async="src="/ Taking the Long Way Home: Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15k

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15k

Will run for chocolate.

As much as I love chocolate, I'd rather run for beer, but it has to be a good beer and that doesn't seem to be much of an option these days! I've run the Hot Chocolate 15k three times now. It's not my favorite race--there always seem to be some glitches--but I do like the distance and the swag is good. My friend Steph wanted me to run it with her this year. My endurance is returning and I thought the timing was right.

With a 7 am gun time, Steph arrived at my house at 5:15 and we drove to downtown Chicago for the race! Thank goodness for Daylight Savings Time. That extra hour of sleep felt good.



We parked my car in the Grant Park garage and made our way to Michigan Avenue. The street was full of runners heading to the race site. Most of them were wearing the race hoody. I was too. I don't normally wear the race shirt to a race, but this hoody was really nice! Lined with fleece, I thought it would be perfect for the 35 degree temperatures.

It was a long walk to Gate 3, where the gear check for the 15k runners was located. We stopped to use the portapotties--there were plenty and the lines were short--and we headed over to the race corrals. Steph was seeded into Corral B and I was in Corral C, but gear check was located at the opposite end of the corrals, which were lettered to U. We heard an announcement that the corrals in Wave 1 were closing soon, so Steph and I, along with many other runners, started running towards the start line.


Oh, but not so fast, young grasshopper! With the large number of corrals (there were 32,000 participants), we were forced to cross the street at Balbo and then walk east around several more corrals. When we got to the gate for Wave 1, there was a huge crowd of runners trying to enter the corrals. No one was moving. Oblivious to our dilemma, the race announcer was interviewing a family about Make-a-Wish, the official race charity. Then the Star-Spangled Banner was sung--beautifully, I might add. An announcement was made that the gate to Wave 1 was closed and any runners who missed their gate would have to line up behind Corral I and start in Wave 2 at 8:00.

Angry runners at the closed corral gate
As you might expect, chaos ensued. One runner actually had a panic attack and the crowd opened up to let her through. Runners began hopping the fence into Corral I and pushing through the throngs of participants to get to Wave 1. Someone was able to open the fence and we all pushed into Corral I. Steph grabbed my hand and we snaked along the side of the fence, slowly and painstakingly making our way to Corral E. Still part of Wave 1, we were grateful to have gotten that far. A few minutes later, we were off.

Holla! The start line!
I wished Steph luck as we began to run up Columbus Drive towards lower Wacker Drive. I had no plan for this race except to walk when I felt tired. My goal time was 1:30. I turned up my music and settled into a 9 m/m pace. My legs felt good. Most of the runners around me were running at the same pace and it was easy to maintain for the first couple of miles. I figured the 9 minute pace wasn't sustainable for the entire 9.3 miles but I felt good and decided to roll with it.

At about mile 2, there was a water stop, and I did stop to drink. I was thirsty and I wanted to check in with my body to see how things felt. So far, so good. The only issue was that the toe warmers, which I had put in my shoes earlier to keep my feet warm, were starting to burn my feet. It was still cold out and I've had issues with my feet going numb in the cold weather, so I decided to press on.

I stopped to walk about at the 5k mark and then I pulled over to the side to remove the toe warmers from my shoes. Note to self: take those things out before you start a race. Once I started to run again, my feet felt much better.

The racecourse continued south on Michigan Avenue until 31st street, where we turned east towards the lake. Then we ran south on MLK Dr to 35th Street, where we crossed the iconic pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive. I stopped to walk every mile during this time but when we reached the bridge, I walked up the steep incline. I considered taking a picture of the bridge because it is so cool looking but instead started running again as I flew down towards the lakefront path.

We ran north on the lakefront path towards McCormick Place and continued on the path along the lake. The lake was calm and serene. The path took us to Soldier Field and past the Field Museum, where a dinosaur skeleton was looming over the path. We ran, ok I walked, up a steep incline to Columbus Drive and down to the iconic finish area where I've finished so many races, including the Chicago Marathon. I pushed my pace hard down that stretch and while I was able to muster up a smile and hands in the air for the photographer, I was feeling pretty nauseous! Glad to be done, I gathered my medal and a water and looked for Steph. I was happy to see that I finished in 1:30:53.

