Monday, December 5, 2011

15k: Hot Chocolate Race Recap

The first I heard of the Hot Chocolate 15k, I was hesitant to register for two reasons: 1. I thought $65 was a steep price for any race that is shorter than a half marathon; 2. It was far away at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD. It took several friends proposing this race for me to get excited about it and decide to register. And, once I did, I remained excited. A ton of my real-life friends, and many of the runners I stalk on the internet, would be running it and I had high hopes of a glorious indoor after party with fondue fountains and kegs of hot chocolate.

Hadley slept over Friday night and we were up by 5AM on Saturday. We picked Nikki up in Columbia Heights and headed south to PG County. It was still dark when we arrived at our parking destination so it was easy for me to pop a squat in some bushes. The sun came out during our short shuttle ride to the start.

Thanks to my paranoia about traffic and parking delays, we had over an hour to wait. We said hi to Sarah, who was running the 5k and then met up with Jamey's crew.

7:45 rolled around so we checked our bags and got ready to start. There was confusion about where to go, the corral signs didn't make much sense, and there was barely any communication over the loudspeaker about what was going on. 8 o'clock came and went and we were clearly not starting any time soon. Then an hour passed. We were all freezing and pissed off and the crowd chanted various versions of "let us run" in the confusion. It reminded me a lot of my unforgettably negative experience at the Five Boro Bike Tour in May. Soon after nine, we were finally off. We could smile again.

Our teeth were chattering and we couldn't feel our feet. Much of our energy had been used up to keep ourselves warm. I had never started a race that way and it didn't seem healthy. But we were moving and I was just happy to finally be running. One reason that I really do love cold weather running is that it pushes me to run faster to keep warm. We decided as a group that we'd aim to run faster than 9 minute miles.

The first five miles were an out and back on a busy highway. It was crowded so my practice dodging people in the Turkey Chase came in handy. I was trying to keep with a group of four, though, so the crowds and the dodging were especially frustrating. The first five miles we averaged just under 9 minutes per mile but I knew we could run faster. Luckily, at the end of the out and back, I felt like we were finally running with people of our speed. We still passed some but got to a point where it didn't feel like every runner was a roadblock to maneuver around.

At mile 5.5, we ran back by the starting line and began a long downhill stretch. This course was a surprisingly hilly one.

We took serious advantage of the downhill.

The bottom of the hill brought us to the final 5k which ran around the harbor. There were some steep uphills but those last 3.1 miles flew by. We had an awesome view of Virginia across the Potomac River, under a sunny blue sky. And I got to admire my beloved Wilson Bridge. All the anger and frustration that I'd felt during the hour-long delay was suddenly gone and the race felt completely worth it. I knew that we were well on course to beat our last-minute goal pace.

The final half mile of the race was up a steep hill which was tough but no biggy. The crowd support was great. I had been lagging behind Nikki and Jamey the last mile or so and finished about 5 or 10 seconds behind them. I hadn't checked my watch for the overall stats but I knew we'd crushed this race.

My official time was 1:19:37, pacing me at an average 8:33 minute mile. Running 6.2 miles under 8:30 was an accomplishment but it was not a huge surprise. 9.3 miles, however, was more daunting and I'm really proud of this time, especially since miles 1 and 4 were 9:13 and 9:11 with all the runner roadblocks.

Having burned 926 calories, according to Mr. Garmin, I was ready to pour many chocolaty calories down my throat. The hot chocolate and the fondue were delicious.

You all know how strongly I believe in chocolate milk and hot chocolate as recovery drinks. But I learned on Saturday that I don't believe in chocolate fondue as a recovery meal. Next time, give me some bagels, bananas, and oranges. I LOVE chocolate but it made me kind of want to puke.

We found SRG, who'd just completed her first race, to snag a picture, and began the long journey home.

The Hot Chocolate crew took a lot of slack for all of the things that went wrong on Saturday morning. There were complaints all over Twitter and Facebook and DCist wrote an article about the "Hot Chocolate FAIL". From what I've read, I think that the experience was worst for people who parked at the Harbor. I didn't have such negative feelings though. That hour in the cold was frustrating. And the crowds were annoying at first. But I got past them, had a great race, and am actually glad that I did it. If Hot Chocolate 15k makes another appearance in DC, will I sign up to run it? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe the owner of Ram racing, when he wrote in his apology e-mail yesterday, that he is deeply sorry for all that went wrong and that much of that was because of things out of the race organizer's control.

Have you ever run a race where too many things went wrong? Did it ruin the experience for you? Would you run for chocolate?


  1. Wow! You guys totally rocked that race! I do feel extremely sorry that you had to wait in the cold for that long. i know exactly what it feels like and it is definitely not fun! Either way, it sounds like you all warmed up pretty quickly once you actually started moving and had a great time! I don't know if I have ever run a race THAT disorganized but I can imagine how frustrating it must have been. It was nice of the organizer to apologize though!

    I would totally run for chocolate! I would LIVE for chocolate. Add marshmallows to the mix and I'm in heaven!

  2. I love the picture of you guys jumping! I'm really impressed with your pace considering the freezing temps and the general race chaos.

  3. Glad that you had such a good time in spite of the late start.

    Your pics are great and the chocolate looks wonderful!

  4. sounds like you had a really great race, all things considered! i love the color of the shirts you wore. and how you referred to the "kegs of hot chocolate." : )

    xo christine

  5. I hate starting a race freezing like that!
    I have definitely had annoying experiences in races and it sometimes takes a few miles to shake it off.
    I definitely would (DO!) run for chocolate! :)