I know never say never but I’m pretty certain this race was my third and final Hot Chocolate event. Why? Well… let’s get into the details.
Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K Race Report
I’ve always had fun at this race expo. It’s a great excuse to drive into the city on a Friday and this year my friend and I had plans to take a nice walk along the lakeshore and have lunch. The walk & lunch were indeed lovely. The expo was a mess. We waited almost an hour – most of it outside on a 40 degree morning – to pick up our packet. The expo itself was fine but we had been waiting around so long that we didn’t have much interest in wandering to shop. I feel bad for the vendors because as the day went on people were waiting two even three hours to get their packets – that’s longer than the race itself. Ridiculous.
However, this is my favorite race shirt of all the years I’ve done this race. It’s a cute sweatshirt and while the fit is a little short (as always with this race for some reason) I still really like it and will wear it often.
When you do a race every year you start to notice how the race organizers learn & improve over time. However, this year felt like a step backwards. There was a staggered start for the corrals and we were told to be in our corrals no later than 7:20. Not a problem, we got to the city around 6:30 and had plenty of time to hit the port-a-potties before. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. They started the race just a few minutes late but by the time they got to our corral we had been waiting an hour. AN HOUR. I crossed the start line 1 hour and 1 minute after the first runners. And there were runners behind me. I’ve been in races just as big and never been that far behind the starting runners. Unacceptable.
It was a great day for a long run. 40 degrees, slightly cloudy so the sun wasn’t blazing in our eyes at the start, very little wind off Lake Michigan. Just great weather. But the race organizers had more twists in store for me.
First, the corrals. I have absolutely no idea how these corrals were assigned but it had nothing to do with pace. Can you imagine the nightmare of running a race with 40,000 people of varying pace all clumped together? I ran this with two friends and we were joking that the first four miles felt like we were doing fartleks. Sprint to get around a group… run for a minute or two until you catch up to the next group and then sprint again… for four miles. All that weaving explains how I managed to run .25 miles farther than the race distance.
Plus the race organizers decided to start the 5K and 15K people together in the same corrals. If I were running the 5K this would have been even more frustrating because so many 15K people were going at a long, slow pace not a 5K pace. As a 15K runner I was still angry because a lot of the 5K people appeared to be inexperienced and in the way. It was a clogged up mess until the 5K split off just after 2 miles. After that it went from clogged up to just plain crowded.
The course was changed this year which is a huge reason why I won’t be back. Last year we ran through the shopping district, the financial district, out to the United Center, through neighborhoods and back to Grant Park. I loved it. This year we ran on lower Wacker Drive – which was fun for a brief section by the river but the rest was just running in a tunnel. Then we headed through all the back lots of McCormick place – talk about your lousy views. Oh, and a good portion of the race was on concrete which explains why my knees are so angry with me.
Just past mile 5 they turned us to the lakeshore path. Now, I love running the lakeshore. And I enjoyed having my favorite Lake by my side for this race also. But running on a path with thousands of other runners? Not high on my list of fun things to do. Even though it got more crowded and twisty this was still my favorite part of the race. The views were the nicest on the course and the skyline stretched in front of us which made for an exciting goal as I headed into the toughest miles for me (I always hit a slump around 7-9 miles). This time I knew the slump was all mental because I felt strong everywhere else. I shook it off and we even picked up speed making our 9th mile the fastest of the race.
I finished in almost exactly the same time as last year – literally just a few seconds different. But the finish felt so different this time around. Last year I walked at mile 9. This year it was my fastest mile and I sprinted all out for the last .25. Last year I was gassed for much of the race, this year I had miles left in my legs. And since I actually ran further than 9.3 my average pace was stronger too: 10:32. My pace in a long run is typically 10:45 or slower so I did push harder than I planned to for this run but it must have been race day adrenaline because it didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard.
This was the only part of the race that was well done this weekend. Other than the fact that you have to walk so far to get to the finish party (it’s well over a .5 mile walk away from the finish line). The distribution of post-run treats was easy and didn’t require too long of a wait. The post-run reward for this race is somewhat legendary: chocolate fondue with lots of fun dipping items: a banana, marshmallow, apple slices, pretzels & a rice krispie treat. And a cup of hot chocolate (which was actually too rich for me to drink).
Overall rating: C-
I had a great run. I felt strong, I am very pleased with my pace and I got to run it with two friends. The weather was awesome and I was comfortable and solid. My run gets a solid A.
But I can’t give this race an above average grade, thanks to…
- Ridiculous line at the packet pick up;
- An unacceptable 60 minute wait in my corral to even start running;
- A lousy course filled with views of parked semis, dark tunnels (one which was so dark everyone was exclaiming that they couldn’t see and the pavement there was very uneven too), concrete and narrow paths; and,
- A huge crowd that felt like a huge crowd all morning long.
I won’t be back. If I’m going to pay $70 for a race entry I expect race gear that fits properly, an event that doesn’t require waiting at every step and a course that is fun to run. I’ve run this race three years in a row. I love running the streets of Chicago. But it looks like I’ll be searching for another event in the city.
Hot Chocolate just lost a fan.