Cold Morning for Hot Chocolate

Last Saturday, I ran the Hot Chocolate 15k along Chicago’s lakefront. It was my first 15k, my first race in Chicago proper, and my first “big” race.

It was cold. The start-time temperature was just 26 degrees. I spent Friday night debating which layers to wear so I could easily adjust as I warmed up. I ended up wearing warm-up pants, a long sleeved UnderArmour, a t-shirt, and my new Moeben sleeves over the top. The sleeves worked well, as I was able to roll them up once I got warm and then pull them back down as we turned into wind. I also had cheap Magic Gloves for the start which I ended up stuffing into my pack after about 3 miles.

Overall, I’m glad I did this race. It was touted as having the “best goodie bag in the country,” which I find a very generous stretch (see Cate’s post for more on that), but really, the distance intrigued me. The odd 15k distance seemed a perfect goal.

The race had far too many people – 30,000 registered, with about half each doing the 15k and 5k. Several friends said the lack of a “wave” or staggered start caused the terrible bottlenecks that plagued the narrow course. I couldn’t even get into a corral until just moments before the start. But at least I ended up in the right area, the 10 minute mile section. There were several people who couldn’t get where they belonged (or were delusional about their pace – many who started near me were walking a mile in), which worsened the bottlenecks.

There were times it felt downright dangerous. At several points, the entire mob screeched to a stop as the path narrowed and there was simply no place to go. My heels were stepped on and elbows flew as people tried to advance. I saw one woman fall at the 2 mile marker, nearly trampled by the horde, and there were several other close calls.

The advantage was that I never got very much speed, so I was able to run the entire thing, except through the narrow aid stations. Prior to the race, I had only one training run over 9 miles, which had taken 1:50 and several short walk breaks. Officially, I finished in 1:40:41. (My Garmin had me at 1:38:03, but that’s suspicious, since it had mile 2 as 8:21 – which would have been the fastest mile I have EVER run. Doubtful given the crowd and the aid station. That mile also happened to be partially under McCormick Place, where I lost signal – I’m betting the Garmin paused while underground.) I had told myself no walking until mile 7, so I was pleased.

Going south along Lake Shore Drive was relatively uneventful, but coming back north was gorgeous, with the whole skyline spread out before us in the early morning sunshine. I see the skyline several times a week during my commute, but seeing it from the south, with the lake, was beautiful and reminded me of undergrad picnics at Promontary Point. The stretch of large, ankle-twisting rocks was tough, very different than the crushed gravel I’ve trained on. Throughout, several people ran along the grassy sidelines so they could pass, but I was worried about the uneven ground with my still slightly wonky ankle. I stuck to the middle of the path where there were relatively few walkers. I kept picking out people ahead to pass.

The end was freeing, as the course finally widened to the entire width of Columbus Drive and I was able to sprint hard to the end. Once across the line, I wandered as people handed bottled water and Gatorade. (I usually hate Gatorade, but by the third aid station, it tasted fantastically refreshing, likely because it was ice cold.) Once I found the fondue, hot chocolate and my friends, it was great sharing stories.

I’m glad I did the race to prove to myself I can do 15k before I attempt the Indy Mini Half Marathon in May. (I’m still wary of winter training.) But I doubt I will do this race again due to the crowds and congestion.

Splits: 1 – 10:18; 2 – 8:21 (um?? especially with an aid station?); 3 – 10:37; 4 – 10:55 (aid station); 5 – 10:54; 6 – 11:05 (aid station); 7 – 10:45; 8 – 10:55; 9 – 10:27 (aid station); 0.39 – 3:40 (9:20 pace)

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6 responses to “Cold Morning for Hot Chocolate

  1. I had a similar problem under McCormick during the Soldier Field 10. I’m pretty sure your Garmin is set to autopause when you “stop.” and it just lost connection with the satellites and thought you paused. I learned from this experience to turn that setting off when running races south from the Chicago parks (I actually just leave this setting off and pause it myself if I am at a stoplight or something — more accurate for me).

    I ran the Hot Chocolate 5k and really enjoyed it. But I got into the B Corral and was able to keep ahead of the masses. There was hardly anyone in B or A Corral. the corrals were both about 1/3rd filled up with people when the race started.

    • That’s got to be it, Jonathan! I have it set to auto-pause because I often have to wait for traffic during my runs. I didn’t even think to turn it off, but now I know.

      I heard the corrals were the way to go – so either they need to have more corrals or put some time between the starters.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I forgot about “the best goodie bag in the country” declaration; definitely a stretch. I do, however, like my jacket. But still, I think some chocolate should have been in the goodie bag, don’t you think? Sounds like you and I had very similar experiences – too many people and not enough room!

    • Completely agree that there should have been chocolate in the goodie bag, or at least at the Expo. The jacket is nice enough, but doesn’t really fit – I’m lucky I’m relatively short – and definitely isn’t a technical fabric. I’ve worn it around the house a couple times, and I think it’s great for that.

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