Brian vs. Food

Sure, Kerith can run a half-marathon in under 1:45 and burn through 1,500 calories.

Shoot, anyone can do that. 

But it takes a real competitor – a man’s man - to ingest that many calories in the short time between dropping your wife at the starting line and picking her up at the finish.

And I am just that sort of man.

Last year at this time, Kerith ran the Napa-to-Sonoma half marathon.  My son and I left her at the starting gate and then sprinted off to Yountville to hit Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.  It was only after that feast, in a fit of extreme post binge self-loathing, that I started to wonder whether I’d managed to out-consume Kerith’s calorie burn from the race.

As I later calculated, I fell just short.  I estimated that my meal of a non-fat latte, croissant, blueberry muffin, and TKO cookie (an oreo cookie on steroids) totaled 1,388 calories and 58.2 grams of fat.  Not bad for a rookie, but not quite good enough to top Kerith’s 1,505 calorie run.

Disappointed in my performance, I took solace in the fact that I had launched into competition unprepared but now had an entire year to train for an epic rematch.

And my dejection was further tempered by the overwhelming response to my blogging about the showdown – it became our most popular post of the year (you can click here to read it).  And to this day, if you Google “bouchon bakery nutrition” my post ranks as the number one link.  Apparently I’m not the only one obsessed with Chef Keller’s heart-attack inducing pastries.

So, with defeat still fresh in my mind and the added pressure of knowing that our Bruliam Brigade was behind me in full force, we flash forward to this past Sunday…..


“Last year was just a warm-up”, I told myself driving down the 101 freeway en route to the Carneros drop-off point.  Kerith was in her head getting psyched for the race.  Our son was busy spotting tractors and pick-up trucks.  But I had much more serious concerns on my mind.  I knew I had to win.

My mantra for the day replayed in my head, “You’ve got this.  You can do it.  Be a man, for once in your life!!

I knew what I had to do.  It was simple math.  Kerith’s calorie burn would be about the same – 1,500 calories.  So, just one more TKO cookie would propel me over the line.  Today was my day.

I practically threw Kerith out of the car at Domaine Carneros, turned to our six-year old son, and with a most serious look said, “Let’s Roll.”  He gave a silent thumbs up in return.  We were two men on a mission.

We arrived at Bouchon at 6:53 am, 7 minutes before opening.  First in line.

By 7:10 I was ready to face this most difficult of tasks.  My son had his customary chocolate macaron with hot chocolate.  My line up was the same as last year’s with an additional TKO:

  • 1 croissant
  • 1 blueberry muffin
  • 2 TKO cookies
  • 1 non-fat latte

By my estimate: 1,788 calories and 75.7 grams of fat – all wrapped in flaky pastry flour, eggs, shortening, sugar, and butter.  Lots of butter.

Admiring my feast, I had to laugh.  This was so easy – I could do this in my sleep.  It would be a piece of cake (pun intended).

My game plan was to go out fast, eat hard, and plow through.  If I stopped to either enjoy the food or consider the absolute foulness of the endeavor, I knew I’d be lost. 

I went for the croissant first.  Four bites and 30 seconds later, it was gone.  Washed down with a slug of latte, I was on to TKO #1.

I broke the TKO and quickly downed half.  I tried with all of my might but couldn’t help but savor the rest – relishing every bite of chocolate sable dough and white chocolate ganache.  Oh god, it was good.  So good.  And then it was gone.  I stared down the muffin.

Muffins are a tricky business.  They look so unassuming.  But when you cut into them they’re dense, fruity, sugary, and very, very filling.  After the first couple of bites, I recoiled.

What was this I was feeling?  This strange sensation in my gut?  It couldn’t possibly be, could it?  Was I getting full? 

Hardly half-way through my challenge, I’d already hit the wall.  I slowed down and relied on the latte for lubrication.  I must have appeared visibly uncomfortable because my son was giving me a very odd look. 

But, I had to soldier on.  That’s what champions do.  I made it, barely, to the half way point of the muffin and had to take a break.  I got up and took a lap around Bouchon’s outdoor dining patio.  The other patrons, immersed in their Sunday newspapers, dogs, and saner breakfasts, were impervious to the epic battle raging just a few feet away.  They seemed annoyed as I circled their tables creepily.

I set myself back down and took stock of my situation.  Half a muffin, a TKO, and about a quarter of a latte left.  I called an audible and decided to move away from the muffin and on to the second TKO, figuring I could always force down that last half muffin.

It was one of the worst decisions of my life.

While the muffin was dense, the TKO was overwhelmingly rich and sugary.  The deliciousness of the first became defeating in the second.  My saliva glands kicked into overdrive, and I stared feeling queasy.  The cookie should have tasted like chocolate and dough and everything good.  But all I could taste was oncoming regurge.

I threw the remaining TKO back down in disgust.  In runner’s parlance, I’d already bonked.  I knew I wouldn’t make it.

“I can’t do it buddy,” I said to my son.  “That’s OK Daddy,” he replied.  But the look in his eyes told a different story.  In that one moment, it was clear that the myth of his father as immortal superhero had died.  Now, I was just some bald fat guy who had eaten way too much breakfast.

And sure, Kerith ran a great race, and we made it back in time to see her finish.  Our son even crossed the finish line with her and won his own medal.  Blah, blah, blah, blah.  Who cares!  I had failed.

During the drive home, I was distraught.  Not only had I fallen short of my goal but also I’d done worse than last year.  Maybe it was the pressure.  Maybe it was over-confidence.  Maybe it just wasn’t my day. 

Whatever the reason, the shame and despair from wildly overeating AND failing at a year long challenge was staggering.  I drove home in silence, gently nursing my crushed ego and my cramping stomach, totally deaf to Kerith and my son prattling on about how much fun they had running the end of the race together.

And when I got home, I did the only thing I could think of to make myself feel better.

I ate lunch.