Washington Park. It’s a great race that gets better every year. But sometimes a change is in order. For reasons that defy logic, Steve and I signed up for the Tour de Donut Bike Ride in Staunton, IL.

The premise is simple. Ride 10 miles, eat as many donuts as you care to, ride 10 more miles, eat more donuts, ride the remaining 11.something miles back to the starting line. For every donut you eat, five minutes are knocked off your total time. It is a beautiful concept.

Weather was nasty the night before. A violent thunderstorm rolled through the area around midnight and pummeled the area for a couple of hours. I didn’t sleep very well and in the back of my mind was the thought that I really didn’t want to ride in the rain. We struck out for Staunton at 7 a.m. It’s about an hour’s drive south, and we drove through pockets of rain all the way. In the west you could see that the sun was trying to bust through the clouds.

Staunton is a town of 5100 people. We still took a wrong turn and had to ask directions. The race starts in a little park. There had been 4 inches of rain and the park was waterlogged. When you walked across the grassy parking area, water squished up out of the ground. The restrooms were flooded (rain, I hope). There was just water everywhere. And it was hot. Steamy even. You can see in the first pic how the ditch is flooded and the pavement is wet.

The race got a late start. We stood out in the street with masses of cyclists, sweating and hoping the rain would hold off. There was a record turnout, despite the weather, of about 975 cyclists. It was pretty cool seeing the solid mass of colorful jerseys and riders of every shape and size. And any kind of bike, road bikes, tri bikes, mountain bikes, cruisers…you name it. There were a surprising number of tandems too. I guess one person could pedal, the other could eat?

Prior to the event, I had been hashing out the details with training buddy and partner-in-crime, Jenni, and pondering what a good race strategy might be. Being of a competitive nature, Jenni had some wise counsel which she offered up in an email:

Training Advice from Jenni on the Tour De Donut
I’m thinking to myself “What makes me want to eat alot of donuts on Saturday morning?” and the first thing that comes to mind is a hangover. My advise is to go home, ride your bike HARD for at least an hour. Get really tired. Then, start in on your beverage of choice and comsume only slightly more than you normally might. You are just looking for that tired, light-headedness feeling, but not crappy enough to be debilitating. Make sure you undereat tonight, too so that a dozen donuts looks appealing tomorrow. That should be a recipie for a win, sister!

My strategy was simple. I ate virtually nothing for breakfast and drank very little. My goal was a conservative 8 doughnuts. I opted for the pink FatCyclist jersey. Got a lot of comments on it too, everything from “hey, I like the horse” to “hey, it’s one of those FatCyclist jerseys.” (Win Susan) There were a bunch of St. Louis club riders next to us at the start and one guy talked about having the black jersey. He also mentioned that it did not look like I had to suck it in quite as much as he did. Here I am sucking it in for all I’m worth.

The horn (?) sounded, everyone took off. It was hard to get rolling initially with so many people crammed into such a tight space. After a mile the crowd thinned a bit and we were able to stretch it out a little.

And then the hills started. Holy crap were there a lot of hills on this ride. Not necessarily steep, but long steady climbs. The humidity had to be in the neighborhood of 95% and I was pouring sweat by the time we rolled into the first stop at Prairietown (isn’t that a cool name for a small Illinois town?).

If you don’t want to eat doughuts, they mark a zero on your bib and you bypass the eating orgy. I was on a mission though. We eased through the crowd and elbowed up to a shelter where boxes and boxes of Mel-O-Creme doughnuts were heaped on long tables. It was a free-for-all. I don’t know what I expected, at first I stood back timidly, trying to get into a line. But there was no line. No one handed you the doughnuts. It was like Sunday morning at the Country Buffet. You pretty much had to reach into the box and make a grab. This was loosely supervised by “markers” — volunteers who would put tic marks on your bib for every doughnut you ate.

