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)