Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K 2012 aka my last Hot Chocolate

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

Race Expo
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.

Race Morning

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.

Let’s Race
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.

The Finish
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.


15 thoughts on “Race Recap: Hot Chocolate 15K 2012 aka my last Hot Chocolate

  1. I did this race in 2010 and haven’t been back. Even though it sounds like the 2011 was mostly fine, I still didn’t feel this race was worth $70. And now it sounds like 2012 might just be their worst year yet. Hmmm. In my opinion, there are so many races out there that are much better. (And cheaper.)

    Also, I added you to http://www.chicagorunningbloggers.com.

  2. Thank you for such a great summary. I agree with every point you made. I have always said I would never run a Chicago race because they are too big. This was probably not a good representation of Chicago races, but it truly played out every negative of such a large race. Thanks, this really helped to put closer on this experience. I am thankful for my running group they made everything around the race fun!

  3. Your experience is exactly why I haven’t run this race. I’ve heard lots of bad things and races that run along the lakeshore – while beautiful – are way too crowded. This was very similar to my experience for the Soldier Field 10 mile a couple years ago. It’s gotten so big that it’s a logistical nightmare.

    I’m glad you had a great run though – welcome to Taper Week!

  4. What’s crazy is that judging from their Facebook page and the huge blowup after the DC race, it isn’t just limited the Chicago. I had fun last year with the chocolate, but I hated the huge wait at the start. My feet were numb for the first two miles because the race was delayed. I hated the crowds and felt that all the weaving and dodging cost me a stronger run, but this year’s race sounds like an even bigger letdown. Like you said, it should get BETTER each year. They should learn from mistakes and improve, not steadily decline.

    1. You’re right – it seems to be a problem with the race organizer, not any outstanding circumstance. Last year’s delay in Chicago was because of a traffic accident – that’s out of their control and I don’t blame them for that. This year they planned a start that made runners wait. Ridiculous.

  5. I ran the DC Hot Chocolate last year, and in the multitude of negative comments (which were all true and I won’t even bore you with the details of my experience!) a few chimed in that the Chicago one was great. We figured maybe it was because it was new here that there were a few glitches, but it doesn’t sound that way now. We had to wait over an hour in the freezing cold to start and they blamed it on a made up traffic accident. It was crazy.

    1. I really have no complaints about the 2011 Hot Chocolate in Chicago and I loved the course. But this year was a mess all the way around. Combine that with the way races went in DC and other areas and I think there’s a definite issue.

  6. I ran this race 2 years ago and I said never again! for many of the reasons you listed above. That year they let the walkers start with the runners. Imagine. And running on the south lake shore path, which had broken concrete, was unacceptable. I have run other races by this organizer, most notably the North Shore half, which was the most expensive half I have run. The race itself was fine, but the best goody bag? as they called it…a giant shirt that would fit my husband. And a hat. I’ve decided to avoid the “novelty” races and seek out the smaller ones. I’m thinking about the Wisconsin half marathon in May (in Kenosha).

    I just found your blog and love it!

  7. I feel the exact same way about the race! This was my first race longer than a 5k, and I am slow, so I was way back in corral T. However, 75% of my corral didn’t even plan to run AT ALL! It was crazy for the first few miles weaving in and out of people! With all my weaving, my GPS thought I ran 11 miles, not 9.3!
    Also, being among the last group to finish (I had an average pace of 13:35 which I’m not thrilled with, but I’m satisfied) they were running out of chocolate! I had a couple pretzels, a banana and one apple slice in my bowl.
    Good luck with the Wine & Dine this weekend! I am running the Princess in February! I’m glad Another Mother Runner featured you this week, I love your blog and I am right across the border from you in Illinois! 🙂

  8. We live in Indy and were in Chicago for a weekend of shopping, had no idea of the race but happened to be at Yolk eating breakfast Sunday am when just about everyone from the race came in to eat. I read about it as we were eating and it sounded like a race I’d love to run. I’ve been sidelined this whole year after surgery and two fractures but had it on my radar for next year. Your recap was a very timely read for me! Thanks for the insight.

  9. You sum up this race perfectly. I feel like because of the race ‘extras’ – cute gear, bands, after-race food (chocolate at this race, local restaurants at the Bucktown 5K, Mexican food at the Cinco de Miler) that are promoted so heavily, people sign up for the races who are not regular runners and definitely not racers. It’s great that they are getting out there and participating but it causes general confusion because of lack of knowledge about race ettiquite and where to line up to start (and with little or no direction for race organizers to help the situation). Add to the expo and corral nightmares for this race the fact that it appeared no one from RAM notified the CTA and trains and busses were completely packed to the point where there was no more room with loads of runners left behind. I can safely say that I’m done with RAM races.

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