Doctor’s orders to exercise on an empty stomach are not for the strong-bellied runners of the D.C. Half and Half Marathon, which requires the consumption of a complete meal before getting to the finish line. Held annually in November, the 13.1-mile half marathon includes a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl at the 6.55-mile mark. Runners are given a basket of half-smoke and chips, and must finish their meal and show volunteers their empty plate before being allowed to complete the remaining trail.
A half-smoke, which is thought to have originated in D.C., is a spicy sausage that is usually served inside a hot dog bun, topped with chili and condiments. Nobody can agree on the origin of the name, which could refer to the half-beef/half-pork meat composition, or the fact that the sausage is partly smoked and partly grilled, or even that it’s slit in the middle before cooking.
Brothers Pete and Chris Magnuson had the idea for the Half and Half Marathon after competing in the Krispy Kreme Challenge in North Carolina, which requires the consumption of a dozen doughnuts halfway through a 5-mile run that needs to be completed within an hour. The Magnusons did a test run in 2010, realized how hard it is to combine eating a saucy sausage with running a sweaty marathon, and decided to make this an annual tradition anyway.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, a local institution that’s famous for its half-smokes, has been sponsoring the marathon since 2011. The route is designed so the halfway point is the restaurant’s U Street location. Here, participants stop for their half-smoke and chips before turning around and retracing their steps for the remaining 6.55 miles. If you don’t finish your half-smoke (topped with chili, mustard, and onions) and chips, no more marathon for you. (This rule is open to negotiation.) Proceeds from the race go to ScholarCHIPS, a local nonprofit that provides college scholarships for the children of incarcerated parents.
Almost 150 runners participate every year in this fun run, and some even do it dressed as half-smokes.
Where to Try It
Ben's Chili Bowl Website1213 U Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009, United States
The original location of the now-iconic D.C. chain serves as the midway point in the race, where all runners must down a full half-smoke and chips.