Watch as I take on the gigantic 24 inch pizza challenge at Slice Sunderland

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Only five people have ever completed the challenge.

“You can’t beat experience” - a regular mantra often proclaimed by competitors and fans ahead of any challenge or sporting contest.

With this in mind - and fresh from my valiant but failed attempt at the Beasty Burger challenge at Sarah’s Place Washington - I signed up for my latest culinary quest, confident the lessons I had learned would give me a greater chance of success as I took on Slice Sunderland’s 24-inch pizza challenge.

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Reporter Neil Fatkin takes on the 24 inch pizza challenge.Reporter Neil Fatkin takes on the 24 inch pizza challenge.
Reporter Neil Fatkin takes on the 24 inch pizza challenge.

With the absence of a mountain of meat, being able to choose your own topping and, most importantly, an eating time more than double the Beasty Burger, surely this time I would prevail.

Drink plenty of water between slices, you don’t need to go off too quickly and if you’re struggling just take a break, after all you have plenty of time - messages I kept telling myself as I made my way to the Market Square pizzeria.

I therefore arrived at Slice Sunderland quietly confident, certainly more so than ahead of my previous infamous burger challenge.

I had spent the previous couple of days getting out on my bike - to burn off some of the calories I was about to put on - and had gone 20 hours without eating since my tea the day before. 

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Preparation done, I was famished, but was I hungry enough to consume 24 inches of dough, tomato, cheese and toppings?

I must admit, any confidence I had was immediately shattered when I spoke to the pizza place’s owner, Mark Milroy, and asked him where the idea for the pizza challenge originated from.

Slice Sunderland where the pizza challenge took place.Slice Sunderland where the pizza challenge took place.
Slice Sunderland where the pizza challenge took place.

Mark, 42, said: “We cook 24 inch pizzas and sell by the slice, rather than the full pizza. At our first shop in Seaham we had a group of big lads who came in and were a full of themselves, saying they could eat the whole pizza, rather than a slice.

“So I decided to set up the challenge. Nine of them went for it and only one succeeded. Since then, we’ve only had five people manage it. One of those was professional eater, Kyle versus food, who did it in 13 minutes.

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“It’s not the time available, as most people tap out after five or six slices as they simply can’t eat anymore.”

Not quite what I was hoping to hear, and with my fragile pre-dining confidence beginning to erode, I desperately sought advice on the best eating strategy.

“I’ve seen all-sorts of techniques. Some people fold the slices over to get through as much as quickly as possible while others leave the crusts to the end. We provide dips to help polish these off but a lot of people find this leaves them too much to do” said Mark.

Time to make my order, I went for the safest bet of the classic margherita - apparently the highest success rate - and took my place in my elevated seat at the table.

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Mind whirling, tension building and tummy rumbling - whether this was nerves or hunger I was unsure - I quickly returned to the kitchen to change my order.

“Can I please go for a half and half of margherita and pepperoni,” I said to Mark, my thought process being that two circular feet of cheese and tomato may become a little bland after the first four slices. 

With the smell of garlic wafting from the pizza oven my taste buds were being teased as I deliberated over how best to pace myself. 

With 45 minutes available - compared to the 20 minutes for the Beasty Burger - this was definitely a marathon, not a sprint. But was it best to strike while the pizza was hot and get as much down as quickly as possible or go slow and steady?

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And perhaps most crucially, was this pizza going to be a thin or thick crust and when was the best time to tackle the periphery of my dish?

Still undecided, the door of the kitchen swung open and Mark arrived with what can only be described as the biggest pizza I had ever seen. It was enormous, with a circumference resembling the dimensions of the tyre of an HGV.

Which slice to go for first?Which slice to go for first?
Which slice to go for first?

As the dish was laid before me the bulging crust - which could easily double up as an effective doorstop - was the first thing to catch my eye.

“Can I have a tape measure”, I quipped, partly in jest, but with an element of surprise at just how large my pizza appeared to be.

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As the countdown to my start time began the reality was once again beginning to dawn on me that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew.

However, clock started, the natural instincts of a man who’d gone without breakfast and lunch began to kick-in and I dived into my first slice of pepperoni, which for many would have been a moderate size pizza in itself.

Getting tucked into a pepperoni slice.Getting tucked into a pepperoni slice.
Getting tucked into a pepperoni slice.

Within a couple of minutes it was gone and I went for my second slice, this time folding the base to maximise intake.

A quarter of the pizza gone, with little more than five minutes on the clock, confidence was beginning to flow through my digestive system and I quickly went in for a hat trick of pepperoni topped slices.

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As I approached the draft excluder sized stuffed crust, for the first time I could feel my appetite waning.

I decided to shift strategy and leave this crust until last - hopefully motivated to consume when the finish line is in sight - and this time I decided to mix it up with a giant sized slice of margherita.

Pace beginning to slow, I chomped on the delicious mix of cheese and tomato, but with effectively a standard 12 inch pizza already consumed, I knew I was beginning to fill-up and once again put the crust to one side.

I knew this may come back to bite me (rather than the other way round) but I was beginning to realise I’d made the classic marathon mistake of going off too quickly. 

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With two thirds of the time remaining on the clock, I was almost through half the eight slice pizza - two crusts aside - but I had let my stomach overrule my head.

Just slow down and take a break I told myself as I gulped on my water, hoping to wash things down and somehow make room for the second half.

Starting to struggle.Starting to struggle.
Starting to struggle.

However, the longer I rested, the less I felt like eating. The link between the mind and stomach is perhaps the most emphatic in the body, and the longer I stopped and the more my food digested, the clearer the message became to my brain that I had consumed enough.

Determined not to be beaten, I went for my next slice of tomato and cheese and bit down once again. As my pizza cooled from piping hot to lukewarm the consistency of the topping began to change as the cheese thickened up and each bite required noticeably more chewing. 

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Dismissing the message being sent from my stomach, I polished off my fifth slice and once again gulped down on my water.

Sitting back slumped in my chair I surveyed what remained of my pizza.

I was beginning to struggle.

If I hadn’t quite hit the wall I was certainly past the safe stopping distance and on a direct collision course.

Serious doubts creeping in, it was time for a bit of change in tact and I decided to mix things up by taking alternate bites of the pepperoni and margherita slices.

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It momentarily worked but as I went in for bites number three and four I could feel an upwelling in my stomach which was only going to end one way.

After another gulp of water I took one more large bite and I knew that was me done. No full slices remained, but no amount of barbecue sauce was going to allow me to get through the mountain of crusts which were left.

Time to admit defeat.Time to admit defeat.
Time to admit defeat.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t go on. I had well and truly hit the wall and rather than push though it I had bounced off and was in a pitiful mess at its base.

That’s me done, I pronounced, as I disparagingly threw what remained of my pizza slice onto my plate.

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“You’ve got 20 minutes left if you need it”, said Mark, but it was my stomach rather than the time allowed which had beaten me.

I did take some solace in Mark’s comment that I had put in a “good effort” and had “gotten further than most people”. But alas, it was two food challenges and two defeats.

I’ve always had a good appetite, but as a man now in his forties, I can’t help thinking that I missed my time and was now past my eating prime, which was probably some 20-years-ago. 

As any athlete will tell you, your body lets you when it is time to go and I think it’s time to pass on the eating challenge mantle to a younger man or woman in our reporting team.

Anyone interested in taking on the pizza challenge can contact Slice Sunderland and Slice Seaham via their social media pages. 

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