The air was thick with the sweet smell of glazed doughnuts Saturday morning just north of downtown Raleigh.
Around 8:45, thousands of runners careened into the parking lot of the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop with boxes of glazed doughnuts in hand and water within reach. The only questions: Could they eat all 12 doughnuts after running 2.4 miles? Could they keep them down while running another 2.4 miles?
Many did. Others were not so lucky.
The Krispy Kreme Challenge, now in its sixth year, sent runners sprinting down Hillsborough Street from the N.C. State University Memorial Bell Tower to the doughnut shop on Peace Street for a dozen-doughnut interlude and then back to the Bell Tower.
Six thousand runners preregistered for the event, which raises money for the N.C. Children's Hospital. Organizers expected to donate at least $40,000 again this year.
Running and scarfing require strategy.
There are several ways to attempt this fried dough eating challenge:
"The three stack," said Brady Lawrence, 19, of Raleigh, among the first runners to reach the doughnut shop. That involves stacking three or four doughnuts on top of each other and then smashing them down into a sort of doughnut sandwich.
Then there's the dunk method, which involves dipping the doughnuts into a cup of water to try to remove the sugar glaze. "The first year I did this, I learned it from the young kids," said Jamie Barnes, 39, of Cary, who was running his third Krispy Kreme Challenge.
Or you can try the method recommended by Amy Wilson, 21, of Cary: "Don't think about it." In other words, just chew.
"And don't look at the water after you've dunked the doughnut in," added Erin Choplin, 21, of Raleigh, one of Wilson's running mates.
Seated next to Choplin, Samantha Walker, 20, of Raleigh, held up the last bite of her 12 doughnuts and said, "I'm going to be off doughnuts for life after this."
Runners came from Georgia to Massachusetts, Indiana to California.
Many dressed up for the race beyond toboggan caps and gloves that were needed as temperatures hovered in the 30s.
Costumes ranged from gorillas and bananas to tacos and Snow White. Some runners even stripped down.
Clint Bollinger, 29, of Charlotte, wore only red spandex briefs, a red hat and a red cape decorated with a doughnut with real sprinkles. "It's fun to go out and be stupid for a day," he said.
Then there was the Krispy Kreme Challenge mascot: a runner named Garik Sadovy with a three-foot-wide doughnut affixed to his head. Yes, Sadovy ran the entire race with that headgear.
But did he eat a dozen doughnuts? No.
"I don't eat refined sugar," he explained. Instead, he ate seven pounds of grapes.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4848