This was the 10th anniversary running of the Hot Chocolate 5k and 15k here in Chicago. I’ve run pretty close to all the races in the Chicago area by now but, truth be told, not this one. Because it takes place so late in the year, I’m usually fresh off of a fall marathon so I never sign up. Plus there was the year this race was a veritable cluster. We all heard about that and stayed away.
This year though, Karen was visiting from France and wanted to run it. Plus my marathon happened 4 weeks ago. I can’t say the $80 registration fee went down easy but I did indeed sign up.
I signed up too late to take advantage of having my packet mailed to me. Silly me assumed they’d offer alternate packet pickup at a suburban running store so I was pretty shocked when I realized I needed to trek into the city the day before the race, which is a PIA of the highest order.
I cajoled the Caveman and Thing 1 to drive down to McCormick place with me on Saturday. After fighting traffic for over an hour, we still hadn’t made it to “parking lot A”.
The expo was large enough but tightly packed in a small space. Under pressure from the teenager and Caveman, I retrieved my bib and goody bag and nothing more before I was hunting down the place where you validate parking to reduce the fee from $23 to $10. Outside the expo in the lobby was lots of chocolaty goodness. Hot chocolate and chocolate dipped cookies to be exact.
Race morning dawn cold (low 30’s) and clear. I fought the urge to overdress, which is tough to do when the season is new and you’re not yet acclimated to the temps. I opted for a thermal half zip, tights and fleece headband. I know myself well enough not to wear gloves. I’d have them off and be cussing in the first mile if I wore them. Can’t stand having hot paws.
I left the house at 5, retrieved Wendy and we headed to the El station. Except for some seedy people who appeared to be sleeping aboard the train all night, the ride was comfortable and uneventful. It was still pitch black when we arrived to Grant Park.
As we searched for Gear Check where we planned to meet up with Karen, event staff was just unlocking some porta-potties. Fresh, line-free potties on race morning. Does it get any better than that? I told Wendy it was a good omen.
After asking for directions to Gear check and being sent in the wrong direction a couple of times, we finally realized it was back behind the last corral (corral O). We were standing near Corral B. Yeah we had some ground to cover. So we hustled and checked gear and gave up on finding Karen cuz it was just too darn late.
We did a little warm-up jog all the way back up to Corral B just in time to have the corral gate slammed shut in our faces. Seriously. No bueno.
I’m sporting the latest tall kitchen garbage bag chic.
We were directed back to Corral D and told we could work our way up to B where we belonged. So that’s what we tried to do. Corral D was a total bottle-necked cluster. The best thing about this cluster was we found Karen in it. All 3 of us tried to work our way up to Corral B (aka cool, speedy kid corral) but gave up when we got to C. It would have to do.
Goals for the race: Have fun, run happy but comfortably hard, like a tempo pace, but something you can hold for 9 miles.
We went off the way a billion races do in Chicago, headed North up Columbus drive, under the Millennium Park bridge and under the tunnel that royally effs up everybody’s Garmin.
5k Average pace 9:37
We spent most of the first mile in the tunnel and on Lower Wacker. The first water stop had chocolate chips, I passed. After a couple of miles we were heading South on Michigan Avenue. It was cold but perfect really. Except for when we got a screaming headwind. After being focused on the marathon distance for so long, I have to admit at the 5k point it felt pretty darn good knowing I had only a 10k left.
10k Average pace: 9:39
The next water stop gave out candy corn. I tossed a few down hoping for energy. I got it. My watch was only showing me the mile I was in. No average pace, and the miles were clicking off way ahead of the mile markers, thanks to the tunnel. This was tough mentally. Before we turned around onto the lakefront path, we went over a cool bridge that must be new. I’d never seen it before. I walked up the incline and took a GU. Not too much longer now. After mile 7 I wanted to be done. The final water station was giving out tan marshmallows that intrigued me: What flavor would they be? I had to find out. The answer is salted caramel. Tasty, but soon after I got a tummy cramp. At this point I felt like I was throwing one foot in front of the other. We went under the dark and potholed passage that is the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, wound around and back up on to Columbus and brought it in for the finish.
Finish Time 1:30 (avg. pace 9:41) This is actually a PR for me, since I’ve never run a 15k before.
The finish area was nice. There was a concert and a food area where we got large, partitioned mugs containing a cup of hot chocolate, warm chocolate for dipping, a banana, cookies, marshmallows, pretzels and Rice Krispie Treats. Very fun, except none of us took a picture of it. After standing there sweaty for a bit though, we all realized just how freaking cold it was with a biting wind, so we headed back for the train.
Pros: This was a really fun (and huge) race. The chocolate theme was well carried throughout the expo, race and after party. There was chocolate everywhere. Swag is excellent. The thermal half zip is beautiful (not to mention my favorite purple). The medal is large and dazzling. We got a golden “Bean” keychain to commemorate the race’s 10th anniversary. I also received a Hot Chocolate ball cap. Water station volunteers were extremely enthusiastic and having lots of fun handing out candy, water and Nuun.
Cons: Getting to the expo was a chore for us suburbanites, although there was a mail option for $15 that I missed. Gear check was tough to find on race day. Despite allowing plenty of time, we almost missed the start since it was SO darn far from our corral. Entering corrals was a crowded cluster. While the race is fun, the course is uninspiring. The long stretch down South Michigan avenue is boring. The price of this race is steep. I could have saved money if I’d signed up earlier, but the $80 + registration fees was steep for a 15k…although the swag is nice and overall it’s a well-executed race.
Have you run a Hot Chocolate race before? What’s the most fun treat you’ve gotten at a water station?