RALEIGH — The real winners of Saturday morning's Krispy Kreme Challenge didn't eat a single doughnut.
Sure, the gold medal went to a UNC-Chapel Hill student who managed to run five miles and down a dozen doughnuts in under 30 minutes. But he shared the stage at the N.C. State University Bell Tower with 8-year-old Nathan Proctor of Oxford.
Nathan didn't run the race, but he has benefited from the annual festival of gluttony and speed. Though some mistake the race for a glazed doughnut promotion, it's actually organized by N.C. State students with one goal: making treatments easier for patients at the N.C. Children's Hospital. The organizers got the 92,400 doughnuts eaten Saturday at a discount, paying Krispy Kreme about $20,000.
Nathan, who has chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that weakens and impairs the arms and legs, couldn't walk or stand when he first came to the hospital. Now he's playing baseball and doesn't even need regular medication. Through countless treatments, he got to enjoy video games, computers and other activities funded by what the challenge raises every year.
"It helps us provide the atmosphere to feel like they're still at home," said Wesley Burks, the hospital's director of pediatrics. Saturday's race brought more than $100,000 to the cause - the final number's not in yet - and Nathan helped present the oversized check. And with a record 7,700 runners participating, organizers think the final tally could exceed last year's $122,000 total.
"I think the kids are really excited to be here and feel the support of the broader community," Burks said.
Here's a timeline of Saturday's sugary festivities.
8:22 a.m., Hillsborough Street: Runners lined up for blocks behind the starting line, ready to take off at 8:30 sharp. "Be careful with those doughnuts," N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson warned the crowd. A woman held a hand-painted sign with less subtle advice: Don't puke.
8:59 a.m., Person Street: The majority of runners reached the Krispy Kreme store, where they tried to eat a dozen doughnuts as quickly as possible. Ethan Litt, about halfway through a flattened stack, shared his strategy: "The best approach is to mash as many as you can together, make a giant sandwich."
Others thought their stomach's biggest enemy might be the 10 grams of sugar in each doughnut. They rinsed theirs in water first, making them less appetizing but easier to stomach. "You don't get that sugar-in-the-gut feeling," Ryan Braye said.
By then, though, the fastest runners had already made it back to the Bell Tower. Alex Varner from rival UNC-Chapel Hill finished in 28 minutes, 37 seconds.
9:06 a.m., bushes next to Piebird restaurant: A man wearing a triathlon T-shirt became one of the event's first casualties, unable to handle his midmorning snack. The staff of the restaurant watched warily from behind their glass window. Across the street, a pile of empty boxes was 3 feet tall.
About half the race participants were "casual runners," meaning they didn't eat their doughnuts immediately. Some made the Krispy Kreme store their finish line and headed home with sugary breakfast in hand.
9:24 a.m., Hillsborough Street near Ashe Avenue: With about a half-mile to go, the remaining runners were going strong with a slow jog. They had an extra mile to go this year, as safety concerns changed the course from four to five miles.
Joshua Chappell, one of the race organizers, said the runners rose to the challenge. "The finishing times were almost as good as they were last year," he said.
9:37 a.m., the N.C. State Bell Tower: At the finish line, the runners in elaborate costumes seemed to have done nearly as well as those in traditional running garb. Bob Willix of Raleigh was dressed as Elvis for his sixth year. "Everyone knows me, so it's a constant cheering section," he said. "This is a nice way to not take myself so seriously."
For others, the costumes were a team effort. N.C. State student Steven Corley and eight friends spent hours making Spartan costumes from cardboard, complete with swords and shields. For these racing warriors, the doughnuts weren't the biggest challenge. "The shield would catch the wind real heavy, and when the sweat starts, it gets in it real bad and weighs you down," Corley said.
10:05 a.m., Hillsborough Street: As a few stragglers neared the finish line, someone dressed as a boom box-toting robot led a police car in reopening the street to traffic.
As the exhausted and queasy runners headed home, about 100 N.C. State student volunteers began the cleanup. Hillsborough Street behind the finish line was, to put it mildly, not clean, and volunteers had to wash away the mess. While perhaps cursing the weak-stomached runners, they would keep in mind the event's mission to help hospital patients like Nathan.
Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report.