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Sixth Annual Burrito Mile Draws Tough Competitors for Leukemia Cause

Student runners defy wind advisory and race for charity on full stomachs.

For at least a dozen young runners, it was not enough to face wind gusts of nearly 40 miles per hour, stomachs laden with 23-ounce burritos, a competition fee of $15 and four fast laps on a 40-degree Saturday morning. They had to do it shirtless.

The sixth annual Burrito Mile fundraiser was organized by students at Walter Johnson High School for Pennies for Patients, a program that benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The event drew roughly 200 students to Tilden Middle School’s track off Old Georgetown Road on Saturday. The competitors, many of whom run track for schools throughout the area, had to add a new element to their game: burrito-scarfing techniques.

Tariq Beidleman, 17, a senior at Poolesville High School, warmed up for his second Burrito Mile wrapped in a big brown blanket. He was naked from the waist up but for a white and orange Hawaiian lei, a garland of flowers. A wind advisory and a few flurries whipped through the D.C. region, the Capital Weather Gang reported, and while the mercury read 40 degrees, it felt like 30. Beidleman finished last year without vomiting. This year, he hoped he would.

"It shows that you really worked hard and you earned it," he said.

The rules are simple: wolf down a Qdoba Mexican Grill burrito in the designated eating area, swallow completely, show your mouth and run a mile faster than everyone else.

“We actually get more people from schools other than from Walter Johnson just because it appeals more to runners,” said Joshua Ellis, 17, the Burrito Mile head organizer and a track runner himself. “Not only is it really competitive but everyone gets really into it.”

Luke Kastel, 16, from Linganore High School in Frederick, Md., completed the mile in about 9 minutes, 45 seconds but could not keep the burrito down. Standing over its remains, he said: "I threw up for charity."  

This was Kastel's first Burrito Mile, and he ran two of the four events: the freshman/sophomore mile and the 4-by-800 meter burrito relay. His burrito time was about four minutes and he offered some eating advice:

"Don't be intimidated. Just try to get through the first half as fast as you can and once you're at the end, just shove it down.”

In the 800, four-member teams use a burrito as a baton but when they pass it off, the next runner must eat it before he or she can sprint the next leg. Runners are not disqualified if they vomit, according to Ellis, but it is discouraged in the eating area.

The competition extended to creative costumes and the runners did not disappoint. There was a jogging Whoopee Cushion, an alligator, Batman, Incredible Hulk, and bright-colored face paint, hats, knee socks, T-shirts and track shoes.

"We were having some trouble thinking of a theme for this year so some of the guys thought that we should be ironic and act like it's a nice hot day out," said Beidleman of his Caribbean island wear and track shoes.

While the runners registered and warmed up, regional managers from Qdoba Mexican Grill unloaded 300 chicken, steak and veggie burritos wrapped "to go" in foil and a Qdoba sticker. 

"We're so proud to be part of the Burrito Mile every year," said Marco Lopez, 40, one of the restaurant’s regional managers. Even though vomit is a large part of the event, he doesn't consider it bad marketing.

"They enjoy the burrito but after they run a whole mile, they know they're going to throw up,” Lopez said. “They do it to have fun."

Some competitors had stomachs of steel. Matthew Morris, 16, a sophomore at Walter Johnson High School, clocked the fastest time of the day at 7:38. Immediately after the race he vacillated between feeling fine and terrible but did not throw up. 

"I was third last year so this is a good improvement for me," Morris said.

Like Morris, 17-year-old Johnny Franceski also improved his time. The Winston Churchill High School student won the junior/senior/open race with a 7:44 finish. 

"It's pretty tough out there once you run a mile,” he said out of breath. “You just go: big bite, chew, water--I try to use gravity to my advantage." His burrito time was about 1:56, he said.

This was the first Burrito Mile for Elka Lee-Shapiro, 15, from Richard Montgomery High School where she runs track. Her time was about 13:25, she said.

"Eating was the worst part,” she said. “It was gross. I think because the guys were puking everywhere." She timed herself eating a burrito last weekend so she was somewhat prepared.

The Elite Mile is designed for the tough track stars with five-minute mile times (on an empty stomach), Ellis explained. They had to swallow the burrito in less than four minutes or they could not move to the track. Out of the five who competed, Jamie Ertel, a 17-year-old from Thomas S. Wootton High School claimed the title.

 "I didn't actually taste it too much," Ertel said of the chicken burrito he consumed in about two minutes. "I was hungry but was using a lot of water to swallow it."

This is the second and final year Ellis will take the leadership role for the event because next year he will be at college, he said. He hopes to pass the role to co-organizer Benjamin Crites. Along with student James Sauro, the three spent six months and roughly 100 hours planning this year’s event. 

Walter Johnson High School is one of the top fundraisers for Pennies for Patients, according to Shelby Gosnell, campaign coordinator for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The funds go toward finding cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma. Last year, the school ranked third nationally, raising almost $39,000, she said.

“They have a personal connection at Walter Johnson,” Gosnell said. “One of the students who was instrumental in getting them involved in the program passed away a couple years ago in a car accident.” 

That student, Holt Weeks, started a program at Walter Johnson as a junior to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Weeks graduated in 2007. He and his brother Stone were killed in a 2009 car crash, and a memorial foundation formed in their honor continues work to benefit the group, according to Walter Johnson's Pennies for Patients site.

The Burrito Mile is just one of the many events on the school’s February fundraising agenda. The list on its website includes a Futsal tournament, speed dating, a freestyle battle, glow shirt painting party, staff battle (the teacher who receives the most donations must don a Teletubbies costume) and “Stuck for a Buck Days,” where students tape a teacher to the wall.

Last year the Burrito Mile brought in a net total of about $1,600, Ellis said. This year they raised the admission fee and ordered fewer T-shirts and burritos to cut overhead costs with the goal of $2,000. On Sunday, Ellis posted the final tally on the event’s Facebook page: $2,500 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“We still have a heck of a lot left,” Ellis said of the burritos even though the turnout was roughly the same as last year. “I guess that’s dinner for the next week or so.”

As to why the event was held at the middle school down the road and not on home turf, Ellis confided: “Because we have a brand new track. We don’t want to get it dirty.”

The winners are:

•    Freshman/Sophomore Mile: Matthew Morris, 16, Walter Johnson High School, 7:38

•    Junior/Senior/Open Mile: Johnny Franceski, 17, Winston Churchill High School, 7:44

•    Elite Mile: Jamie Ertel, 17, Thomas S. Wootton High School, 7:43; second place: Patrick DuBoyce, Linganore High School, 7:52
   

•    4-by-800 Meter Burrito Relay: (men) team "Slippery Phil," Reservoir High School, 18:29; (women) team “BCC Girls,” Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 21:00

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