Free race photos for the win!
More walking as we headed to Butler Park for the after-race party and the chocolate. There were so many people in the park! There was a band playing and runners were dancing. The field was really muddy and we gingerly made our way over to the tent to collect our chocolate. This year, the race provided hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, and a variety of dippers including a Honey Stinger waffle. The bowl was biodegradable, a nice change from the plastic bowl from years past. We made our way to the VIP tent, where we met up with members from my running club. There were heaters and tables, which was really nice.


After we finished, it was another long walk through the throngs of runners back to the gear check to gather our things. By that point, we were both really cold and as we made our way to the parking garage, I was happy we drove instead of taking public transportation. Heated seats after a cold race? Yes, please!

Themed races aren't my thing, and while I love the 15k distance, this race is a perfect example of why I try to avoid them. For some odd reason, the 5k and 15k runners line up together. The layout of the corrals and the vast amount of participants made the logistics challenging. The 7 am start time is too early for a race of this size. Even leaving my house at 5:30--it only took us 30 minutes to get downtown--didn't give us enough time to gear check, hit the portapotties, and line up. I'm so bummed that we didn't get in our corrals. There was so much walking--I logged 23,700 steps that morning. Why not have the 15k runners start first?

On the plus side, there are so many volunteers! The aid stations were well-manned and getting our chocolate after the race was a breeze. On such a cold day, I was very grateful for their enthusiasm. I can't comment on the race expo since I opted to have my packet mailed. I love that they have that option!

If it were my choice, I probably wouldn't do this race again, but sometimes we do things because our friends want us to. It was a fun day with Steph and I am glad we did this!


Would you run a 15k for chocolate? I did! /via @oldrunningmom @RAMracing @HotChocolate15k #runchat #running #racerecap #hotchocolate15k

Have you run a Hot Chocolate race? What was your experience? What do you think about 15k and 5k runners lining up together? What's your favorite finish line treat?

I'm linking up with Tuesday Topics--Zenaida and Kim host this fun linkup!




38 comments :

  1. I've heard varying things about the Hot Chocolate series, but I've still secretly wanted to try it for myself, because yes, I'll definitely run for chocolate!

    It's always stressful when you have to run to the start, and having your wave close on top of it -- not fun. But you're right, sometimes we run to support friends. and that makes it all a lot more fun. You did great!

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    1. Since I have been feeling better, this race was perfect timing for me. Plus a day with a friend made it all the better!

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  2. Oh man, the beginning of the race sounds like it was a huge cluster! I am glad that you were able to get into Wave 1 and start (somewhat) on time.

    I've done the HC15K in Philly twice and while it's not my favorite route (a boring out and back), I really do love the distance and the swag because they normally have really awesome hoodies!

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    1. The swag is definitely a plus for this race! But why can't they get the logistics together?

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  3. What a mess!!! That race director will be getting some interesting feedback.
    Well done on getting the 1.30 goal!! You did great! And you look really great in that hoody, I would definitely sign up and run 15k just to get that.
    Looks like you had an amazing day, despite all the challenges.

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    1. This race is always a cluster. It was my 3rd time running it. I always say I'm not going to do it again, but it's one of those races that people want to do.

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  4. Congrats Wendy! I don't really mind everyone starting together, but I once ran a 10k that had a lot of 5k walkers, and at mile 4 when the courses came together, it was a mess of runners being dumped into a group of walkers. I love chocolate milk right after a race so I'd be happy to upgrade that for a cup of hot chocolate.

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    1. I think having the 15k runners go off first would help alleviate that jam up at the beginning of the race. It's been a complaint of mine every time I've run it. Maybe if I ran the 5k, I'd feel differently!

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  5. I love the medal. I would come over and do that one year for the medal!! Although I see you were all wrapped up and I wonder if I could race in that kind of cold myself. Well done on a great strong race and a brilliant report.

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    1. Please come--I'll run it one more time for you. Yes, it was cold but when we were moving it was fine.

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  6. That's such a big race! I would definitely run for chocolate. I love bananas dipped in chocolate. Nice job on your race finish!

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    1. It's a crazy big race! I always say never again, but someone always wants to do it. The swag is so nice too!

