Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2015 Hot Chocolate 15k Recap

This was my first time running the Hot Chocolate 15k. I had avoided this race after hearing some horror stories from other runners. I don't know if those stories were from a bad year for the race or if they were just meant to scare me, but after being convinced by some friends who were running to register, I was prepared for the worst and ended up having a great time. 

The race had a pretty great finisher's medal.
15k was a great distance, and everything went incredibly, almost shockingly, smoothly, from the expo and packet pick up to the actual race to the post race party. I had a really great time at this race and was lucky enough to know a lot of other folks running either the 5k or the 15k, which meant that I had the pleasure of bumping into a lot of friendly faces either before the race or during the race.

The expo was held at the Hyatt Regency, which was incredibly convenient. It was easily accessible by CTA, and had the added bonus of being only a couple of blocks from one of my jobs, making it easy to stop in and pick up my packet before heading to work one day. With a race this size, there was no race day packet pick up option, so if you opted not to pay extra to have your packet mailed, then you had to pick up at the expo in order to run. The expo ran for three days, so there was plenty of opportunities to get there to grab the essentials.

Everything was well labeled at the hotel, with plenty of signs pointing the way to the expo. Once there, I started with the basics - bib number and goodie bag. There were so many people working that I had what I needed within minutes. There was no wait for picking up the bib number, and then I only had to wait maybe five minutes in line for the goodie bag corresponding to the size I had requested for race jacket. The goodie bag was very simple and consisted of just the race jacket (which is pretty great, in my opinion) and a page of race day information. The bag itself was a reusable draw string bag, which I'm sure I'll use at another race in the future. There was also a gentleman passing out clear plastic gear check bags, so I made sure to grab one.

Once I had the important stuff, I made the rounds of the expo to see what there was to see and eat what there was to eat. Yes, I would like a free cup of hot chocolate. Yes, I would like a free bag of marshmallows. There were plenty of vendors offering freebies and plenty of merchandise available for purchase. I tried to keep things simple, so I took any offered flyers or samples, but I kept my money in my wallet for future race entries, though I did break down and buy a new headband to replace one that I left at the gym a few weeks ago. 

All my goodies from the expo. 
The day before the race, I went through my usual pre race rituals - drinking lots of water, going for a short and easy run, sticking with my usual pre race dinner (baked chicken with rice and a small salad), packing my gear check bag, laying out my race clothes, and setting a million alarms to make sure that I wake up on time.

The morning of the race I woke up early, showered, ate my usual pre race breakfast (half a bagel with almond butter and a banana), fed Hannah her cat food, and left to catch the train that would take me downtown. The race had two different waves, and I was in wave 1, so I had to be in my corral by the time it closed at 6:45, or I would have to move back and run with wave 2. 

I was surprisingly nervous as I made my way downtown. I just wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't really done much distance since my last half marathon, so I was worried about suddenly needing to run 9 miles. 9.3, to be precise. It is that last .3 that gets you.

I kept going over my race strategy and reminding myself not to start out too fast. I planned on doing run/walk intervals, as I was more concerned about finishing the race than I was about time. Soon, I was downtown and walking towards the race site. The sun was just starting to rise, and I joined the groups of runners heading east to Grant Park.

Damn it, Chicago! Stop looking so picturesque! 
Things were easy to find, and there were thankfully what seemed to be thousands of bathrooms. Seriously, there were so many bathrooms. At no point during the day did I ever have to wait in line for a bathroom, which was pretty much the best thing ever. What can I say? It is the little things that make me happy.

I packed up my extra layers, adding them to my gear check bag, and quickly checked my bag. Gear check was just as well staffed as the expo had been, so there was little to no wait when it came to dropping off my bag and being on my way.

I was incredibly cold, but I knew I was actually overdressed for the race, wearing running tights, a long sleeve shirt, and a jacket. I was happy for my layers before the race, but I would soon come to regret them.

One of the only problems I had was getting into my corral. There was simply no easy way to do it, as you had to go all the way around the back of the last corral in wave 1 in order to get to the side of the corrals that allowed entry. I barely made it into my corral before it was announced that the wave 1 corrals were closing.

In the corrals waiting to start running.
Everything started right on time at 7am, but being towards the back of wave 1, I didn't cross the starting line until about 7:20am. The staggered start was excellent when it came to helping keep the course less crowded and more manageable.

The course was fully on Chicago streets, which was great, as I sometimes get a little tired of paying to run races that use the lakefront path. The first chunk of the race was on Lower Wacker, which throws everyone's GPS off and isn't terribly scenic, but luckily it was only a short while before we reemerged into the sun shine. I had forgotten to turn off the auto lap feature on my watch, but I was more concerned about keeping my run/walk intervals consistent, so I wasn't too bothered by this. 

