I signed up for the 15k at Hot Chocolate this year for my first time. Runners talk. I had friends that ran it in the past and I heard the stories: long lines, last minute course changes, crowds. When I told friends I was running it, I sometimes got an inquisitive eye in response. I had never experienced the race myself though, so felt it was unfair to judge a race I had never done based on stories that were from five or more years ago. On top of that, I wanted to set a new PR in the 15K and there are not too many opportunities to do that in the area. (The sweatshirt in the goodie bag was a plus, too.)
I decided to go to the expo on Friday morning. Since it was also the day of game three for the World Series, I wanted to get in and get out early and not have to deal with Cubs’ traffic. I got to McCormick Place shortly after the expo opened, walked right up to the bib pick-up table, right up to the sweatshirt pick-up table, did a quick loop around the expo (including talking to a couple friends I had seen walking around), and was out. No lines, no waiting, no problem. Could not have gone better.
I wanted to get to the race a little over an hour beforehand that Sunday, because I knew that the corrals were being closed off at 7:15 a.m. I took the Brown Line over, got there nice and early, found where the gear check was located, and hung around for a little bit.
At smaller races, I prefer to warm up in my sweats, but having been to larger races before, I knew it would be better to drop my gear off as early as I could to avoid any lines. So I stretched, ran a couple minutes at about 6:45 a.m., dropped my gear with no waiting, and finished my warm-up by running to the start area with a throw away shirt and bottle of water. I finished all my warm-up routine at about 7:05 a.m. and headed into the corral with very little crowding. I even got a place to stretch inside the fencing before actually going into the corral area.
I knew the times I wanted to hit for each 5K in order to PR, but didn’t mind if I was a little slow in the first mile. That line of thinking went out the window as the field took off fast at the gun. With the mix of 5K runners in with the 15K runners, there was a feeling in the air of “get out quick” that was easy to get swept up in. That actually ended up being a good thing. The first five miles of the course had some great, long, straight sections that allowed you to build up speed and get a good rhythm going. After the 5K runners cut off, the streets were a little lonelier, but the way the course was set up allowed for some fast splits as you headed south down Michigan Ave.
I later became very glad that I was able to build up some speed and bank some time in the first half of the race as after mile five, the wind was in our faces and the switchbacks on the course took a little bit more of the energy out of my legs. It was cool running by Soldier Field and the Field Museum in the final mile, though I didn’t really have the energy to pay attention at that point. I was more focused on my destination and begging to see the mile nine sign.
If you are going to run this race for time in the future, there are a couple tips I can pass along: first, starting off a couple seconds fast at this one is okay; utilize the long, straight sections in the first half the best you can as the handful of 180s towards the end make it a little tougher to gain extra time. Secondly, if this is a goal race for 2017, try to run events like the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle or the Rock n Roll Half Marathon as well, as the final parts of these courses – and the finish lines – are the same, so it makes it easier to visualize your race beforehand.
The atmosphere at the finish and at the post race party was very positive and full of energy. The music was perfect for after a race and the runners all seemed very content to stick around and enjoy a party in the park that morning. I got my bowl of chocolate — once again, no waiting in line — sat down for a bit and tried to enjoy the chocolatey goodness. I say “tried” because, even though the fondue was thick, sweet and delicious, it was also thick, sweet and delicious; I didn’t really have the energy to enjoy it and, after the first couple items, ate most of the treats without dipping, feeling as though I was about to become either an instant diabetic or a human bouncy ball.
If you have not yet experienced the Hot Chocolate race or have not done it in several years, it is worth a try. Yes, it has some of the added stress and morning time commitments that comes with being the second largest race in Chicago, but if you plan it out beforehand, it is also an overall positive and low stress atmosphere before, during and after the race.
Also, because, you know, chocolate.
(Oh, for those wondering, yes, I did manage to PR.)