A Public Service Announcement to the Local Running Community

Dear Runners,

We have a duty to ourselves and our local running communities.

Stop registering for races that are notoriously crappy year after year.

This reminds me of my relationship with the Cubs. I’m a lifelong Cubs fan, and attended many games throughout my life. But lately, the Cubs have been doing terrible. Summer after summer. Just terrible.

I decided to stop supporting such a crappy team. So I “broke up” with the Cubs. I stopped buying tickets. They still suck, and it seems like other people are with me and also not giving the Cubs money. They were practically giving tickets away during the last few weeks this season. And money talks. So hopefully Cubs management makes serious changes and things improve. And if that happens, then I’ll come back. If not, then I’ll keep my money and spend it on worthwhile things.

Today was the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K in Chicago. I did not run it. I did not run this race last year. I did run it in 2010 though.

Hot Chocolate 2010 race on lakefront path near the Shedd Aquarium
Overcrowding during the 2010 Hot Chocolate. Source: Facebook

Why haven’t I been back?

Because, like the Cubs, I don’t want to spend money on a consistently inferior experience.

I race a lot. And the race fees add up. And there are SO MANY races out there to choose from. Every single weekend.

Why would I waste my money on a race that is notoriously bad? Not just in Chicago, but they royally messed up their race in DC last December.

And yet, 40,000 people did just that and ran the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K today.

I know some people had good experiences. And I know there are far far far worse things going on right now. I’ve seen comments on the HC FB page that say runners should “feel lucky that their race wasn’t canceled.” Not to mention all the devastation in New England that has nothing to do with the marathon. (And on that note, I am impressed by the volunteer efforts of the NYC marathoners in the wake of their cancelled race.)

But my humble blog can’t do much to have an effect on New England right now, so I’ll talk about what I know. And just because runners were lucky today that their race still went on, that doesn’t excuse the poor planning.

2012 Hot Chocolate Expo. Source: TooTallFritz.com

Because from what I read about this year’s Hot Chocolate … Crappy expo. Crappy race day. I’ve never seen so many recaps of just the race expo before, if that’s any indication. Not to mention the endless complaints on the HC Facebook page.

But the thing is, this is not the first time RAM Racing has put on this race. This is also not the first (or second) year that this race hasn’t gone well.

So, local running community, we owe it to ourselves to STOP REGISTERING FOR NOTORIOUSLY BAD RACES.

There will still be new runners who aren’t aware of the train-wreck that is the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K, and I don’t blame them for signing up.

But veteran runners? Come on. You know better. What incentive does RAM Racing have to improve, if they are able to convince 40,000 people to shell out their hard-earned money for a sub-par event? None. And they won’t improve. Because every year, people complain. And for once, these are VALID complaints. And yet, the following year, thousands still register, and RAM still puts on a crappy race.

So please. You owe it to the running community. If we stop supporting crappy races and crappy race companies, hopefully they will stop putting on their crappy races. Either they will actually make an effort to improve (cap the number of runners to an amount they can safely accomodate, or hire someone who knows how to put on a safe race for 40K runners), or they will close up shop.

Who’s with me? Who promises to make 2013 the year we stop giving our money to race companies who have no respect for our time or safety? And instead, support the well done, deserving races that make an effort to actually put on worthwhile races? (Which is the majority of races.) 

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27 Comments on “A Public Service Announcement to the Local Running Community”

  1. Well said Maggie. I’ve never registered for it after reading previous years reviews… Of course it seems like the “newbies” are the only ones who had a decent experience because they don’t know better. The running community here should not register for these races which are oversold and unsafe to run.

  2. As someone who has been running for six months, I asked around for a longer race to do. There were a number of friends, neighbors, and running club friends who recommended the Hot Chocolate. I have to say, that while I had fun while I was actually running (and when don’t I have fun running), I was disappointed in quite a few aspects the HC. 1. Surprise, surprise was the packet pick up. 2. Was the amount of time it took to move to actually start racing. It was 47 minutes after the race when I started, and I average a 10 minute mile. 3. The mixing of the 5K and 15K people. The most annoying part was people who were doing the 5K, who started ahead of me, and were coming to a complete stop after only a mile. 4. The waiting in line for the finisher Hot Chocolate which was a tiny bit of fondue, a rotten banana, four broken mini-pretzels, one marshmellow, and three bad apple slices. The volunteers were mostly nice, and the people running the race for the most part were nice. I feel guilty that I spent my family’s hard earned money on this race. Never again on this one for me. I’m sticking to local races and ones that have a good reputation put on by pros that care. I will do my research for sure. They made their profit and that’s what they care about. On their Facebook page they said they were going to make it up. Um, they did not, unless they are refunding me my money.

