I interviewed Red Bull 400 race director Geoff Langford twice leading up to it.
On both occasions, he asked me if I was going to be giving the climb a go myself.
With a barely joking response of, "I'm going to need to be alive to write the story afterward," I declined the offer.
Still, it's not as though I entirely lack the fire of competitive spirit within me. So when I heard of a hot-dog eating contest, I expressed my interest immediately. Cockily, I touted myself as the Phil Kessel of the competition. I've read the NHL sniper has an affinity for tube steak.
I wasn't exactly sure how to go about my training regimen going in. As a long-term bachelor (I can think of precisely zero reasons for this, but I digress), I tend to eschew dining decorum for the vast majority of meals as it is, so my hands and jaw should be in good working order. My response to "it's not a race" has always been "uh, it's a race against lukewarm."
Leading up to the contest, I feared my lifetime of hard work might be compromised by a lingering case of the sniffles brought on by too little sleep at the Pemberton Music Festival. If I couldn't breathe through my nose, how would I effectively stuff my face without keeling over and dying? Fortunately, I dug up a container of nasal spray and took a snort up each nostril about 15 minutes before show time.
Hanging around the Zog's patio in Whistler Village after signing up, the first 10 competitors were beckoned to sit around a couple of plastic patio tables like a family sitting down to Sunday dinner and not like 10 hungry ruffians who would rip out one another's throats for a competitive advantage.
The 10 of us made a little bit of small talk, sipped and carefully refilled our water and tried to get a read on the competition. I knew a couple of participants had been lured in for the primary purpose of getting a free lunch — sure enough, one participant tapped out after just one dog.
The suspense was thick in the warm mountain air as some uncertainty swirled. Would we be dealing with an average-sized wiener or a furious beast? (They ended up being some fairly hefty Zog's dogs.) Would any of us have to tackle any unwanted condiments? (We didn't.)
Once everyone was set, the countdown from 10 began. Then 'Go!'. Our five minutes began.
My initial strategy was inspired by Red Bull 400 winner Brandon Crichton, who explained he took baby steps up the steep course and tried to keep his feet moving while everyone else tried to cover their ground in leaps and bounds. He would more than likely be appalled by how I bastardized this philosophy, but I figured keeping my jaw going was an efficient strategy.
I finished one dog this way and was somewhere in the middle of the pack.
I opted to change tack entirely, putting disgustingly large mouthfuls into my face and grinding down whatever was in there. Whether I was speeding up or others were slowing down, I knew I was making up ground.
As I neared the end of the meat line, my throat rumbled just a touch. I have a relatively good-sized stomach — it wouldn't be rebelling against me now. More than likely, it was actually some stray phlegm from my minor affliction that had slunk back from my nasal passages (normally, I'd apologize for this grossness, but you're hundreds of words into a first-person retelling of a hot-dog-eating contest, so...that's on you.) Each competitor had a bucket should it be required. I vowed not to use it and gulped back whatever was in my mouth.
By frank No. 3, I felt a little parched and opted to start incorporating the water. As I chewed, I threw back a little H20. The bun essentially dissolved. I knew about the dunking technique, but this felt like a true "Eureka!" moment. I powered through the sausage and was the first to demand a fourth. I made it just short of halfway before time was called and everybody exhaled.
A second contestant, Christopher Hultqvist, had advanced to his fourth as well. Every competitor received credit for half-a-dog for any in progress, so we officially tied for first at three-and-a-half.
I hung around to see if a second heat would be contested, and eventually, seven people threw their hats into the ring. One late entrant, Scott Jamieson, had been reluctantly roped in by some friends watching the proceedings. He came out like gangbusters, chowing down on his first in what looked like record time. After finishing a second by halftime, he was on pace for four and he could very well have been the outright champion.
Scott started to really slow down by his third and as the 30-second warning was given, he still had about a quarter of the way to go. As 10 seconds was announced, he stuffed the last bite into his mouth and received a fourth dog, taking the needed bite just in time to earn a technical tie with Christopher and myself.
The tiebreak rules were initially supposed to be settled by rock-paper-scissors, but it's difficult with three people. Ultimately, organizers opted to have us draw straws.
I drew the shortest one and officially placed third.
Maybe I should have eaten it.
For video highlights of the competition, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdPYJc3VhX0