Centuries-Old English Race Is Most Delicious

Olney's pancake race dates to 1445
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 14, 2024 5:24 PM CST
Centuries-Old English Race Is Most Delicious
Pancake race winner Kaisa Larkas, right, and second-place finisher Eloise Kramer run during the annual Shrove Tuesday trans-Atlantic pancake race in the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Women in matching checkered aprons, headscarves, and a rainbow of running shoes limbered up Tuesday as they prepared for the centuries-old pancake race in the English town of Olney—frying pans in hand. At "Go," they sprinted through the streets, trying not to drop their pancakes as they roughly traced the path taken by a harried housewife in 1445, who legend has it heard the church bells signaling the Shrove Tuesday service and raced off with her skillet. "It's a horrible distance," says Kaisa Larkas, 44, a mother of four who legged it past Eloise Kramer to capture the title with a time of 63.37 seconds. "You just have to go flat out and then hope that you're not gonna fall over. ... But it's good fun."

The tradition has been repeated over the centuries—not only in Olney but across England and even in the United States, where the Kansas town of Liberal has been trying to outrun their friendly British rivals for 75 years. This year the US leg won, with Pamela Bolivar, a 19-year-old college student, crossing the line in a time of 63.03 seconds. It was one of the closest races ever. The 415-yard race is held the day before the start of Lent, and may itself be a form of penance. Runners must flip the pancake at the start and finish, notes the AP.

If a secret recipe behind winning exists, it probably would call for a pinch of skill, a dash of athleticism, and an extra scoop of whimsy. The competition falls somewhere between the Great British Bake Off and zany local pursuits such as the rough-and-tumble cheese wheel chase down Cooper's Hill. Two Kansas sisters who have competed in Liberal since they were children traveled to Olney this year to see where it all began. "We've been talking about it for a long time," said Amy Thompson, who painted her nails with British and American flags and, of course, pancakes. "We like those festival odd things and we decided to quit talking about it. It's the 75th anniversary and ... this would be the perfect time to come." (This year's cheese wheel champ was knocked unconscious during the race.)

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