Courtesy of Ryan Freitas

Runners in the 2010 Sacramento Eggnog Mile halt for the mandatory chugging between laps.

Not all runners can stomach the Eggnog Mile

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 - 9:08 am

Running and eggnog, both quite enjoyable when experienced separately, can lead to queasy and potentially propulsive results when combined.

But that's the fun of it, apparently.

The act of chugging the rich and viscid yuletide liquid and then running as fast as you can, then chugging and running some more until you've either completed a mile around the track or your digestive tract completely rebels, has become something of a tradition for a loosely affiliated group of friends, friends of friends and even some brave strangers.

For the fifth straight year, current and former prep and college cross country runners with a taste for adventure will meet Saturday morning at the American River College track to partake in the Sacramento Eggnog Mile.

Conceived on a whim by two high school runners from Elk Grove who are now finishing up college, this holiday ritual has grown from 25 the first year to nearly 100. What began as a single race for a bunch of skinny guys now has grown to multiple heats and registration at http://active.com. It's drawn interlopers from the Bay Area and even farther south, as well as the occasional elderly (that's over 40) participant.

The modest success of the Eggnog Mile is as surprising as it is heartening to organizers Ryan Freitas, 22, and Spencer Christy, 21. It also could be considered a testament to the power of the Internet – in this case, a message board – to unite people for a common purpose in, you know, the actual flesh.

"Ryan and I back in 2007 were talking that we should do something, a capstone for the end of the year for cross country, maybe like how some people do beer miles," said Christy, a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "We figured cross country ends in the winter, and it's the holiday season. What would be a ridiculous thing to do? Why not eggnog? It's a difficult thing to drink and it's holiday themed. We threw the idea out there to everyone else and before we knew it, it was happening."

What exactly happens on "race" day is either wildly hilarious or really gross, depending on one's sensibilities. Put another way, if you chortle at Judd Apatow movies, you'll be way into the Eggnog Mile.

The rules are simple, the task anything but: Each runner must drink a 12-ounce cup of eggnog at the starter's gun, then take off on the first of four laps that add up to a mile. After laps one, two and three, runners must stop and drink another 12-ounce cup before resuming. Anyone who vomits during the race is penalized by having to run a fifth lap (mercifully without having to down yet another cup on nog).

These are guys, so they aren't predisposed to introspection. Still, when asked to reflect on why the Eggnog Mile has become so popular and why they're willing to spend big bucks on cartons of eggnog, they say it's for the camaraderie.

"That first year, it was so fun, I decided immediately that I want to do this forever," Christy said. "Every winter, I look forward to it even though I have school and finals at the same time I'm getting things together for the Eggnog Mile."

Added Freitas: "People are expecting it now. It's like, we get together every year."

But such fellow-feeling is good only up to a point.

The young men and women want to win. Which leads them to push their cardiovascular and digestive systems to the max. Which occasionally leads them to bending over, hands on knees, their abdominal muscles contracting and … you know the rest.

Those with a strong constitution can check out a video of last year's elite race on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsK1o0BpZPU). Even those participants who can keep the nog down finish the race looking peaked and nauseated and with a globs of off-white drink running down their singlets to their aptly named bib numbers.

"Less than half the people vomit during the race," Christy said. "After … "

Freitas said the key to success is a cast-iron stomach more than great endurance. In the four previous years, he's seen celebrated prep and college runners humbled by failure of the small intestines to accept one more drop of eggnog.

"We had a guy a few years ago who threw up 10 feet before the finish line, and he would've been in the top three. It was the most sad thing I've ever seen. But it was good for me because I was behind him."

Freitas' personal best is 5 minutes, 36 seconds – 32 seconds behind record-holder Nate Beach, a junior on Cal's cross country team and a former all-state prep runner from the East Bay. Those times might seem slow to some, but, remember, eggnog is the great equalizer.

"What happens is this: After you drink the first cup and run the first lap, you're absolutely fine," Freitas said. "There's no issue. But once you finish that second lap, that's when you start breathing heavily and it starts to take a toll on your body. You realize that eggnog is not water."

This year, Freitas is ready for a personal record.

"I've been practicing," he said. " I've bought four cartons of eggnog and just been pounding them as quickly as I can swallow it – and keep it down."

EGGNOG MILE

To sign up for the fifth Sacramento Eggnog Mile, 10:30 a.m. Saturday at American River College, go to http://sacramentoegg nogmile.blogspot.com. Cost is $15.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Sam McManis



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