It’s a typical scene on the outdoor track at Coe College in Des Moines, Iowa: eight lanes, each occupied by a racer ready to go. An official aims a starting pistol in the air. The runners take their marks, get set and … juggle?
This is the 100-meter dash at the 70th Annual International Jugglers’ Association track meet. This particular race, which took place at 11 a.m., is not the same 100-meter dash that happened two hours earlier. That was the three-ball division. This is the seven-ball division. The big leagues. The grand enchilada of joggling.
For those unfamiliar with joggling, it’s a competitive sport that requires athletes to simultaneously juggle and jog. It sounds like a circus event, but it’s not all Cracker Jacks and candied cotton. Joggling is a real thing—and it’s cutthroat.
“Joggling is shockingly competitive,” says Michal Kapral, a joggler who holds several world records. “There are probably only about 1,000 or so people in the world who joggle, but competition for the world records is fierce.”
Case in point: In 2005, Kapral set a world record in marathon joggling with three balls—his time was 3:07:41. Only a few months later, Zach Warren of West Virginia broke his record by just 39 seconds. The gauntlet was thrown down, and they’ve since spent several years trading the record back and forth several times and squaring off at a couple of epic marathon joggling duels at the Boston and Salt Lake City marathons.
Yes, you read that correctly: “epic marathon joggling duels.” So epic, their rivalry was featured in a 2011 documentary “Breaking and Entering.” Kapral holds the current three-object record of 2:50:12.
There are joggling competitions for just about every running event: track sprints, hurdles, road races, ultrarunning—there’s even a joggling beer mile, casually referred to in joggling circles as “choggling.”
Kapral assures me joggling is much simpler than it looks: “The three-ball juggling pattern syncs up perfectly with the arm swing of running. It’s just one ball toss every time you swing your arm forward.”
I gave it a try. On the first attempt, I missed my catch. The second time, I took a beanbag to the face. It was awkward and clumsy—and Kapral does this for 26.2 miles? I couldn’t even make it one step.
“The really tough part is joggling near the end of a marathon. When your body starts to shut down and your brain turns to mush, you still have to find a way to keep tossing and catching those beanbags. It’s absolute agony, which is kind of funny because spectators are smiling and laughing at the sight of a guy juggling as he runs, while I’m suffering like no tomorrow.”
And yet, Kapral loves the suffering. This month, he’ll go for a new Guinness World Record: joggling with fi ve balls at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
“It’s going to be a doozy!” Kapral says with a laugh. “There is no current record, because no one has been stupid enough to try and set it.”