- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

With his pancake and frying pan still intact, an astonished Rev. John A. Runkle flipped across the finish line first to win the spray-painted golden skillet Tuesday at the National Cathedral’s annual pancake races.

“Quite frankly, [the win] surprised me,” said Mr. Runkle, the Cathedral’s conservator. He said he expected Suzy Mink, the director of development, to win because of her “top physical shape.”

“She was trying to elbow me out of the starting line, but I wouldn’t have any of it. I had to push back,” Mr. Runkle said.

He was one of many participants in the 11th annual event, including young children, high school students, clergy and cathedral staff.

The race has its origins in 15th-century England and the merrymaking of Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent (which begins Wednesday). The French call the day Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

As one popular story goes, a woman from Olney village in England was so involved in making pancakes that she forgot to go to church.When the church bells finally started to ring, she hurried to church so frantically that she forgot she was still holding her frying pan and pancakes.

Another explanation is that making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was a good way to use up eggs and and milk that people of the time did not eat during Lent.

There were six different races overall on Tuesday: St. Albans Flapjack Contest, the Gargoyle Gallop, the Beauvoir Blitz, the Run for the Rose Window, the Inaugural Initiative Relay Challenge and the “Yes We Can” Challenge.

Any racer who dropped a pancake either had to take a 5-second penalty or recite the following words:

“Pancakes are good,

Pancakes are greasy

I thought flippin’ pancakes was

Gonna be easy.”

Other than a spray-painted golden skillet, prizes included a golden spatula, a golden gargoyle and a golden syrup dispenser.

Mr. Runkle called the day “a different interpretation of Mardi Gras” and said the pancake races are “probably as loose as Anglicans are going to get.”

Wendy Tobias, a priest’s assistant who works in the worship department at the cathedral, also participated in the event. She lost to her co-worker, Haley Hilliard, also in the worship department. “I wish I had better pancake control,” she said. “I ended up dropping my pancake.”

She said her friend was “20-something and probably way more agile than I am.”

Henry Brooke, 16, a junior at St. Albans’ upper school, had his victory lightheartedly contested by referee Sam Lloyd, the Cathedral dean, so the race was rerun.

Henry said he was told he only had to flip the pancake twice, but Mr. Lloyd protested, saying “No, it was three times.”

After Henry reran the race, Mr. Lloyd declared him and another high-schooler, Fenner Gibson, both winners. “Being the lenient judge that I am, we have co-winners this year,” Mr. Lloyd the referee said.

The race may seem like aimless fun, but Mrs. Tobias said she thinks it does serve a church purpose because it is “community building.”

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