    Ah, I feel better.

    Anyway, I’m with you!

    1. I’m so bummed you had a bad experience! In general, MOST races are well done. This one is just consistently bad, and I feel sorry for any new runners who get turned off to races because of their experience at the Hot Chocolate race. Honestly, I don’t know what RAM’s problem is with this race. You would think they would know better – they OWN RUNNING STORES so you would think, as runners and people invested in the running community, they would do a better job putting on a well done race. And their other races seem to be better, it’s just this race is always a mess.

  3. I too, ran in 2010, and the expo and the race itself were so unorganized I vowed to never run a RAM Racing event again. The expo was PACKED in Union Station and the course had two horrendous bottle necks not to mention running over the rocks. I mean, I had fun running, because, well, I like to run. And the chocolate was pretty good afterwards.

    I warned my sister in law not to sign up. She did anyways. And she ended up not even running, so she spent $70 on a sweatshirt. A combination of not running much in the past few weeks and her thinking that today would be as poorly run as the expo made her decide not to drive in from Aurora.

  4. I agree with your sentiments. I didn’t register for the Hot Chocolate in the last few years because it was such a train wreck of a run in 2009. It was on a tight course with strollers. The jacket had a Nike logo on it but it wasn’t a Nike jacket. The post race was great that year with the amount of chocolate pieces I consumed and the decent amount of fondue. I was hoping they improved the race since then.

    I was glad that they put the race on city streets after 2009 but I contined to year numerous complaints about the race. I was disappointed to see that they added so much more participants when they put the race on actual streets. Lately, I’ve been hearing about the problems with their post race and expo set up. I haven’t registered for the Hot Chocolate or any RAM racing event because of my previous experience and my fellow runner’s current experiences.

    I believe a lot of runners get pulled into poorly organized races because of the friends loving the idea of a race without doing the research into the quality of the race. Finding good reviews of races is also difficult because the blog reviews are scattered throught the vast interweb.

    Again, let’s stop supporting sub-par events and promote great races like the Hillstrider’s March Half Maddness in Cary, IL (actually don’t do it because they cap the race to 1000 runners and I want my spot!), Stampede Run 5k/10k in Arlington Heights, IL, the Chilly Chili 5k in Schaumburg, IL.


    1. I agree that veteran runners get roped into this race because their non-runner friend shows an interest, and most runners CANNOT resist the allure of a non-runner-turned-runner, and therefore sign up with them. BUT, I say to them, try to talk your friend into a well done race, preferably local, and then go out to breakfast afterward, or even just to a coffee shop for coffee or cocoa. Far more enjoyable than eating a little bit of chocolate out in the cold after a nightmare of a race.

      I’m already starting to make plans for my 2013 races, and I’m definitely focusing on quality races that are worth the registration fee. I would love to do the March Madness Half, if it wasn’t a two-hour drive for me to get there (and then back).

  5. Thank you for this post! I couldn’t agree with you more. The reason I’ve gone back (and will include in my recap) is that I haven’t had a bad experience with this race…until now. Yeah it was crowded in ’09 and I had to squeeze myself into the corral and then zig zag half the course to find runners more my speed but that had happened at other races. And the course reroute at the last minute last year actually worked to my advantage because I would have missed the start to the race. And I had friends run the DC version and shrug off the things that had made some livid (the complaints about the course not being safe, the delay, the traffic, etc.). But between this year’s packet pickup–lines BOTH days, a inconveniently located gear check if you were approaching the race from the north, a packed course where you could never run your speed until you were almost done with the race–I’m ready to throw in the towel.
    And if you splurge on a hotel room near Cary the night before, the March Madness Half is totally worth it. The course is on local roads and nothing super exciting, until you look out and see deer! And it’s affordable, you can use the bathroom beforehand, park your car nearby, and they have tons of food. Sorry, I can talk races all day…been doing them too long around here.

  6. I ran hot chocolate in 09 and getting to the race start was a night mare. The race organizer said you could catch a bus at navy pier but the line wrapped around the block. In 2010 they changed the race course to start at grant park run past soldier field and then run on the lake shore path. It was so crowded and when we got to the path which narrowed the run came to a halt because it was too crowded on narrow path. Great food but terrible crowds.