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  7. Well, with 32,000+ runners, its a success if nobody got lost or hurt. Right? Good on you for not allowing yourself to get all caught up in others BS and simple be you by setting your own pace for the day. I did enjoy the recap and pleased to see that you took the time to seek out the VIP area and score some delicious hot chocolate. Fabulous Last Photo For Sure!!

    Cheers

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    1. Thank you! I was pleased and surprised that I hit my goal time, although the type A in me always wishes she could be faster.

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  8. Congrats on running a 15k!! Sounds like the race could have been planned and organized a bit better. It's two separate races so they should start separately. Weird! But I would def run for chocolate!! :)

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    1. This race has been around for a while, so you'd think they'd have it all figured out!

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  9. I haven't done one of these races, but I have been served hot chocolate after a 5k-Midnight in MN, years ago. Believe me, this GA gal needed a hot beverage! Wind-chill was -27 degrees! It looks like you and your friend had fun! Great pics!

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  10. I've heard the swag is always good for this race series; too bad the start was so crazy, though.

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    1. It's always like this and for the life of me, I can't figure out why!

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  11. You call 7 am early, I call it late! Haha in the south most races start at 6 or 630 because it gets super hot super fast. I don't think Tampa gets quite as many runners for Hot Chocolate as Chicago does though. Last year it didn't seem like 30k participants. Maybe 10-15k.

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    1. I don't mind an early start in the summer but November gets pretty darned cold! And dark.

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  12. I have done a chocolate-themed race, but not a hot chocolate one ((yet)). That is crazy to have all that commotion at the race start, and I can imagine the frustration. I had similar temps for my race, too...it was manageable while running, but #BRRRRR when I was standing around afterwards. Great finish time...congrats!

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    1. This race always has trouble at the start so I wasn't surprised--just kind of disappointed. But it all turned out ok, so that's a win, right?

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  13. Sounds like a mixed bag and I agree 7 am is way too early for a race.However, you look very happy and sounds like you had a pretty good day of running. Great finish for you! I call that a win

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    1. Once we got moving, it was fine. But that start line was a mess.

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  14. I'm glad you had a fun day with Steph and that jacket is super cute! It's gotta be so hard to manage crowds like that at race. When I ran the Indy Marathon the 5k went off AFTER us but many of those runners lined up IN FRONT of the marathoners. That made me crazy.

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    1. I think part of the issue is that the gear check is so far away from the start line--I don't quite understand why they don't put it in Butler Field. It would make more sense.

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  15. I guess one of the downsides of races in big cities is the huge amount of runners. 32,000? Yikes. It sounds like chaos at the start line, not one of my favorite ways to start a race. I'm glad that you did this race though and that you had a good race and hit your target time. That's a win!

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    1. Agreed! I wouldn't have done this race if my friend hadn't asked me to. It's like the RnR Races--they attract a different kind of runner than the races I like to run. There's a little less concern about race etiquette at these!

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  16. I loved the HotChocolate and signed up again for 2020!

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  17. I did not realized there were so many runners. I did the 15k once in 2010 and haven't run it again. I remember not liking the course but I am sure by now it is different. Or the same? Don't know. There should be different start time for the 15K and the 5k. Both starting at the same time would definitely be chaotic. I do love the medal.

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    1. 100% agree on the different start times. I'm sure they'll get the feedback from the runners.

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  18. I have yet to run this race - I've always had something else going on. I didn't realize there was such a big time gap between the first and second waves. Though you couldn't get to your corral, at least you made it into that first wave! I had hand warmers in my gloves while sitting in the runner's village at NYC on Sunday but tossed them at the start of the race because they were getting TOO warm! Still, I was glad to have them before the start.

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    1. If I end up running this one again next year--depends on Steph--I'll let you know. It's fun. Just a PIA.

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  19. I loved reading your recap since our son and d-i-l lived on Upper Wacker and Columbus at Columbus Plaza and I knew exactly where you were talking about as you described the race course!

    I'm sure I told you the story when I commented on one of your previous Hot Chocolate recaps, but yes, I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K the one and only time they came to DC. Let's just say they weren't invited back... They accidentally started the 5K runners running in the opposite direction so they were running toward us 15K runners as we were trying to get to our corrals. The race started over 45 minutes late, blah, blah, blah... Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong! At least I was running for fun and not racing!

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    1. I'm not surprised about your story and it seems like this race can never get it together!

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