This Saturday morning — come sunshine, snowstorm or torrent — 7,700 people will gather at the Memorial Belltower for the Krispy Kreme Challenge, a grueling, gut-busting five-mile footrace and smorgasbord.
Eight years ago, when a group of 11 friends gathered for the first challenge, they could hardly have imagined their lark would become a signature NC State tradition. But it has, drawing crowds and media attention from around the country.
The Challenge began in December 2004, when 2007 graduate Greg Mulholland and his friends decided to try something they’d been talking about for months: running from the Belltower to the Krispy Kreme store on Peace Street, wolfing down a dozen glazed doughnuts and running back to campus.
“Most of us finished, and we had a really good time doing it,” Mulholland, a Park Scholar, said, acknowledging that the run itself was “pretty miserable.”
A measure of good fortune contributed to the event’s speedy rise from weekend goof to campus tradition, Mulholland said. A friend photographed that first run and later submitted the photos and a description of the event to Sports Illustrated magazine. In October 2005, the Challenge appeared in SI On Campus’ list of “102 More Things You Gotta Do Before You Graduate.”
By 2008, Mulholland and his friends had reprised the Challenge twice and graduated, leaving behind an infrastructure to keep it alive. More than 3,000 people participated in 2008 race. Today, roughly 30 students plan and manage the event and participate in other charitable activities benefiting the North Carolina Children’s Hospital, the race’s beneficiary. Last year, race organizers turned over more than $100,000 to the hospital. Organizers expect a similar figure this year, according to Joshua Chapell, public relations chairman for the Krispy Kreme Challenge.
“The third and fourth years were the big turning point where it went from being a goofy thing college students do to something that people from all over the city come and do,” Mulholland said.
They come from all over the city, and beyond. This year’s participants include runners from as far away as Hawaii and Australia, Chappell said. A Park Scholar and sophomore chemical engineering major from Goldsboro, Chappell got involved with the Challenge out of fascination with the race itself and respect for the work of the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
“I think the cause that (the race) supports is a really great cause,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to know that I’m spending time on something that provides such a large benefit to such a great cause.”
Netting six figures for a local hospital and drawing racers from across the country, the Challenge has come a long way since 11 undergrads needed something crazy to do on a chilly Saturday morning.
“I couldn’t be more proud of where the event has gone,” Mulholland said. “It’s really become one of the unique ways that Raleigh and the university interact in a really positive way.”