The concept was pretty simple, and potentially disgusting: Run a marathon, 26.2 miles, around New York City, and eat five slices of pizza—one slice approximately every five miles.
You might think this sounds like a terrible idea, and you’d probably be correct. Most sensible people don’t like running long distances. Most sensible people who like pizza find it way more enjoyable if they don’t have to run five miles while trying to digest it. Most sensible people wouldn’t risk gastrointestinal distress in America’s largest, and busiest, city, whose scarcity of public restrooms is so well-known that there are multiple websites and apps dedicated to finding places to pee. Obviously we are not sensible people. We are idiots.
We met in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon: swashbuckling adventure photographer Forest Woodward, filmmaker Sanjay Rawal (whose film 3100: Run and Become is touring the U.S. now), and myself. Forest and I have both finished several ultramarathons, and Sanjay has run the Sri Chinmoy Six-Day Race, covering 240 miles. I’m not saying we’re elite runners or anything; we just know how to stop and eat.
At the 1.5 mile mark in Brooklyn, we passed Junior’s, and you know, the cheesecake is pretty legendary there, so we stopped and got a slice to split. And then ran across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Tribeca, where we grabbed our first slice at Dona Bella Pizza at Mile 4.0, ate it on the sidewalk outside, and then ran west to the Hudson River Greenway, a great place to avoid rush hour traffic for several miles. After 2 1/2 miles of bike path along the Hudson, we ducked back into the Theater District to get a coffee, take an emergency bathroom stop, and run through Times Square and then pick up our friend Carl at Columbus Circle.
We hadn’t set out to link up the “best” five slices in New York—that would have been a lot of planning and logistics (I considered using this Eater article). Easier plan: Run five miles, look around for a pizza spot, eat a slice. We figured we’d probably never be further than four or five blocks from a pizza joint the entire run, except when crossing bridges. Fortuitously, our route took us right past La Traviata at mile 10.9, a favorite dive my friend Syd introduced me to a few years ago. I was afraid I’d be unable to resist the eggplant slice, despite all my prior knowledge of running and digestion telling me eating a fifth of an eggplant was a bad idea. I was right.
In a pizza marathon, we learned, you cannot realistically expect to enjoy every slice of pizza. At best, you will like the taste of the first one, and maybe the second one. The third one, from Sliced by Harlem Pizza Co. near Columbia University at mile 15.8, really deserved a better audience than us. We took our third slices down with the enthusiasm of a pouting 4-year-old being held hostage at the dinner table by a plate of asparagus. Carl, a slice and 10 miles behind the rest of us, may have enjoyed the first bites of his—although our slices were a bit more spaced out than his.
We trudged south through Central Park, mostly still clocking sub-10-minute miles and also not shitting our pants, both proud achievements. We turned left out of the park at mile 20 and headed down 59th Street toward John & Tony’s Pizza just before the Queensboro bridge. Sanjay opted for the no-cheese Sicilian slice, which we all agreed was probably a good idea. I let my cheese slice sit on the table for probably four minutes before I worked up the courage to pick it up and put it in my mouth.
We ran across the Queensboro Bridge in the dark, with cars zooming by in both directions. My right foot hurt, so did my right IT band, and I looked down at the apartment buildings on Roosevelt Island, their warm lamp light and television screens, probably all filled with people who were doing a better job relaxing than us. Our Friday night was contrived, foolish, and objectively pretty uncomfortable for many reasons, and there’s a long list of more normal things we could be doing with our time (with a lot less sweating and chafing). But I’ve always had more fun dreaming up things to do, making my own fun instead of waiting for something fun to be happening where I am. This, I would like to think, is the same spirit behind every adventure film festival, every new bikepacking route, and every original climbing linkup. I say even if you can’t climb three classic 5.10 alpine routes in Rocky Mountain National Park in a day (I can’t), you might be able to, for example, bicycle 25 miles between the three best taco joints where you live, or hike to the summit of two peaks in a day. You may have heard of the New York City Marathon—it’s kind of a big deal. I’ve tried to sign up three different times and never gotten in. So we made our own.
At mile 26.7 (on Forest’s Strava; mine said 25.3), after 5 hours and 51 minutes (including sitting down to eat all the slices), we trudged into Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint, the only other must-eat-spot on our itinerary, and I performed the chewing equivalent of running a 45-minute mile. It was unfair to the legendary Paulie Gee’s to eat there when we were so full of, and grossed out by, pizza. But I could tell it was good, in the way you might know a Bentley drives really nice even if you’re just sitting in it without starting the engine.
NOTE: According to Strava, I burned 4,000 calories on our run. According to estimates of the calorie content of a typical plain New York slice (482 calories), I probably ate 2,500 calories, not including the fried eggplant on my Traviata slice. So it was still a net loss. If you’re really interested in how many pizza slices you can eat per mile of running, I went to the trouble of calculating that a while back and you can read about it here.