Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K Review

How do you write about a race that has Twitter and Facebook blowing up with complaints? Here’s my attempt at a balanced Hot Chocolate 15K review.

  • I am glad that I kept my expectations low for a new race on a new course by an organization new to the area.
  • I am grateful to my friend who drove me and remained calm and in good spirits even after it became clear that she was not going to make it to the start for the 5k.
  • I am glad that I made it to the start and have a race recap to write.

Six Things That Sucked

  1. Logistics–Race Traffic. We sat in traffic for 90 minutes on a 1.5 mile-long bridge and still didn’t make it to the exit, so I hopped out of the car and joined the other passenger-runners who decided to jog the rest of the way on the shoulder. Yes, we knew there would be traffic. Yes, we allowed plenty of time. No, there were not enough people directing traffic and keeping things moving at the venue. Perhaps letting 20,000 people sign up for a race at a venue with one entry point and no public transportation was not the best idea.
  2. Logistics–Delayed Start. The traffic was so bad that the race organizers decided to delay the start. They announced a 15 minute delay, but the 15K actually was delayed for a full hour. Since I was in the car until 7:45 and had worn a big throw-away sweatshirt, I was fine, but the people who had gotten there early had a long wait in 30-degree weather.
  3. Logistics–5K/10K. It was curious that the 5K started first, but it started in a different direction, so we figured the organizers knew what they were doing. One reason the 15K started so late is because they were waiting for the 5K course to thin out, because the courses overlapped after the first 5 miles of the 15K. (The 5K also looped in the opposite direction, so the early 15K runners crossed paths with the 5K finishers–I’m not sure that makes sense either.)
  4. The Course. I knew about the hills. I trained for the hills. I am not complaining about the hills. (But did you really have to have the finish at the end of a long steep hill?) The first six miles was an out-and-back route along the shoulder and two right lanes of a six-lane divided road. There’s a reason this road has three lanes in each direction. Cutting that down to one lane on a Saturday morning is bad enough. Extending that closure for over an hour because of the delayed race start makes it worse. Instead of supporters lining the course, we had a long line of angry people stuck in traffic wondering why the f*ck we had the right to screw up their mornings. Not to mention the fumes from the idling trucks that we were side-by-side with us we ran the “back” leg uphill. And I’m still trying to get the sight of that roadkill out of my mind.
  5. The 5K Split. This doesn’t rise to the level of sucking, but the timing mats for the 5K split were on the right, so you crossed them on the “out” leg even though you didn’t hit 5K until the “back” leg. D’oh.
  6. The Post-Race Food. I knew there was going to be hot chocolate and chocolate fondue at the finish, but I didn’t know that’s all there would be. For the fondue, you were given a plastic tray with some food to dip in the ladle-full of chocolate you were served. The most nourishing food was a half of a banana and a pretzel rod, so I ate that, but my stomach could have used the rest of that banana or a bagel. The hot chocolate was good–don’t get me wrong–but I drank it fearing the consequences of dumping that into a mostly-empty, post-race stomach.

Six Things That Were Super

  1. My training. I knew about the hills. I trained for the hills. I killed the hills.
  2. My pre-race fueling. Since I don’t usually eat much before my training runs, I am still trying to figure out what to eat before a race. Today I had a chocolate protein shake at home and then most of a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole wheat bread in the car. (I was glad to have the rest to eat on the way home!) That was enough to sustain me through the traffic, the long wait to start, and the hilly 15K.
  3. My gear. I had a hard time deciding what to wear to stay warm until race time, and ended up with just a big sweatshirt over my long-sleeve tech shirt, CWX compression shorts, Zensah calf sleeves, light-weight Mizuno gloves and an Asics headband for my ears under my cap. Between the late start and the sun, that was enough. (I kept the sweatshirt on until just before the start, and draped it over a barricade–I hope they really did collect the cast-offs for charity.) I carried a disposable bottle of water to see if not having the fuel belt around my waist was any easier on my stomach (maybe that did help because I have not had tummy troubles today–another positive!) and held on to it until the last 3/4 mile. I had my iPhone so I could rendez-vous with my friend at the end, but I decided not to listen to music while I ran because I had drained the battery doing so much surfing on Facebook and Twitter before the start. (There were a few strectches when I missed my tunes, but overall it was okay.) As always, I wore my Garmin and checked it frequently to monitor and adjust my pace.
  4. Going to the race with a friend. We got to do a lot of catching up while sitting in traffic. If I had been alone I would have been fuming, but we did a lot of laughing.
  5. Starting at the start. I went through the process to get an assigned corral, and ended up with Corral A based on my GW Parkway Classic time. I was surprised at how un-crowded Corral A was, and ended up being able to be right at the start. Yes, I was passed by many runners during the first mile. Yes, that first mile was too fast. But, I did not get stuck in any hairpin curve logjams like I did at the Army Ten Miler.
  6. My pacing. I kept the course elevation profile in mind as I ran. I knew I had started out fast, but I didn’t realize how fast until I hit the first mile split clock at under 8:00 minutes (my Garmin was behind so my first full mile was not quite that fast). I slowed down, and held back for the long 3 mile stretch downhill, knowing that I would be turning around and going back up again! There was one other long, steep climb after mile 6 , and then the evil steep climb to the finish. That was hard. People who had been keeping a good pace had to stop and walk, but I kept chugging along and finished strong.

