McBAINE — Kevin Stone finished the race a full minute ahead of any of his competitors. Bending over to catch his breath, Stone accepted compliments on his achievement from onlookers who stood at the finish line. Sweat ran down his windburned face as he then drank a cup of water and waited for his fellow runners to finish. He would have to wait even longer to see if he actually won.
In the Cheese and Sauerkraut race, organized by the Columbia Track Club, the fastest time doesn't win. Each runner predicts the time it will take him or her to finish the race, and the runner with the time closest to that prediction wins. The prize is cheese. The runner furthest from the predicted time is rewarded with sauerkraut. Whether or not you run faster than your competitors doesn't matter one bit. It's all about the prediction.
The race was Saturday morning at the Katy Trail State Park in McBaine, and 47 contestants braved the cold and participated.
"I did this race last year and at the eight-mile mark out there I pulled a calf muscle and I had to walk the last two miles," said Stone, who won the sauerkraut last year. "I ended up with the farthest time so I thought I’d come back and try it again this year."
For most of the runners, being able to predict their overall time is very important. Some runners can guess their times and only be a few seconds off. Usually a margin of 15 seconds or less wins the cheese.
"I’ve won it a couple times being three seconds off and one second off," runner Steve Stonecipher-Fisher said.
Stonecipher-Fisher ran track for MU and finished 40th in the 1984 Olympic Trials marathon. He now owns Tryathletics, a sporting goods business in Columbia.
"You have to know what kind of condition you’re in and it’s a lot of fun to try and predict your time," Stonecipher-Fisher said. "The track club has had this event for years. Back when I was a fast guy, I ran this event in 54:53, and I finished third. Some competitive people run this."
Stone, who ran the fastest time this year, finished in just under a hour. Some of the runners, like Stonecipher-Fisher, are very accomplished and competitive. In the 30-plus years he has lived in Columbia, he has only missed this race three or four times. Others, like Mike Burden, were just running to stay in shape and have fun.
"I’ve been running lately, trying to run a couple times a week, and I thought that this would be my second run for the week," Burden said. "It’s always more fun to run in a crowd. I like cheese and I like sauerkraut, so I thought I might just get lucky and win one of them."
The cheese and sauerkraut race's origins are somewhat unknown. Even Dick Hessler, a former president of the Columbia Track Club, isn't sure when the first race was held. What he does know is that the race was started because of holiday spirit.
"We thought it could be a Christmas thing," Hessler said.
But why cheese and sauerkraut?
"Cheese is an easy thing and fits in with Christmas," Hessler said. "Sauerkraut because it just tastes so damn bad. It’s nothing you want to serve anybody, unless you’re a German."