I was keeping a good pace for me, about 10 minutes per mile, and was feeling great as we turned onto Michigan. At Roosevelt, the 5k and 15k courses split, with 5k runners heading to the left and 15k runners continuing down Michigan. The course was now even less crowded and had much more room to comfortably make my way to the side when it was time to slow down to walk.

At each of the aid stations, there was some sort of candy treat at the start of the station - M & Ms, strawberry marshmallows, or chocolate marshmallows - before you got to the electorlyte (I believe the race was offering Nuun) and then water. There were also port-o-potties available at each aid station and a plethora of friendly and exuberant volunteers handing out treats, hydration, and high fives.

At various points on the course, there were also cheerleaders, music, and even a marching band to keep runners entertained.

When I hit the 5k mark, I was already a little too warm, having made the mistake of dressing for pre race temperatures instead of looking ahead at the predicted temps once the race started. By the 10k point, I was just plain uncomfortable. Having attached my bib to my outermost layer, there was no option to remove layers, so I unzipped my jacket as much as I could and kept moving. I will not make this same mistake again. 

I was maintaining my pace pretty well, but I started to slow down during the last couple of miles. That was when we hit the hills, or what felt like hills for Chicago. I feel that almost every race in Chicago tries to find a way to end their race  with a hill.

As I passed the mile 8 marker, I was definitely feeling the miles and cursing myself for having abandoned my weekend long runs in favor of short and easy runs during the month of October. Note to self - don't sign up for any distance longer than a 10k at the last minute again. 

Soon, the finish line was in sight, so I gave what little energy I had left to make it across. I forgot to turn my watch off, so I wasn't sure what my final time was, but I was more concerned about getting some water and food. 

Love it! 
A little bit more walking brought me to volunteers handing out cups of Nuun, and a little more walking brought me to bottled water, which I quickly downed. All I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap, but I knew I needed to keep moving. I made the hike over to gear check to collect my bag, which was just as quick and easy as dropping it off had been.

I quickly ate the snack I had packed for after the race (a packet of almond butter and a handful of pretzels) and immediately felt better. I changed into my extra clothes, made a pit stop at the restrooms, which were still surprisingly fresh after the race, and then headed over to the post race party to collect my mug of chocolatey goodness and meet up with friends.

The party was quite a walk from the finish line, but there was food and music and fun to be had. I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of people, so I made a beeline for the food. There were a lot of lines for the participant mugs, and they were all moving quickly. Everything, from gear check to aid stations to the post race party, was well staffed, making even the longest lines a fairly short wait.

The mug was filled with tasty treats. Hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, banana, mini pretzels, rice krispie treat, marshmallow, cookies...there was a lot of sweet deliciousness to be enjoyed. They were smart enough to also include a wet wipe so that folks could clean their hands after eating.

Yummy! This deliciousness didn't last very long!
The post race party had music and dancing and merriment. I made my way around the perimeter to hit up the various vendor and sponsor booths. I was handed a few more bags of marshmallows (I have so many bags of marshmallows in my apartment right now) as well as a bag that I could put my mug in once I was finished so that chocolate didn't get all over my belongings. 

Making meet ups with friends easier was the fact that they had "Runner Reunite" areas arranged alphabetically, so I made my way over the the letter we had agreed to meet at. I ate my yummy treats, stretched, and once we had all assembled we compared notes about the race and congratulated each other.

The post race party had Runner Reunite areas so runners could easily find friends and family.
I was pleased to have finished the race, and although I wasn't sure of my finish time, I was very happy with my effort. Once I had stretched and eaten, I felt a lot better, and it was great to have seen so many friends running either the 5k or the 15k. 

To celebrate our accomplishment, a group of us headed to brunch. Once we all had drinks in hand, we toasted our accomplishment and got down to the real business of eating as much as possible. Hooray! Brunch! Mimosas and omelets and bacon, oh my!

A good race calls for a drink.
Once I got home, I had just enough time to shower and change before heading to work. I really wanted and needed a nap, but there was just no time, and all of my co-workers asked if I was okay when I arrived because I apparently looked a little worse for wear. 

As soon as I was in front of a computer, I went online to check my results. I was thrilled to see that I had finished in 1:34:32. As expected, the last 5k was slower than the first, but I was extremely happy with my finish time. Not bad for my first 15k! I had done much better than expected, and I know I could do even better with some proper preparation. 

My results! Not too shabby...for me, at least.
I had been warned that I wouldn't enjoy the race, that it was crowded and expensive and poorly run. But I didn't experience any of that. In fact, I had a blast and would love to run this race again next year! Everything was well organized, there was plenty of communication from the race leading up to race day, and things were just really easy and hassle free.

I liked the jacket. I liked the course. I liked the party. Even better, I was able to see and/or run with a lot of friends of various running levels - some ran the 5k, some ran the 15k, and we even had a few spectators in our group. It was a great day, and I was happy with my effort and my finish time. I look forward to running another 15k in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the finish and the nice consistent splits!