The Never-Ending Pasta Pass Ultra
Inspired by my beer mile and trek around the Denver-Metro area, where I ran a marathon while visiting multiple donut shops. I realized that although I may not be great at running fast and drinking fast, I could succeed and running far and eating a lot.
I needed a new story to tell. The idea actually came a year before when I learned about Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Pass.
Olive Garden does a special promotion every year where they offer unlimited pasta if you eat from their “Never Ending Pasta Bowl.” In 2018, the passes sold out in seconds. In 2019, I and three of my co-workers were able to grab one. It takes about 8 visits to break even on the $100 9-week deal. I was hoping to do that in one day.
I now had to try to figure out exactly how many Olive Gardens I could get to in one day. I pulled up Google Maps to look at my options and was excited to see that there is actually a fairly solid circle of Olive Gardens and one only a few miles from my house.
Unfortunately, if I went to all 8 Olive Gardens, I would have to travel a minimum of 65 miles, ignoring running trails and paths. 78 miles if I wanted to return to my original Olive Garden. I was not terrified of the distance, but the actual logistics.
Olive Gardens are only open 11-11. Therefore I needed to finish my running and eating in 12 hours or less. I figured 12-minute miles was a reasonable goal. I could travel 5 miles an hour for a max of 60 miles assuming no eating. I estimated 20 minutes for eating/bathroom/crying. If I visited 6 Olive Gardens, that’s two fewer hours of running and 50 total miles. I would eliminate the two furthest East Olive Gardens and make a one-way trip.
I drove my car to the Olive Garden nearest me and my family dropped me off at the Olive Garden furthest away in Highlands Ranch. I was at Olive Garden bright and early at 10:55 am. I said goodbye to my family and started recording to document my stupidity. Olive Garden seated me a minute early and my waitress was quick to get me my order.
I looked over the menu.
I had seen the menu online and planned to get a different pasta, sauce, and topping at each stop. I didn’t figure out what I would get where or when. To start my day, I just took the top option from each column, skipping over the garden veggies for childish reasons of not considering that an actual topping.
How quickly my food arrived made me question whether the spaghetti may have just been heated up in the microwave, but it was still delicious. I also had to decide if my challenge meant that I had to eat all the pasta. I figured if I ate the protein and a good amount of the pasta, it qualified. I left my tip and headed out in under 15 minutes, a great way to start the run.
I quickly found out that the route I planned to get to the second Olive Garden of the day did not have a sidewalk and was on a very busy street. I took to the grass and climbed uphill.
Once I made it to a trail, I was hit with the fact that I didn’t know where I was. I made my best guess based on the mountains. I also found out that my GoPro had also been recording inside my bag and its battery was near death. I plugged it into my charger and continued on.
It was a nice clear day, but already starting to get a little warm. I made it to my second Olive Garden the same time I found out that my woeful Fighting Illini had defeated a ranked Wisconsin team.
I arrived during lunchtime and although I didn’t have to wait for a table, my food did take longer to arrive. I took the downtime to use the bathroom and change out of my sweaty shirt and dry myself off with toilet paper as adults do.
I continued down the list with rigatoni, creamy mushroom, sausage and multiple glasses of water.
My waitress actually gave me mints as well. Those lasted about 30 seconds and I was off to my third Olive Garden.
I had about 15 miles under my belt and was feeling fine physically, but not mentally ready to run 5 miles North on a busy street (Wadsworth). I didn’t know exactly where I was so I skipped any attempt of taking trails and suffered uphill and on the side of the road in some places.
I made it to my third Olive Garden around mile 21 while still maintaining a reasonable pace. It was funny when I arrived as I realized I was at the Olive Garden I had eaten with my coworkers. Things look different on sweaty foot versus air-conditioned cars. My joy quickly faded after the worst meal of the day.
This is where planning out the meals might have helped. Crispy Chicken with Alfredo on Angel Hair pasta. The thin pasta was too weak to withstand the deluge of greasiness. The Alfredo sauce seemed unusually thick and the chicken was like a salt lick. I ate all the protein and too much of the sauce. My stomach was telling me not to run anymore. It was revoking my living comfortably privilege.
I only had about 5 miles to get to my next Olive Garden, but the Alfredo made it feel like twice that. I was losing my strength. I began singing to myself. I ran towards a train track in hopes that it would stop and force me to take a break. It worked, for a minute. When I got close, I decided to start taking shortcuts, running down hills, crossing major intersections at random points, and actually running through an air-conditioned mall.
Thankfully there was no wait for a table and I knew it was time for me to accept that it was going to be dark for the rest of my run and my legs may not work as well as I hope. I got the marinara grilled chicken fettuccine and the most delicious Coke I have ever had. When my meal came out I noticed there was no chicken. I didn’t have the time or desire to ask for changes. I also didn’t think my body needed the protein at this point. I scarfed everything down and waited longer than I desired for the check.
When I walked out, I could feel a change in the air. I put on my long sleeve shirt and talked myself into continuing to run. I had to run a half marathon to get to the next Olive Garden. Miles 27 to 40 was the beginning of the end. I think all Alfredo sucked away all the water I had consumed and the sun was breaking me. I had to start walking for longer portions. I did the math and knew I was still on pace to make it to the last Olive Garden before 11.
I was listening to episodes of the We Hate Movies podcast and it was helping me take my mind off the fact that I was slowing down and feeling like I had to throw up.
Night was in full effect and I was running on sidewalks I had never been on before. I assumed Google Maps wouldn’t let me down.
It was close to 8 pm when I made it to my fifth Olive Garden. Apparently Olive Gardens are popular at 8 pm on Saturdays as there were people waiting for tables, I headed to the bar. I got a Blue Hawaiian, they’re basically Gatorade.
I cleaned myself up, but it still took a while to get my food. I got the chicken I was supposed to get earlier with meat sauce on the whole grain linguine.
I left the Olive Garden around 8:30. Which meant that I had two and half hours to make it 10 miles to the final OG. About a 15-minute mile pace, something that could be accomplished via speed-walking. It was a relief. I knew I had energy to keep “running” so I didn’t want to completely throw in the towel and just walk the remainder.
I was back in familiar territory. There is a trail I would meet up with that I take on my long runs. But I also knew of shortcuts to reduce my mileage. I decided it was better to arrive before 11 and not run a full 50 miles, than to just say, “I ran 50 miles.” Although after the fact my real runner colleague told me a lot of 50-milers aren’t full 50 miles anyways and that I can say I ran 50.
It was no longer a question of if I would finish but when I would finish. I struggled to stay motivated to run. My legs felt heavy and my energy was low, but I got to listen to the episode on The Super Mario Bros movie as I ran on sidewalks instead of the trail to save miles.
As I was about a half-mile away it was only 10 o’clock. I contemplated adding a mile and a half to my run to make the full 50. Then I saw the street the OG was on and laughed that idea off. I was going to make it to six Olive Gardens in one day, that was good enough.
I sat down at the bar and got another Blue Hawaiian and ordered the creamy marinara shrimp cavatappi. If it wasn’t for the weird noodles, this would have been my favorite meal. I think the creamy marinara is just alfredo mixed with marinara, but it’s delicious.
I was actually greeted by one of my Pasta Pass coworkers. A few of them tried to meet up with me at the first Olive Garden, but I was too fast. I then had another friend show up congratulating me. He asked the bartender if he was aware of what I just did. I told the bartender the story. He seemed more interested in closing up by 11 than talking to me about my triumph.
I was able to make it back into my car and drive home safely. My feet wear gross, but not blistered. I showered and tried to sleep.
I ran 7 miles the next day.