Call it a doughnut showdown.
On Nov. 13, speed-eating endurance athlete Yasir Salem of New York City will face off, along with other hungry biking enthusiasts, against Austin ultra-cyclist Andrew Willis at an underground, unadvertised event that combines bike riding and doughnut eating.
Doughnut-eating bike races are actually a thing, it turns out. They started in Illinois nearly 30 years ago as a spoof of the Tour de France. Cyclists race through a course, stopping along the way to eat as many doughnuts as they can. For each one they down, a few minutes are subtracted from their finish time. The end result is called the “doughnut-adjusted time.”
Salem, who doesn’t particularly like doughnuts, excels at eating. He’s the defending champion of half a dozen races across the country that combine doughnut eating and bike racing, and once ate 56 doughnuts during a 30-mile race. A former cannoli-eating champion, he’s ranked ninth on a list of competitive eaters compiled by the governing body of that sport, Major League Eating.
He’s got style when it comes to tossing back doughnuts, too. He grabs half a dozen or more at a time, stacks them high, then smashes them into a cheeseburger-sized mass, which he shoves into his mouth. Then he jumps onto his bicycle and pedals away.
Willis, who loves doughnuts, excels more on the bike-racing side of things. The head of the Driveway Series of bike races in Austin, he won the 400-mile RAAM Texas Cycling Challenge in March, completed the grueling 900-mile Race Across the West in June, and wrapped up with a win at the 500-mile Tejas 500 in Glen Rose in September.
“A doughnut race seems like a great transition into the offseason,” he says.
The two met this spring at a bike race in Marble Falls. Willis won; Salem didn’t finish. But Salem can almost taste his revenge now.
The Austin race will include stops at Krispy Kreme, Shipley’s Do-Nuts and Dunkin’ Donuts. Race organizer Fred Huang says while some folks arrive for a leisurely ride, others are clearly out to win.
“We’ve had people show up with arrow helmets, Kona (Ironman Triathlon) qualifiers, and one woman who didn’t want to eat any doughnuts,” Huang says. “We’ve had others on mountain bikes with tennis shoes and tube socks.”
The doughnut eaters, he says, always do better in the standings than the pure cyclists. “I don’t care how good of a rider you are, if you can’t put down a lot of doughnuts, that’s basically it,” he says.
Salem, the marketing director for Business Insider, an online magazine, got into competitive eating a few years ago, about the same time he started competing in Ironman triathlons and bike races.
“Along the way, those two worlds collided. I like biking, that’s one of my top hobbies, but I’m into competitive eating,” he says, adding that he’s a healthy eater when he’s not competing. “I only do the doughnuts because that’s what the race offers. If they had bananas or oranges I’d prefer that, but that’s just what it is.”
Willis, on the other hand, loves doughnuts. A lot.
“I know there’s Gourdough’s and Mrs. Johnson’s, but I like Shipley Do-Nuts,” he says. “I get the apple fritter. It’s huge, it’s disgusting and I feel sick for hours after eating it, yet every time I go in there I’m powerless.”
Willis says he’s hoping to come within (long-shot) range of what Salem can eat, which will likely surpass four dozen doughnuts.
“I’d just like to go the distance with him, doughnut for doughnut, mile for mile. Nobody has ever done that. Yasir is the Apollo Creed of the doughnut-eating world, and while I’m not Italian, I do consider myself a stallion of sorts,” Willis says.
Even Salem is unsure how the Austin race will go down, because some of the doughnuts featured here — Shipley’s Do-Nuts and Dunkin’ Donuts — will be denser than what he’s used to.
“That’ll affect my total, because the Krispy Kreme doughnuts are smaller, lighter and full of air,” he says. “These are slightly heavier.”
You can bet Salem is preparing for the showdown. Several times during the week before the race he’ll slurp a gallon of water in 40 seconds to get his body used to the feeling of being extremely full.
“I don’t train with doughnuts, there’s no need to do that,” he says. “But water is good cross-training simulation.”
The day before the race, he’ll avoid meat and dairy and eat steamed vegetables and salad. Race morning, he’ll drink a strong cup of coffee and eat a banana, because even though he needs to reserve space in his stomach, he needs fuel for the race.
When the race starts, he’ll down as many doughnuts as he can — three dozen, he hopes — at the first stop. He’ll eat fewer at the second stop, and anything he can get down at the third station he’ll consider bonus.
Under Tour de Donut rules, the pastries must stay digested — or, as the rules state, “You barf, you’re out.” Cyclists get extra time bonuses for the cake and jelly doughnuts available at Dunkin’ Donuts.
The key, Salem says, is to drink a little, but not too much, room-temperature water as you gobble the doughnuts. It’s all big fun, although the whole experience can cause some digestive stress.
“Honestly, I do feel really bad afterward,” Salem says. “That’s part of it. But 24 hours later the bloating goes down and I want to eat again.”