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April 26, 2017

Track & Food: the Drake & Penn Relays are best enjoyed with a side of gluttony

The world’s fastest feast

If you’ll be among the 40,000 people in Franklin Field’s bleachers this weekend for Penn Relays, you’re in a stupendous position from an opulence standpoint. Fans don’t dine on conventional track meet fare (stale nachos, off-brand candy, tepid Pepsi products). They feast on delicacies native to both Philadelphia and Jamaica.

Meet security permits the passage of outside food and (non-alcoholic) drinks. And surrounding UPenn’s famed stadium sits an armada of rickety, sputtering-generator-fueled food trucks, serving up greasy wares inside of stapled-shut Styrofoam containers. Within a mile radius, it’s impossible to escape the scent of cheese steak, smoked meat, and fried beef patties. It’s truly a delight.

(Editor’s note: Get the jerk chicken too)

But chances are, you already know this. As far as track meets go, Penn Relays knows no equal when it comes to its celebratory atmosphere and culture of caloric consumption. Penn’s Midwestern counterpart, the Drake Relays, however, lacks such a tradition.

A champion’s glory, a champion’s feast

Earlier this week, Dan Winters, a reporter from Des Moines’s NBC affiliate fired off this seemingly unambiguously positive tweet:

It’s great that a local youth Harry Leinen is getting some press for winning the Drake Relays Kids Grand Blue Mile. And it’s super impressive and cool that he is a two-time champion.

However, it’s mildly troubling that an athlete of his stature and budding fame would plan to celebrate this big win by having his parents escort him on a Jimmy John’s-Dairy Queen run.

There’s nothing wrong with either of those two establishments–heaven knows I’ve downed my share of #12 Beach Clubs and M&M Blizzards–or fast food as a whole. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to revel in a the glow of a race well run than refusing to share a Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready.

But, should young Harry complete the three-peat next year, here’s hoping he does the whole celebration thing a bit better, because great performances deserve memorable celebrations.

Greatness, Iowa — “population: the athletes… and you!”

Upon crossing the finish line at the Grand Blue Mile, you are literally a two minute walk to Jethro’s BBQ, home of the “Adam Emmenecker Challenge,” comprised of: a spicy pickle, bun, pork tenderloin, buffalo chicken tenders, white cheddar sauce, fried cheese cubes, Texas brisket, applewood smoked bacon, cheeseburger, and a pound of waffle fries. (You can watch a very strange video of a man completing it below.)

You think the crowd reception was positive for winning a mile road race?

Imagine the chaos you’d create by running straight through the finish line and over to Jethro’s. Plop down in a booth, still glistening with the sweat of your recent achievement, consume this monstrosity and you’re immortalized on the restaurant’s wall. Plus, you’ll probably get a regionally-celebrated holiday named for you. That’s how you live forever, in infamy.

You earn the respect of a crowd through victory. You ensure it’s not going anywhere by means of an unforgettable, over-the-top gesture like consuming five pounds of food while still wearing your race bib.

And this sentiment rings true not just for champions at Drake, but for fans as well. Nobody’s saying grotesque acts of gastrointestinal indulgence are limited to the meet’s champions. Ultimately, track and field is a sport of masochism. Honor the competitors’ pain with a little self-induced discomfort of your own — solidarity meat sweats, baby.

Take a few “walking tacos” (the regional term for Frito Pie; a bag of Fritos loaded with chili and all the fix-ins) back to the bleachers, and laboriously mouth-breathe along with the very athletes you’re spectating.

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