I caught up with Andy & Brian Smith, race directors for the annual Jog ‘n Hog 4-mile pepperoni ball race. Andy & Brian are brothers who grew up in Erie and now live outside of Philadelphia, but come home each summer to put on the Jog ‘n Hog. This year’s race is scheduled for June 15 at Presque Isle State Park.
Briefly explain the concept of a Jog ‘n Hog.
It’s pretty basic. It’s an out-and-back course where you run two miles, stop and eat a large quantity of food and then run two miles back. In each city where we hold a Jog ‘n Hog, we choose a food that is unique to that area. Hence, pepperoni balls in Erie.
What is your tie to Stanganelli’s?
We have no tie to them actually. We approached one of the owners last year, Tommy Spagel, to see if he was interested in partnering with us on the race and we knew right away that he was our guy.
What did Tommy say when you explained the Jog ‘n Hog?
Like most people, he looked a little confused by the whole concept. But he’s a runner and he pretty quickly saw how fun the race could be. It only took him a few minutes to get onboard.
Why did you create this race?
We’re always looking for ways to challenge ourselves and doing the “same old, same old” road races is boring. On a lark, we drove down to Raleigh, NC, three years ago to do the Krispy Kreme Challenge – run 2 miles, eat a dozen glazed donuts, run two miles back. There were 7,000 other crazy people doing it and we had a great time. That’s what gave us the idea for Jog ‘n Hog.
Did you both “meet the challenge” in Raleigh?
Sadly, no. One of us ate 8 ½ donuts and the other ate 10 ½. It was a lot harder than we thought it would be. And the run back was pretty slow.
Are you both runners?
We do run, but we say that we’re more “Hoggers” than “Joggers” at heart.
Other than the eating, what else sets the Erie Jog ‘n Hog apart?
We’ve added a bunch of new elements to this year’s race. We now have two divisions – Whole Hoggers eat 6 pepperoni balls and Half Hoggers eat 3. We thought that would open the race up to people who were a little apprehensive about attempting 6 balls. We also gave people the ability to form teams this year and get discounts if they have 10 or more people on a team. That has been very popular, and some of the team names people have come up with are great.
Some of the better ones are the Pepperoni Princesses, Ordine Reale della Pepperoni (Royal Order of the Pepperoni Ball), The Happy Hoggers, Running with Scissors, Jog of Shame, Pork Bellies, Team Porkins, and Gettin’ Piggy With It.
Who is your average Jog ‘n Hogger?
Really anyone who wants to do something a little off the wall. We have serious runners who do it and every-so-often-runners who do it. We originally thought that our audience would be college-age kids and people in their 20s. But we’ve found that a lot of our runners are in their 30s and 40s.
Why do you think that’s so?
Most people lead pretty predictable lives, and it’s easy to get in a rut. A Jog ‘n Hog is something completely wacky to do. Plus, it’s something you can really brag about on Facebook.
Last year’s race was the first one, right?
Yes, last year was our first race in Erie. In fact, the Erie race was our first one ever.
I have to ask the question…did anyone puke?
We ran three races in 2012 – Erie, Philadelphia and Nashville – and we only had one person “lose it.” It’s one of the biggest misconceptions about our race – that it’s a vomitfest. It’s actually not…most people are smart enough to know when to stop eating.
Registrations for this year have already passed your total number of runners last year, right? To what do you attribute that success?
Like anything, it takes a few years to get the word out there and establish a reputation. We think people heard about how fun the race was last year and decided they didn’t want to miss it this year.
Do you see the race continuing to grow in the future?
Definitely. We think it will become a unique Erie tradition that will draw people not only from this area but from all over. Last year, we had runners from seven states run the race. Most were originally from Erie but we foresee a time where people come here just to do the race, even if they have no connection to Erie.
Are the pepperoni balls hot/warm? How do you keep them that way?
They’re warm. Stanganelli’s makes them fresh the morning of the race and then wraps them up for the trip down to the peninsula to keep them warm.
Any drinks to wash them down with?
We provide lots and lots of water at the eating area!
Did anyone turn in the $50 bacon ball last year? (Note: One pepperoni ball was secretly replaced with a bacon-stuffed ball last year. The runner who found it received $50 cash.)
That’s a funny story. We knew ahead of time which bag the bacon ball was in and we kept an eye on the guy who grabbed that bag. Well, he tore right through the 6 balls and then took off for the finish line. He was so focused he didn’t even realize one of the balls was the bacon ball! We had to chase him down in the parking lot after the race to give him his $50.
Anything fun like that (the $50 bacon ball) planned for this year?
Absolutely. This year we’re adding a “pace pig” to the race. Basically a runner dressed as a pig. We’re challenging people – “Will you beat the pig or will the pig beat you?” We’re also planning a twist on the bacon ball that we’ll be announcing on our Facebook page in the coming weeks.
Are there awards?
We have pig trophies for the top male and female finishers in the Whole Hogger and Half Hogger divisions. It’s very important to note that the awards are given out on the honor system. It’s simply impossible for us to keep track of every runner and verify if they truly ate all of the balls. We have to trust that the first runners who cross the finish line are being honest about eating all of their pepperoni balls.
Is the race timed or is it just for fun?
We set up a timing clock at the finish line, but we don’t keep track of times. The race is really just about having fun.
No day-of-race registration, right?
Correct. We do that because we need to know the number of pepperoni balls to have on hand that day.
How do people get more information about the race?
Visit www.jognhog.com or “like” us at www.facebook.com/jognhog.
Anything else you want to add?
We tell people all the time that this isn’t a “high-pressure” race. It’s 100% about having fun. If you can’t eat all of the balls, no worries. If you have to walk back to the finish line, that’s OK. If you want to dress up in costumes, do it! Just have fun.
This year’s shirt design: