Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Race Recap: Hot Chocolate Chicago 15k

Last summer, my workout partner Steph told me she wanted us to run a race together. Her choice? The Hot Chocolate 15k. My first thought was ugh. I ran the HC 15k a few years ago and it was not a good experience, as the race promoter struggled with the explosive popularity of a race themed around chocolate. My second thought was that I've heard so many good things about this race since then. In July at the RnR Chicago expo, HC had a booth, the rep was so friendly, I was feeling happy about meeting Kathrine Switzer, there was a discount code, yadda yadda yadda, and I signed up to run the HC 15k in October.

The things we do for our friends, right?

Fast forward to race week and with a DNF from late summer on my mind, I was anxious all week leading up to the race. It didn't help that I was having an increase in RA symptoms. Mentally, I needed to run this race.

At zero dark thirty, Marcia picked me up to drive us to the train that would take us downtown.

It was go time.



The race day forecast was for sunny, cold conditions. Since it has been so warm this fall, picking out the right clothes for the race was a challenge. I finally settled on an Under Armour cold gear top with my newest Inknburn shirt layered on top and tights on the bottom. With my throwaway sweatshirt over all that, I was ready to roll. I was wearing my new Mizuno Wave Riders. My only goal for this race was to cross that finish line. To help plan my race strategy, I went for a short shakeout run around my neighborhood the day before. That run helped me realize I would need to use my run/walk intervals on race day. With all that in mind, I hoped for a finish time right around 1:30.

I know, I know. I shouldn't be setting finish time goals. Old habits die hard.

While Steph and Cathy opted to drive downtown, Marcia and I boarded the train and marveled at all the people sleeping around us. We chatted and caught up on life. A guy across from us started making noises--at first, we thought it was the train--and doing strange things with his hands, so at the next stop, we switched train cars. As we approached downtown, more runners joined us on the train. It was a 2-3 block walk to Grant Park, where the race was located. We needed to find gear check but while on the hunt, we fortuitously came upon brand new portapotties being loaded onto the race site. The guy clipped the locks and in we went! What runner would pass up the opportunity to use a fresh portapotty? It was a good omen, Marcia said.

And then we couldn't find gear check. We asked multiple volunteers and no one knew where it was. That was frustrating. Time was ticking and we needed to get into our corral. We found a woman with a map and she pointed us in the right direction, which was as far from the start line and our corral as it could be. Meanwhile, Karen, who used to blog at Fit in France, was texting us to meet up, and we told her we'd see her after the race. We dropped our gear and dashed along the corrals (they were A-O!) all the way up to the B corral. We considered it a warm-up for the race.

A volunteer closed the gate to our corral as soon as we got there. "You'll have to go back to D", she said, not kindly. The opening to the D corral was jammed with people trying to squeeze in. This made no sense to us. But while we were pushing our way in, we found Karen! Once through the opening, we scurried through the crowd up to the C corral. We could have gone further, opted to stay put. Talk about cutting it close!

Karen, Marcia, and me. Ready to run!
After the first 2 corrals were off, it was our turn. How many times have we run up Columbus Drive to start a Chicago race? It never gets old. The course was crowded, but I never felt that I couldn't move. My strategy was to run the first mile and then start my intervals. I brought Tailwind and planned to sip on each walk interval. Marcia, Karen and I ran together for that first mile. Once we turned off Columbus through Lower Wacker Drive under downtown, we found our own paces.


The first couple of miles were through those tunnels, which always mess with the GPS. I didn't care so much about that as I did about my intervals. Those were not affected. I felt good and was tempted to skip the intervals, but I reminded myself of what happened the last time I did that. Save it for the finish, I told myself.

We headed south down Clark and eventually Michigan Avenue. The course reminded me somewhat of the RnR course. That part of the course was kind of boring, but the run/walk intervals kept me alert. For a while, I paced with a guy dressed head to toe in Ironman gear. Ok, then! I found myself pacing behind the 9:30 pace group which was exactly where I hoped to be. Eventually, I caught up with Marcia and we played cat and mouse for a while. Once we turned left onto 35th street and across the beautiful pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive, I didn't see her anymore.

That bridge took us north onto the lakefront path. The last time I ran this, the path was under construction. Now it was wide and paved. There was plenty of room for the runners. We continued to McCormick Place and ran through another tunnel. This was a little treacherous, with uneven pavement and poor lighting. I followed behind a woman with a bright orange jacket, which helped me avoid falling.

From there it was about a mile to the finish. Once we were back on Columbus Drive, I saw the finish line and found that kick that I haven't felt for a while. Run/walk intervals for the win! It was nice to have that reserve in the tank and I flew to the finish line. I collected my medal and walked through the chute, finding a spot to wait for Marcia and check my time. My Garmin showed 1:28:22 and 9.46 miles. I tried really hard to run the tangents.




A couple of minutes later, I spotted Marcia and we made our way towards gear check to meet up with Karen. We had to squeeze through another logjam--why? to get out of the finish area. We collected our bags from gear check and there was Karen! We took a few pictures and made our way over to Butler Field for the post-race party. We collected our post-race chocolate and chatted for a while. It was cold and so we didn't stick around too long.

We ran for chocolate!
We never did connect with Steph and Cathy. Later, Steph texted me that they were cold and left early. She left her phone in the car during the race, so there was no way I could have found her.

Overall, the Hot Chocolate was a great experience, especially when I compared it to my first time running it. As promised, along the course there were 4 aid stations and "chocolate" stations. I didn't take any of the sweet treats, but I could have had chocolate chips, candy corn (gaaaack!), M&Ms, and toasted marshmallows. Nuun was the drink being served on the course. Portapotties were plentiful in Grant Park as well as on the course. The race volunteers along the course were enthusiastic. Even though we couldn't get into our corral, I did appreciate the adherence to the corral assignments, instead of the honor system like they had at RnR. I felt safe the entire race as the City of Chicago had heavy equipment (mostly snowplows) parked at all the intersections on the course.

The swag--a purple fleece and a hat--were nice. The post-race party treats--hot cocoa, chocolate, and dippers--were served in a plastic finisher's mug. Personally, I would have loved a ceramic coffee mug, but that's just me. The race offered free race photos, but I sorted through hundreds of pictures and could only find a partial one of me. Navigating the pictures was weird--I'd click on a photo and another random one would appear. I guess you get what you pay for.


With a race this big, logistics are tricky and the location of gear check was far from the post-race party and the start line. I was unhappy with the corral closing 10 minutes before go time. I get it, they need to get ready for the start and we should have gotten there earlier, but with uninformed volunteers, Marcia and I wasted precious time looking for gear check and making our way back to the start line.

I was thrilled that the run/walk intervals allowed me to run a race at a sub 9:30 pace! While the weather conditions helped me with that, I know now that this is the strategy I need to use if I want to continue to run long distances. I felt great after the race. I do love this distance and would definitely run Hot Chocolate again.


I'm linking this post with Marcia, Erika, and Patti for Tuesdays on the Run, Debbie, Lora, and Rachel for Coaches' Corner, and DebRuns for Wednesday Word, which happens to be discipline. It took a lot of self-control for me to stick to the run/walk intervals. Looking at my splits from the race make me realize how disciplined I really was!

Mile 4 included a potty stop.





55 comments :

  1. It just occurred to me we are not in the same age group...for another 6 weeks or so. Ha! So so glad the intervals gave you the race you wanted!

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    1. Yep, I'm in the old lady group now! LOL! But look how many were faster than me!

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  2. Love your finish line photo! You look so happy! Marcia forgot to mention the M&Ms . . . the rest I probably would have bypassed but I would have been all over those!

    Locking the corrals? I suppose ultimately it's a good thing, most of the time people are in the wrong corral anyway. And misinformed volunteers -- I know it's not their fault, but boy, that always stings.

    I'm glad you got to meet Karen AND run such a great race. Too bad about not hooking up with your other friends, though.

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    1. I knew I had that sub 1:30 that I was hoping for. I was thrilled!

      No chocolate treats on the run for me. I know better than to test my tummy like that.

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  3. Excellent job!! I have a friend who has used run/walk intervals off and on...and actually PR'd a marathon doing so. Although I don't use planned intervals, I do take brief walk breaks (through the water stations, etc.). I am always amazed the surge of energy I have just by taking even a brief 10-second break...I honestly think I make up those "lost" seconds from that energy surge.

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    1. As I've found doing both options, having planned run/walk intervals works way better than stopping intermittently. Stopping when you're not gassed just gives you a chance to regroup and go. It's really the way to go, if you need to walk. I cannot complain.

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  4. You did fabulous!! and I LOVE your finish pic - super cute!
    SO fun you got to meet Karen and hang with Marcia. It looked crazy crowded but that kind of race is fun sometimes. I totally get feeling good and being tempted to skip intervals, I battle that all the time lol I usually pay for it when I do skip.
    Congrats Wendy!! You ran a great race.

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    1. Thank you! It was really a great test of those run/walk intervals for me. I know now that I need to do this for long distances.

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  5. What a fantastic day for you and just what you needed this week! I'm so glad you had a good race. Congrats on a great finish!

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    1. You know it! What a great test of self control and patience for me. I could not be happier with the outcome.

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  6. I know you're trying to to set too many goals right ow, but understand that you can't help it (Even with walking, I'm still looking for negative splits. Go figure). With your so far rough year, beating your goal must have sent your spirits soaring. Good going, my friend. (Insert love emoticon here).

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    1. I'm really happy with this outcome and know what I have to do to keep myself running.

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  7. Great race Wendy! You really had a super speedy finish time, I know you must be happy with that! Always fun to meet up with fellow bloggers too. I've been doing a little experiment with my long training runs lately to see if I actually have a faster avg pace when I stick to planned run/walk intervals as opposed to skipping them when I feel good.... so far the result is yes, I actually end up with better paces when I stick to them on long runs. This tells me that I need to plan on doing this for my marathon but it will be so hard to not just run at least the first half of it before incorporating the intervals.

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    1. My av run/walk pace is faster than when I just run. Hello! I need to just suck it up and do this with every race. I also have to accept my slower "super speedy pace". Those days of sub-9 are gone, I think.

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  8. Congrats again on your awesome race. I’m so glad you felt good and achieved your goal! Woohoo!!

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    1. I'm really happy with this outcome! Thank you!

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  9. I love that finish line photo! And that's great news that the race went so well and the intervals helped you finish feeling good :)

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    1. I'm really learning to love the intervals. Love!

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  10. Glad you had such a great race - it's such a mental thing, to get a good one in, isn't it? Crazy how many people were there, but I hear they have good swag, so that's probably a big part of it.

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    1. Just when I needed it, I got it! This is super popular, as much as the Chicago Marathon. The chocolate is definitely part of it, but having a 5k helps too.

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    1. Thank you! Who knew it would come at Hot Chocolate?

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  12. How awesome!! Congrats!

    I have wanted to do a hot chocolate 15k for years, but it falls on the same day as the Hershey 10K, which is a favorite for me.

    I love the medal you got!!

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    1. But the 15k is such an awesome distance! I'd do it again, just for that. There aren't a lot of 15ks around.

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  13. I'm glad the race was a good one. I rarely take food at water stations since I don't train with it. I used to like candy corn, but now I try to avoid it.

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    1. Ewwww to candy corn. It's not even chocolate. Why did they have it?

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  14. Great job on your race! You look very happy at the finish! You kept a great pace by even doing run/walk intervals. As much as I hate running in the colder out, it does help with the pace.

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    1. I continue to be amazed at my consistency with the run/walk intervals. I've always struggled with consistency and here you go.

