I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K back in 2010 and didn’t have a great experience. Actually, a lot of people didn’t have a great experience in 2010 due to a crowded course, and I’ve heard various complaints about the race over the years, which is why I haven’t run it since. But my husband decided to sign up for it this year, so, I figured, if he’s going to do 9.3 miles, I should too.
My not-great experience in 2010 was actually due to a tight IT band that resulted in knee pain, and I spent most of the second half of the race walking. (Which meant I avoided a lot of the crowding issues.) So going into this year’s race, I had a really easy goal – beat my time from 2010. I actually didn’t even get around to looking it up in advance of this year’s race. I just knew if I ran more than half the race, I’d PR. (I checked Athlinks, my time in 2010 was 2:10, which was a 14:01 pace.)
Packet pick-up was at McCormick Place, so I stopped by after work the Friday before the race. I was able to quickly get both my bib and my husband’s, and our swag bag. My husband ordered his jacket in his size, even though he never wears his race shirts. (Normally, when I register him for races, I order his swag in a men’s small so I can wear it.) I have also finally given in after too many women’s mediums that “ran small” and started ordering my swag in a women’s large. Because … that’s probably my actual size. The jackets this year were pretty nice – zip-up hoodies in tech fabric with zippered pockets, maroon for women and black for men, with the race logo on one side of the chest.
Anywho. Since I’m not a men’s 2XL or 3XL or whatever size my giant husband ordered, I tried to swap his jacket, and they had a pretty organized process for jacket swapping, but the smallest men’s size they had available to swap was a large, so I went home with the giant jacket. Which will make a great throw-away jacket for a future race. The rest of the expo was nothing exciting, except for the Jelly Belly table giving away free Sport Beans and Krispy Kreme jelly beans.
Sunday morning we woke up well-rested thanks to the extra hour of sleep due to the time change. We were both in corral E in Wave 1, and planned to head out in an Uber around 6am or so to make it in time for our corral closing at 6:45am. But … we both needed extra time to feel “ready” in that special way runners are so concerned with. So we left later than planned. Our Uber dropped us off a block from Grant Park right around 6:45, we checked a bag and then tried to see if we could still get into the corral. By the time we got to the Wave 1 entrance area, I think it was after 7 and the race had started, so it was closed, however, I did see a few people climbing over the fence (and getting yelled at) to try to get into the corrals. Neither of us cared enough, so we just walked back to Wave 2 and got into the first corral (K). We crossed the start around 7:50am.
The course has changed since 2010, now it goes up Columbus to Lower Wacker Drive (which was a bit crowded) and comes out on Clark down to Van Buren then to Michigan, then the 5K runners turn on Roosevelt and head back to Columbus to finish, and the 15K runners keep heading south on Michigan. After the 5K runners turned on Roosevelt, the course felt much more open (but not lonely by any means). However, there were some strong winds, I actually almost lost my hat at one point. The course goes down to 31st to MLK Drive to 35th over to the Lakefront Path and then to the road between the Lakefront Path and Lake Shore Drive, through the awful McCormick Place tunnel (seriously, stop with the strobe lights and loud techno music in the tunnel), around the west side of Soldier Field and the Field Museum, back onto the path to go under Lake Shore Drive, then north on Columbus to finish. That last stretch heading north had a lot of “Chicago Hills” i.e., ramps to go over or under another road or path.
Gotta love free race photos
The fuel on the course has also changed since 2010. In addition to water and Nuun, they were handing out candy – chocolate chips (took that), candy corn (took that but kept it for later … really), M&Ms (took that), marshmallows (skipped that). I brought Sport Beans with me but stuck with the chocolate fuel (and water) and that worked for me.
As for my pace, I mostly ran it this time. I walked through the water stations, but generally kept a comfortable running pace, which was an 11:00-12:00 pace. I finished in 1:50, beating my 2010 time by 20 minutes.
After finishing, I got my medal and a water, but there were no other refreshments near the finish line. The “finishers mug” has hot chocolate to drink as well as to dip various things into (pretzels, banana, marshmallow, etc), but that was a few blocks away from the finish, and Robert and I agreed to meet up near gear check, which was right by the finish. I got our bag (with my extra layers) and waited. It started raining a bit, so I stood under a tree to mostly stay dry, but by the time he finished, it was raining pretty consistently. We decided whatever was in the finisher’s mug wasn’t worth getting drenched and left instead.
The medal had both a chocolate bar and a hot dog on it
Overall, I was glad that whatever issues this race has had in the past seem to be more or less worked out. My only complaint is that the finishers mugs were too far from the finish line. A November race isn’t really a great venue for an outdoor “post-race party” in my opinion. Also, the start of any race is always the most congested, and I feel like one half of Lower Wacker Drive is a little too narrow for such a crowd. But, I wasn’t concerned about my pace, so it didn’t really bother me to be “stuck” behind someone. I did appreciate that all of the corrals, minus the last few, had some kind of “no walkers” sign on it, although that didn’t stop some people in those corrals from walking as soon as they crossed the start line. At least they weren’t walking 4-5 abreast. Overall, I would do this race again, but mostly because I like the 15K – 10-mile distance and there are so few of those races around.
As for my own performance, I’m not sure if mid-30s is when your body starts to really show you who’s boss, or … if I’m just bad at taking care of myself. I’ve been dealing with a lot of new aches and pains this year. My Achilles tendons have been really tight in both heels, and that has impacted my running. I’ve been trying supplements (magnesium & potassium), doing yoga 1-3x per week, and also doing some extra stretches to specifically target my Achilles, which has helped a little, but hasn’t fixed it. Although I ran 70 miles in October, which was my longest mileage month in a while. (Coming Soon: October monthly recap post.)