Five races that take food beyond fuel

Forget bananas and Gatorade. Now you can power your runs with doughnuts, pizza and chocolate truffles, thanks to a new batch of kind of weird but worth-the-fun food races. We're talking competitive eating and fuel stations that look more like a candy store or wine bar than a quick-fix pit stop.

"Although it sounds crazy, a few of these foods and drinks actually possess performance-boosting benefits," said Sharon Richter, R.D., a nutritionist in New York City. Find out if you've got the guts to compete. Consider signing up for one of these five athletic feats -- or feasts, as the case may be. And bring some Tums.

Krispy Kreme Challenge (Raleigh, N.C.; krispykremechallenge.com)

After running two miles, participants scarf down a dozen glazed doughnuts, then dash back to the start. "I stopped at three doughnuts," said challenge-taker Kimberly Muhlheim, 32, an elementary school art teacher in Atlanta. "The experience was so gross, but also so awesome that my friends and I are making it an annual tradition. Next year, we want to go all out and dress up in costumes."

Fuel factor: The pastry provides a hit of energy, but if you do choke down all 12 doughnuts, you'll have to run for nearly four hours to burn off those 2,400 calories. But honestly, who's going to eat a dozen doughnuts? It's one day a year: get out there and have a gluttonously good time.

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Runners must stop at three checkpoints to inhale a slice of pizza during the 2.25-mile New York City Pizza Run.

Yuengling Shamrock Marathon and Half-Marathon (Virginia Beach, Va.; shamrockmarathon.com)

Wash down your energy gel with a gulp of lager (made in America's oldest brewery) at one of the unofficial stops on the course. After you cross the finish line, hit the beer tent and raise a mug to those hard-won marathon miles.

Fuel factor: Beer contains B vitamins, which the body uses to repair cells and muscles. According to a 2006 study in the "International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism," athletes who don't get enough of these nutrients take longer to recover from workouts than those who do. "But remember that alcohol can make you dehydrated," Richter said. "So swig water or a sports replacement drink, too."

New York City Pizza Run (New York, N.Y.; nycpizzarun.com)

To complete this 2.25-mile race, runners must stop at three checkpoints to inhale a slice of pizza. "There were faster sprinters, but I'm a serious eater," said Nina Panda, 27, a Berlin, Germany-based accountant who won last year's competition in 21 minutes, 15 seconds. "There were crusts flying and people were laughing hysterically," Panda said. "It was such an only-in-New York moment."

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The Chocolate Race in Canada features dipping fountains at its fuel stations, plus chocolate milk at the finish.

Fuel factor: "Pizza is a good option for carbo-loading the day beforehand," said Richter. But the fat in cheese takes longer for your body to digest than carbs, so your tummy might have something to say about that. No biggie -- it's a short race, so any ill effects are gone by the time you're snapping post-race pics with your running mates.

The Chocolate Race (Port Dalhousie, Canada; thechocolaterace.com)

It takes a kid in a candy store to the next level: This 5k, 10k or 10-miler features dipping fountains at its fuel stations, plus chocolate milk at the finish. If that doesn't satisfy your cravings, there's a post-race festival with truffles, cookies and other cocoa-based treats.

Fuel factor: A 2006 study from the University of Connecticut found that chocolate milk helps the body rebuild and repair muscles after exercise. "The carb-to-protein ratio -- 4 to 1 -- makes it the ideal recovery drink," Richter said. Hard to complain about any of that.

Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon (Healdsburg, Calif.; runheadlsburg.com)

In the heart of wine country, this course takes you past picture-perfect vineyards. You'll get to sample a Sauvignon blanc or rose at mile six, then partake in a tasting of 16 wines once you're done with the run.

Fuel factor: Reach for the Merlot or Malbec: Preliminary research suggests that resveratrol, a nutrient found in red wine, can improve your endurance. Cheers to that!

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