It was sickening to see the crazed cyclists smashing the doughnuts into flat gobs of dough in their hands and shoving the goo into their mouths. And for all of the activity, the scene was strangely silent. Just spandex-clad people standing around chewing. There was very little talk, so focused were they. Just chewing and the soft click-click of bike shoes on cement. It was surreal.

My grand plan was to start off with three doughnuts. I put them into a ziplok bag and smashed and rolled the doughnuts around into a sort of crude cruller, which was surprisingly easy to eat. See how fast I’m eating? I’m just a frothing blur.

After the initial three doughnuts I felt good enough to eat one more at Prairietown, for a total of four. Steve choked down one doughnut. I told him he needed to man up.

There was a hose for people to wash their hands off (thank you race organizers!) and I chatted briefly with a big fellow who had polished off a dozen. He was thinking he might need to draft off somebody for the remaining 20 miles.

Back on the road. Feeling a bit heavy and disoriented, I had to slow down for the first mile, but the blast of sugar and grease worked like some super Hammer Gel and pretty soon we were rolling right along.

The route began to dip down into a creek bottom where there had been some serious flooding. There was a bridge at the bottom that had been flooded over the night before. Lots of mud and debris washed up across the roads. It was like a humid hot jungle down in the bottoms, with trees on either side.

Quote of the Day
There is a seriously steep hill at one point. Someone had warned us about this hill, it was unfairly placed, you crossed a bridge, turned sharp right and there it was. No way to work up the inertia to coast up, and by the half-way point I was in the granny gear and standing up on the pedals. Sugar-fueled sweat was pouring off of me. And nausea…It would have been easier to just get off and walk up the hill. Cyclometer read 7 mph. Ouch…climbing, grinding, yank the wheel left and right to keep from tipping over. More climbing…a gal next to me was matching me one stabbing step after another. We hit the top and sort of coasted, panting. I looked over and said something stupid like “wow, that was quite a hill.” She responded with a grim “yeah, that was a motherf*cker.”

We hit the town of Worden, stop number 2. Last stop, business time. By now the sun was blazing, temps were in the 80s. Steve choked down one doughnut. I grabbed two and smashed them grimly in the baggie. The doughnuts were hot and the glaze had melted. They went down all right, so I grabbed another one. Seven. Not my goal but my stomach was starting to feel strange. Not willing to risk a reversal, I decided to stop.

There were some old guys working the water table. I think they were VFW fellows, super nice people. I was handed a cup of ice cold water by a sweet man who reminded me of my dad. There was another gentleman had to be in his 80s and he was filling big water coolers of ice from a hose. The only hose in sight. I needed to rinse my hands off. Tried to get his attention with”excuse me, sir? Sir?” He didn’t respond. I assumed he did not hear me.

I tried “Young man?” and he turned around! What a cutie!

We hammered it back to Staunton. There were a lot of people out along the roads with impromptu water stops, kind of like a marathon. It was awesome to see these people out cheering everyone on.

Back on the main road, 5 miles to go. We had the hills to cover but I didn’t care, we were almost done. Pedal, pedal, push, pull. Passing people with zero tic marks. Sick feeling rising…We made it back to the finish line at a little over two hours.

Rehydration and Recovery
So hot and drenched with sweat. We ditched the helmets and hot shoes and rode a couple of blocks to Main Street where the Ribfest was going on. You had to ride right through the festival before crossing the finish line and smell all of the grilling going on…at this point I wasn’t really hungry but something salty sounded good. And something alcoholic too. But beer…no. Too hot for beer. And the doughnuts were swelling and tossing around in my stomach. I rehydrated with a couple of Mike’s Hard Lemonades. Man were those good!

And now for the most important part — the post race food
The picture doesn’t do this justice. That is a BLUEGILL SANDWICH I am tackling. Those wormy looking things are squiggles of tartar sauce. It was dipped in cornmeal and was just about the best piece of fried fish I can remember. Steve opted for the riblets. We sat under a tent and let the a/c from a vendor’s trailer blow on us.

Then it was back to Springfield for a nap, shower, then an evening at Taste of Downtown.

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