The Four the Park fun run is certainly not the most challenging race I've ever participated in, but the four-mile run, now in its second year, does go towards a good cause -- the $30 registration fee benefits the Memorial Park Conservancy.
But my motives for running in the race were much less altruistic. I was in a hurry to cross the finish line so I could partake in the post-race party, sampling free food from more than 20 local restaurants and grocers. Though the race is young, its post-race party is one of the best in Houston, complete with margaritas and Bloody Marys, giant bundles of free fruit and vittles from some of the city's newest and best restaurants.
To give you an idea of the other end of the spectrum, the Aramco Half-Marathon's post-race party includes a free breakfast of high school-cafeteria standards -- mushy scrambled eggs, watery coffee, SYSCO-provided biscuits and those tiny cubes of grape jelly. Not the tastiest food, but after 13 miles or more, most runners will take nourishment in whatever form they can get.
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The Four the Park run is a different concept for post-race parties: invite local business owners to cater the event for you, and they might find some new business in the process. There's no better captive audience than a bunch of exhausted athletes. My Fit Foods, which has a location just east of the park on Memorial, had a booth to promote its healthy ready-made meals, and employees from Banyan Foods were trying to sell runners on their vegan tofu fried rice. It was pretty tasty, mixed with firm soybeans, and it beat standing in the longest line -- for Freebirds breakfast burritos.
The post-race celebratory beverage is a tradition amongst many runners, and in 2009 I waited in line for 20 minutes after the Rodeo Run 10K only to find out that the beer they were giving away was non-alcoholic. At the Four the Park run, North Post Oak Lofts sponsored a frozen margarita and build-your-own-Bloody Mary booth. I was so busy cooling off with my marg that I missed out on the giant mangoes, pineapples and bags of limes being handed out by Latin Specialties. By the time I got to that booth the fruit was all gone. But Hungry's Café still had plenty of artfully displayed hummus and long-grain rice pilaf, and I snatched a couple of spicy tuna rolls from Sushi Raku.
It would take a month of dining out to eat through all the restaurants at the post-race party, which is why I forwent the long line for Freebirds to try something new. By far the best dish of the day came from FINS, the sushi restaurant and seafood grill that opened late last year on Westheimer. Their spicy Salt & Pepper Shrimp were huge, hot and not overcooked, exactly the way I like them. Word must have spread fast, because soon their line was longer than any other.