Garmin Data:
Total Distance: 9.1 miles
Total Time: 1:18:34 (Avg. Pace 8:38 min/mile)
Split Times: 8:15, 8:19, 8:22, 8:41, 9:02, 8:42, 9:01, 8:29, 8:53

Race Results: 100th out of 946 in my age group! 🙂

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23 Responses to Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K Review

  1. I definitely enjoyed my 20:xx 5k split. Um, no. I don't think so. That made me laugh so hard when we crossed it.

    I agree that having a good friend along for the trip there, traffic debacle and all, was key.

  2. Mary says:

    I saw all the commotion on Facebook and was wondering how it went! We had some issues with the race in Chicago, too – there was some traffic issue that caused a delay and a last minute course reroute, and the times/distances were all messed up for a while. The post-race food situation was also frustrating – but overall it was fun, and I enjoyed it. Of course, a month ago the weather was not as chilly as it probably was for you in DC today!

  3. David H. says:

    Great performance!

    The problem I see with what happened is that they tried to talk like they were a big, bad race and then couldn't deliver. I'm never one to hold back when the post-race surveys come out, so let your feelings be known.

    • Coco says:

      Yes, they definitely over-sold themselves in many ways! As much as I like the slogan, I wasn't really running for chocolate (I have plenty of that at home!) But really, one dixie cup of hot chocolate and one ladle of chocolate sauce does not make an "amazing post race party" in my book!

  4. katefsummers says:

    Great review. I appreciate your fairness and positivity. Congrats on the great time and way to train for the hills!

  5. Jenn says:

    I was looking on Facebook and Twitter and a link to your review showed up. I was wondering what the issues were with the race, since no one was being very descriptive. Now it all makes sense! I imagine that running in traffic made everyone's nerves even worse. I also can't believe that the race organizers could think that the traffic from 20,000 racers wouldn't be that bad. When I did the Long Island Half Marathon, there were only around 10,000 runners for the full, half, and 10k, and that was handled great, since they factored in the amount of traffic. No public transportation and one entry point sounds AWFUL.

    I'm also surprised at the very limited food options they gave you all. Did they really expect people to race 15K, and then just live on a half a banana in chocolate?

    I'm glad you were able to get through it though. Great job on the time and the finish! Hopefully your next race isn't as logistically crazy.

    • Coco says:

      Thanks! Yes, the organizers bit off more than they could chew in many ways!

      I would say that I will stick to tried and true races, but I've signed up for the DC Half in March that's just been taken over by the Rock N Roll people. Hopefully since its not a totally new event it will go more smoothly.

  6. Mae says:

    It was my first race ( I did the 5K) and I was disappointed. I'm glad I did it, but standing there for hours in the cold was NOT fun. I'm going to choose my future races very carefully.

    • Coco says:

      Oh, there are so many well organized races in this area! I'm sorry this was your first. I would look for a small one to do next! runpacers.com has events on their website.

  7. Great recap! There are always positives and negatives, no matter how great the race is. No one is perfect. That said, it sounds like these folks definitely need some more experience with putting on races. I hope they take the criticism seriously to make a better experience for everyone!

    And great job with your training! When you said you were training for those hills (Oh my word!), you inspired me to start running hills to prep for my race yesterday. 🙂

    • Coco says:

      You did great on your 5K! I noticed you mentioning training on hills, but didn't make the connection. It looks like it paid off for both of us!

  8. FindingMyHappyPace says:

    Very, very, very fair recap. Very adult like too, rather than slamming it, like I would have!
    It's too bad it ended up that way, sounds like it could be a great race. I know they had the same race in Chicago that I considered for half a second.
    Congratulations to you on the good race, considering all the suck that happened along the way!

    • Coco says:

      You know it's hard to be all negative when those post-race endorphins are flooding your brain!

      Today they posted/emailed an "apology" but it mostly explains how other people messed up (the parking company, the shuttle bus company, the police …. ). That is not going to win anyone over!

  9. I saw the posts on facebook/twitter about issues and am glad to get more of the specifics from your recap. Sitting in traffic wondering if you are going to make it to a race is the worst. Glad it wasn't all negative for your!

  10. Carly D. @ CarlyBana says:

    Great recap! You did a good job finding the positive parts of the day – much better than I did! Congrats on a speedy time 🙂

  11. katie says:

    This is a pretty fair and reasonable recap – much better than all the whining I've been reading all morning. thank you!

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