By Madeleine Jane Cummings
Pizza's always been Jason Feirman's favorite food. But every year he finds a way to combine his love for pizza with another passion ? running.
"A couple years ago I had the crazy idea of putting on some sort of pizza event," he said. So he designed a running race, drew up a 2.25-mile loop around Tompkins Square Park and asked a pizzeria, Pizza by Certé, to supply the mid-race snack.
"I thought I'd be lucky if like 10, 20 people showed up," he said. "We opened 60 spots the first year and it sold out in 48 hours. Now we're going four years strong, and it's sold out every year. People seem to really love it."
Saturday's race attracted a young crowd of racers, the most enthusiastic of whom came dressed as pizza slices and other foods.
Participants must scarf a slice of cheese pizza after each lap of the park they complete. They can run while chewing, but must have put all pizza in their mouths before leaving each checkpoint.
Michelle Cooper, official timekeeper, said that while running speed is crucial, it's often the fastest eaters who take the lead. "I think you have to be a competitive eater and a pretty competitive runner to win," she said.
Kamen Yotov and Miriam Wisekind took the men's and women's titles handedly. Both squirted water between bites to aid the pizza's path down their throats ? a strategy not all knew to take advantage of.
This is the third year straight Wisekind has won the women's title, testament, she said, to a smart strategy and weekly pizza-eating practice.
"I eat lot of pizza each week because I'm a pizza tour guide for Scott's Tours," she said.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's also a competitive triathlete and trail runner either.
But it's Edward Sylvia, who owns Pizza by Certé and participates in the race each year, who might have the real competitive edge. When he's making the pizzas for the race, he gets to decide everything from pie size to crust composition.
"Last year I didn't feel so strong on my running capability, but my eating capability was strong so I made the pizzas bigger," he said. "This year I felt better about my running capability so I made the pizza lighter."
Feirman said the race takes a lot of work to organize and he doesn't have plans as of yet to bring it to other locations. But he is running a similar event in October, only with cupcakes instead of pizza.
A portion of proceeds from the race will go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.