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Running: Mighty Mile feeds on athletes’ appetite for adventure

On Thursday, more than 14,000 runners took part in a 117-year tradition by running in the Turkey Trot in Buffalo.

On Friday, more than 40 runners took part in a four-year tradition by running in the “Mighty Mile” in Orchard Park.

The latter has some catching up to do. Still, the unique combination of fast running and fast eating is starting to claim a small niche on the Thanksgiving weekend calendar.

“There’s no other race like this, combining [eating] tacos and a mile run,” said competitor Bob Duggan, who loves tacos. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

A handful of races around the country mix running with such activities as eating doughnuts or drinking beer. Mike Selig deserves the credit for coming up with bringing such an event here.

“In 2009, I was living in Denver,” he said. “It was the second year of a fast-food challenge race that I’d organized with some guys I ran with. That was five meals in 2½ miles. When I was home for Thanksgiving, we got the idea to do something here and keep it simple. Pete Holowka came up with the idea of ‘The Mighty Mile.’ I think there were 12 people in the race.”

In 2010, the race had 25 starters, and grew to 39 a year later thanks in part to a Facebook page. Selig isn’t worried about having a Trot-sized turnout, since the number of people who are willing to eat tacos and run is relatively limited.

The 46 competitors started to gather at noon at the casino in Chestnut Ridge Park. Some brought along friends and family, some brought a change of clothes, but all brought four tacos purchased from a Mighty Taco. The runners picked up bib numbers, signed a waiver, and lined up their tacos with precision on a table.

After an explanation of the rules from Selig at 12:35 p.m., the runners were given the signal to start … and sprinted to a table to eat one of their tacos.

Then the competitors headed for the exit door, where they were examined by the two “mouth checkers” wearing rubber gloves to make sure that the tacos were fully consumed. The runners left the building and ran a quarter-mile lap around the parking lot, and returned to the casino for another taco and quarter-mile run. To put it in shampoo-like terms: eat, run, repeat.

There is one catch to the simple format, in that digestive issues are severely penalized. Any runner who vomits must run an extra lap. Usually only one runner a year does that, and he pays a heavy price in terms of trash talking from his fellow competitors. Luckily for all concerned, Friday’s running didn’t feature any such outbursts.

David Jasinski was the leader after the first couple of laps, but Joe Whelan of Hamburg was well positioned to take charge.

“It was between taco two and three that I made up ground,” Whelan said. “The running was easy for me.”

That gave him the lead for good. He finished the race in eight minutes and seven seconds, breaking the course record by an astonishing 31 seconds on a warm and windy late fall day.

“I went with the strategy of the hard-shell taco,” Whelan said. “I used the water, too. The guy I came with, Ryan Poley, told me in the car to make sure I had some water with the tacos so they’d go down easier. It worked out.”

“That might be a new strategy,” Selig said. “Some people might think that [a hard shell] would be tougher, but apparently not.”

Poley finished second, while Jasinski was third. Whelan, a Hamburg resident who runs at Syracuse University, hasn’t missed a Mighty Mile. That’s not to say that he “trained” for the event.

“It’s the offseason for running,” he said. “I just finished the collegiate season. We take everything seriously then, so it’s fun to do a race like this.”

Whelan beat a good field, some of whom had done well in the Turkey Trot the day before. The top 10 featured such familiar local runners as Todd Witlezben, Duggan and Jesse Mang. Their reward was a specially made Mighty Mile T-shirt.

The Mighty Mile had its first female runner last year, and a few more turned out for the 2012 running. Caitlin Curry of Amherst captured a pink T-shirt for her efforts.

“It looked like an interesting event, so I gave it a shot,” said Curry, who runs at the University at Buffalo. “I have not eaten at Mighty Taco in about three years, so it was a unique experience. But I run all the time, so I was prepared in that sense but not for the tacos.”

After the brief ceremony, all of the runners headed home … and many shared a sentiment with Curry as they left.

“I’m not going to want to eat tacos for a long time,” she said.

Race calendar

• Reindeer Run 5K, Medaille College in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday, 880-2130.

• Holly Jolly 5K, 4050 N. Buffalo St. in Orchard Park, 12 noon on Saturday, 830-6713.

• Snowball Run, 5K, 4110 Bailey Ave. in Amherst, 10 a.m. on Dec. 8, 440-7507.

• Habitat for Humanity Christmas 4-Mile Run, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center in Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. on Dec. 8, 285-2877.