Nathan dominitz_ runners put the 'nuts' in doughnuts _ savannahnow. com

There are more strenuous races out there, ultra marathons with intimidating names like “Delirium” and “Badwater.”

But for a 5-miler on a Friday afternoon in Savannah, there was truth in advertising. The first Baker’s Pride 8K Challenge was indeed a challenge for runners.

“I think they’re silly,” said Baker’s Pride Bakery co-owner Trisha Lang, who loved the race’s format. “It was a goofy idea, pretty crazy.”

The idea was to run the first half

of the 8K from Daffin Park to Lang’s shop and eat six glazed doughnuts, then run back.

“The mileage wasn’t a big deal, but throw some doughnuts in there,” said Richmond Hill’s Tara Baraniak, 39, one of 18 locals to accept the challenge. “You don’t think six doughnuts is a lot.”

You’d think wrong. These are Baker’s Pride doughnuts, all fresh, soft and sugary sweet with some heft to them. Race co-director Dan Pavlin wanted to set the bar at eight doughnuts to match 8K, but reconsidered.

“They’re just too big and luscious,” he said before Friday’s race. “We just wanted to try it out and see what it’s like. We weren’t trying to do anything too crazy. It’s a big deal in other places so we thought it would be fun.”

The race was inspired by the Krispy Kreme Challenge, which started 11 years ago by 10 friends at North Carolina State and has grown into a major, nationally known race (8,000-plus runners in February) and charity fundraiser. The challenge there is 12 doughnuts over 5 miles in one hour. Here, race co-director Matt Roach of Pooler believes Baker’s Pride has bigger and “better” doughnuts, but the intake works out about the same of 2,400 to 3,000 calories.

“Don’t think you’re going to break even,” Roach, 35, told fellow runners before the start at Bee Road by Grayson Stadium.

Roach also told them why he and his brother Michael, 37, were running. Years ago, their father, Steve Roach, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six months to live. Steve loved Baker’s Pride doughnuts, and in his final year and a half, he usually had a box or three around the house.

“We feel like they had the Steve Roach spike in sales,” Matt quipped Friday. “He was a blueberry fritters guy.”

The two brothers wore matching T-shirts with the phrase “BE HAPPY” in capital letters on the front, a roach insect on a shirtsleeve and, on the back, a photo imprinted of Steve making a funny face with his tongue sticking out.

“As we would leave the house after seeing him, he’d tell us to be happy and just live life,” Matt said of his father, who died about three years ago. “We try to live our lives by that motto. His other saying was “eat dessert first.”

As in, leave room for the sweeter things in life, even if you have to make it a priority.

Pavlin, a regular running partner with Roach, has helped create some of the more unique races in the Savannah area, including one with an entry fee of 10 jars of peanut butter and jelly to donate to a food bank. He’s also been behind color runs, mud runs and “The Great Escape” obstacle run with racers chased like in the movie of the same name.

“Running is about, and Matt’s dad was all about, being happy and enjoying life,” said Pavlin, 33, of Richmond Hill. “We want people to be healthy. We want them to enjoy life. The racing community is not only a great way to raise money for local charities but to have fun and live well. So it’s a great combination.”

Not knowing how many runners would come out at lunchtime on a workday, they ordered 15 dozen doughnuts to be safe. Baker’s Pride donated half as well as gift certificates and other prizes. Pavlin and Roach covered the rest, including water, and did not charge any fees. The doughnuts were fee.

“How about coffee?” someone asked before the race.

“You’ll have to pay for coffee,” Pavlin responded.

The runners started off, with Pavlin, one of the faster runners, pushing his friend Dustin Meeks, who has a rare genetic disorder and mobility difficulties, in a racing chair.

Hitting the wall

Seasoned runners Todd Smiley, 50, and Matt Roach came through the door 1-2 at Baker’s Pride on DeRenne Avenue. Baraniak was the first female. Others soon followed, with audible reactions such as “oh my” when they saw a table full of hot doughnuts.

It was the healthiest single group in Baker’s Pride history, and perhaps the sweatiest. But they had great difficult hitting the mark. Smiley scarfed down six in about eight minutes, and Matt Roach had his sugar fix in 10:40. Of the other 16 runners, however, only Michael Roach joined the six-doughnut club as all runners completed the course.

“In triathlon-speak, I beat them in transition,” said Smiley, who went on to become the race’s first champion, finishing in about 47 minutes total. “I couldn’t figure out why I was doing this, actually. But Matt and his brother love their dad so much, I thought it’s as good enough reason to race as any. I love my dad. I race for him.”

Pavlin admitted he got through 5 1/2 doughnuts before the last piece fell on the ground on the way back. He also had to fight off nausea.

“I have no desire to eat six doughnuts while running five miles ever again,” said Pavlin, who still had a great time. “We laughed the whole time from start to finish. … Everybody had a good time. It was first class all the way.”

Matt Roach also felt the effects of his doughnut lunch on the return leg but recovered without incident. Good thing, as he and his wife Amanda were celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary Friday night with a fancy dinner at a downtown restaurant.

“We’ll see about dessert,” he said.

Nathan Dominitz is a sports reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at 912-652-0350 or nathan. dominitz@savannahnow. com. Follow him on Twitter