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  15. It's great the intervals worked so well for you! I have been using them during the summer and to manage the injury but have been debating about whether to continue. Great that you got to meet Karen! Congrats on a great race!

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    1. Like you, I thought the intervals would be temporary, but after this race it looks like they are here to stay. I won't lie, I do like that little one minute break. Plus then I get to run fast again...

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  16. Those are some great splits! Congrats on running a strong race. Im so glad the run/walk intervals worked well for you!

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    1. Thank you! I was super happy with the outcome of this race. If I can't run my race, this is the second best way to do it.

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  17. I love to see you looking so happy! Looks like you all had a really fun time together. Congrats on a strong finish

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    1. Thank you! This was just what an old lady needed! :p

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  18. Congrats on a great race and awesome finish! I know you were nervous about this race but it looks like it was a super successful race for you!

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    1. I"m really pleased (as you can imagine) with the outcome!

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  19. Way to nail your goal! I had flashbacks of NYC when you talked about corrals closing and people squeezing in- ugh, I hate starting a race with that kind of stress. But everything else sounds amazing. Anything with chocolate- I'm in!

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    1. I was really happy with my pacing and how I felt during the race. I needed this!

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  20. Nice job on the race! Run walk intervals have saved me on occasion. Glad they are helping you keep running. I don't know if I'll ever run one of the Hot Chocolate races. The one here was a hot mess.
    -MCM Mama

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    1. I said that same thing--but this time they really showed me how they got it together. It was fun!

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  21. A Hot Cocoa 15K sounds like a brilliant idea. Though, I feel like I'd be too distracted to run as all I'll think about it hot cocoa! LOL

    Best,
    The Fitness Bro

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  22. Great job on your race! I love that you got to see Marcia! And I love all the chocolate!

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    1. I couldn't eat the chocolate on the course--I just don't think that would have sat well!

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  23. Congrats on the race!!! I'd be all over the chocolate...lol!

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  24. Oh look at the last photo through the finish! That smile and those arms in the air say it all! Well done on sticking to your race strategy of run-walk intervals and for coming through in that time! I know it's about the finish lines and not times, but that time made me smile from ear to ear. (Eeeewww about the guy on the train!) Shathiso at www.thegaboronerunner.com (for some reason I can only comment using SAW (Google) and not my wordpress account! I'll have to investigate what's going on!)

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    1. Yep, this one was fun!

      I had to shut off open commenting because I was being assaulted by spammers. No joke. It was bad. I'm so sorry that commenting has become such a challenge!

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  25. I'm so thrilled this was a good experience for you and you kicked your time goal in the ass!!! Nice work!! I'm also super jealous you met Karen from Fit in France!!! How cool! I swear, I need to get to Chicago for a race soon :-)

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  26. Gotta love those run/walk intervals. Your splits are super solid! Love that you got a pristine porta potty too! I enjoy running the Hot Chocolate 15k despite all of the hassles of packet pickup and the crowds. It's always fun to run on the streets downtown! Congrats!!

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  27. Congratulations! I had my doubts about Hot Chocolate but now I'm thinking I'll give it a try when it comes to Philly next April. You did a great job with your pacing and yay to beating your goal (like me, you just can't help but set one!)!

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  28. So glad this was a positive race experience for you, and so happy to have met !

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  29. It's so cool being able to follow along with your descriptions of the race course and know exactly where you're talking about after visiting Chicago several times. Our son and daughter-in-law lived in Columbus Plaza right on East Wacker at Columbus. Congrats on meeting your race goal. That's fantastic!

    I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K the first and only time they were invited to DC. Let's just say it was in their early days and they made one mistake after another with the biggest mistake being that they started the runners of the shorter distance in the wrong direction and over 45 minutes late, so they were running toward us 15K runners trying to get to the starting line. It was a huge confusing mess of people trying to go in every direction. I'm glad they've figured things out because the theme of the race is so fun AND the post race goodies were worth the frustrations.

    Thanks for linking up!

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