Sweeter than expected
Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate 15k as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!
The Hot Chocolate 15k has been in Atlanta for 3 years and each year I’ve avoided it. Even with a lot of my friends running, it just seemed like another overrated, gimmicky race. I’ve never been a fan of for-profit themed races. I run because I enjoy the feeling of the ground beneath my feet, and the process makes me feel strong and happy; characteristics that I struggled in the past to find, and running helped me find them. I acknowledge and respect that these types of races, and medals, and swag, are motivating factors for a lot of people to get moving, but sometimes I can’t help but feel medals are akin to participation ribbons from elementary school. Only my opinion of course. 🙂
The Hot Chocolate 15k is the perfect reason to keep an open mind about races. Since I received the registration as part of being BibRave Pro, I felt I could afford to be open-minded and really observational about the whole process. I’m from NY; even if I get something for free I will be completely honest about my opinion of said item. It’s just built into my DNA. So I’m going to be completely honest; Ram Racing and the Hot Chocolate really impressed me.
As soon as I registered I started receiving email communication from Ram Racing. I received an email a week with a 15k training plan, as well as 1 extra email per week (average) regarding additional race details, wave placements, travel/hotel info, etc. It was all very clear but never spam-y. I didn’t need a training plan for the race but the added benefit with registration was a really nice tough, especially for people tackling the distance for the first time. It was an appropriate, easy to follow plan.
A few days before the race it was obvious the start would have below freezing temps. On Friday, the first day of the expo, Atlanta had snow/ice predictions that resulted in most schools and businesses closing around lunch to get people off the roads. Long story short, 2 years ago Atlanta had a ‘snowpocalypse’ event which resulted in gridlock in the whole region for over 24 hours. My Yankee heart laughs a bit but the mayor and governor really take an extremely conservative weather stand these days since they were blamed for not doing enough 2 years ago. Anyway, due to the threat of “weather” (god forbid ATL), EVERYONE tried to go to the expo on Friday afternoon. I arrived at the convention center to find hundreds of people in line just to get into the expo hall. Waiting in line is never fun but it was clear why security and RAM Racing had done this. It was well-controlled and organized. They let a certain number of people into the hall at one time so as not to exceed capacity. In fact, once you got into the expo hall everything moved very quickly and smooth. The amazing volunteers processed over 5000 people that afternoon alone! Bravo! In the past I’ve heard the jacket sizing was off but I think this year they were true to size. Just in case, they had an area where you could try on jackets and trade in sizes if needed (they asked you to do this before opening your swag bag). I will admit, I was surprised at the small size of the expo. There was only about a dozen vendors, including only 1 running store (ATL has many!). They only used 1/4 of the expo hall which explains why they only let small numbers in at a time. Considering I just wanted to get home and not spend money I don’t have it wasn’t a big deal, but some participants expecting a grand expo were disappointed.
The day before the race, Ram Racing’s medical director decided to move to the weather contingency plan. This meant that anyone registered for the 15k who had a pace slower than 13min/mile would be redirected to the 5k. Essentially, they wanted to get runners and, more important in my opinion, volunteers off the course and out of the cold as early as possible. This didn’t affect my race but I have a group of friends through the Atlanta Track Club training who run at this pace and knew they would be redirected. I think everyone was disappointed but overall had good attitudes about the change. Race directors do their best to think about participant experience and safety; it was 25 at the start with real feel at 15 degrees so I think they made an informed decision and everyone made the best of it. One friend was even able to push her pace a little and she made the cutoff!
I planned to take MARTA to the start but the thought of standing in that cold for over an hour was really painful. Thankfully I have an amazing friend who dropped me off feet from the start just in time for me to get in the group pic with other ATC runners. She even made a second pick-up drop off of runners she found at her local MARTA station (some strangers too!). I huddled in C corral with friends for 40 minutes and survived with my down jacket and hand warmers. Honestly, I was sweating within the first mile of the race lol.
The course itself went through the Old 4th Ward (my fave!), Midtown, Centennial Park, Downtown areas. I love seeing different ATL neighborhoods and, despite the cold, there was still people out cheering. Warning: most races in ATL are hilly and this race is no exception. It felt like every turn took you up another hill. I enjoy that but be prepared to train for that if you want to run this race. Bravo to all the volunteers, especially at the great aid stations. I warmed up once I started running but these poor souls just get to stand around in the freezing cold for our benefit. I was worried that the aid stations would get covered in ice but they kept everything neat and safe. Each aid station had water, Nuun (BIG plus – this is a high quality alternative to Gatorade type drinks), and variations between marshmallows or M&Ms. There may have been other snacks but I generally don’t eat food like that during a race this distance so I didn’t get a good look.
At the finish I got my medal (a unique chocolate bar shape), and quickly found the line for the chocolate goodie mug. The lines seemed crowded and chaotic but I had my mug within 10 minutes and, SURPRISE, the hot chocolate was still hot and possibly the best I’ve ever had.* I did run into the other Atlanta BibRave Pro, Samantha, and we managed a quick pic. I knew quite a few people at the race but opted to run back to the train station rather than look for people in the cold (cold and sweaty is never a good combination). Plus, the extra run back to MARTA got me over 10 miles for the day; yay for multitasking! To round off a solid race experience, I discovered today that we actually get FREE race photos! In a world with crappy Marathonfoto $20 digital prints, this is an awesome surprise and extremely class in my opinion. If a race factors everything else into the registration costs, why not include the freaking photos?! Good deal.
I think this whole experience proved that, yes, I #willrunforchocolate. Check out my race review on BibRave!
Interested in running a Hot Chocolate Race? Here’s some codes for a free headsweat at upcoming races:
- Dallas – 2/6/16 – BibRaveDAL
- Nashville – 2/13/16 – BibRaveNASH
- Vegas – 2/28/16 – BibRaveLV
- Seattle – 3/6/16 – BibRaveSEA
- San Diego – 3/20/16 – BibRaveSD
- Philly – 4/2/16 – BibRavePHI
- Minneapolis – 4/16/16 – BibRaveMIN