  7. Well said, Maggie. I’ve only participated in the race for the past two years, and while my experiences have been positive, I do believe that the concerns are legitimate. What I couldn’t get behind was everyone making a federal case out of it, which is why I am most definitely guilty of making a comment on Twitter about “keeping things in perspective”. I know some people took it the wrong way, as I wasn’t trying to diminish their frustration. But, I do love your perspective in supporting races that support runners, and I certainly could stand to take a closer look at the races I sign up for.

    1. A federal case? What? Weird. Just put your money where your mouth is – DON’T do this race again. I’m not saying we have to limit ourselves to tiny old school races put on by local running clubs (although if you’ve never done a race like that – do one! they are great), but when there are SO many races out there, and SO many that fall on the scale of decent-to-excellent, I’m baffled why anyone would continue to spend big bucks on such a bad race that is consistently bad, year after year. Thus giving RAM zero actual incentive to improve this race.

  8. I ran the race last year and thought that besides being a little crowded it wasn’t that bad. But after this year, I’m done. I did sign up because I had a lot of friends running (but due to my crazy schedule I never ended up seeing them anyways). The expo was unacceptable, despite the corral start, the course was still crowded…volunteers were just watching people go under the ropes that separated the corrals and never said anything…so people just kept doing it. Now many peoples times are right in the results online. Not much positive to say this year…so I won’t be back either.

  9. I was lured into this race based on the great experience of all my friends that ran the 15k last year. Needless to say, I won’t be doing this race next year. Does anyone know of any other 15k races? I think this might be my new favorite distance…

    1. I agree, I really like the 15K distance and am bummed this is the only local one. I know there was an 8-mile race in Wheaton yesterday (Hot Cider race put on by All Community Events), and of course a 10-mile race is only 0.7mi longer, and there’s the CARA Lakefront 10, Quarryman, Soldier Field and Chicago’s Perfect 10. But yeah, more 15K options would be nice. And 10K, I really like that distance and there aren’t many of those. But there are a zillion 5K’s and half marathons.

  10. I ran Hot Chocolate in 2010 and had an okay experience. Course improvements lured me back in 2011 and I had a great time so I came back this year… and it was a MESS. Never again. You’re right and I’ll be putting my money into races that are far more worth it.

  11. Ran it last year, didn’t run it this year. I didn’t think the big hype for chocolate was enough to lure me in for my money. So instead those ~$70 went towards the Chicago half marathon (when it was on sale for $35) and a 5k. I think I got a better deal than what happened over the weekend.

  12. Very well written post! I agree with all of your comments. There will always be someone complaining about something about a race but when you see a critical mass of critical comments, well, that tells me to run the other way. I’d much rather give my money to races that have a history of being well run or, at the very least in the Chicago area, are CARA certified.

  13. I had a decent time last year but the course was totally different and my expo experience was a breeze (and I went at 5:30 pm on Friday). I decided not to do it this year after hearing all of the other horror stories and the fact that it was an expensive race that didn’t fit into my training schedule. I’m glad I skipped it. I was out running a long run on Sunday morning and with 5 minutes until race start I saw runners on State Street waiting to pay for parking in lots. I also saw lots of runners panicking about getting to the start line. Some of it could have been due to the time change but I’m guessing poor logistics played a part as well.

  14. The main reason I signed up was that I had visions of rerunning parts of the marathon course as they did last year. So, I was disappointed that it was on Lower Wacker, a dangerous stretch on LSD and then the Trail. It was one of those races where my whole neighborhood seemed to be registered (even people who are not regular runners). The organizers probably realize there will be tons of “newbies” who have no other race experiences to compare it to. I may give it one more chance, but maybe not.

  15. AMEN. You took the words right out of my head. RAM has oversold the race and each year seems to be a bigger nightmare. I had brunch plans in the suburbs on Sunday so I ran the “Hot Cider 8 mile” race in Danada Forest Preserve. It’s a small race organized by All Community Events and was really enjoyable, I totally agree that some small races can be an awesome experience.

  16. I have never run this race based on the reviews, and i don’t plan on it. In general, when i see “40,000” i turn the other way. You have a great point though – we as a collective hold a lot of power and we should demand awesome races.

  17. I agree. Did the HC last year and while the Expo and packet pickup went fine, the race itself was so crowded you couldn’t even run for the first mile! Being a newbie I just figured all big city races were like this, but then we did the Shamrock Shuffle and it was so much better! I also wish there were more 10K and 15K races around-especially out here in the burbs!

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