Hot Chocolate 15K: Race Recap

Hot Chocolate 15K 2017 race recap

Last Saturday, I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K. Race day happened to dovetail with the start of my 21-Day Badass Adventure Cleanse, so I was curious to see what affect, if any, the regimen would have on my performance.

(By the way, we are now up to 65 cleansers! If you'd like to join in for the rest of the cleanse, for a week, or just stop in and see what it's all about, request group membership on Facebook. It's free and everyone's sweet as pie.)

The night before, I ate my usual: pasta with marinara sauce.  Since 15K is a decent distance, I indulged a large bowl for extra carbs. I usually also enjoy a glass of Rioja with my spaghetti, but in preparation for the cleanse, this past week has been "wean week," so I had given up all alcohol. I enjoyed a cup of Sleepytime Tea instead – obviously more hydrating.

The weather was set to be brisk at gun time, and windy. I decided I would wear my team singlet with the pink arm sleeves I bought in January. I laid out my kit. I also got my cleanse-friendly breakfast in order so I'd have less to do upon waking: I made a small smoothie ahead of time, defrosted a gluten-free English muffin, and put water in the kettle for my green tea.

Race Morning

Race face as I approach the finish. I was hurting at the end. 

Race face as I approach the finish. I was hurting at the end. 

I woke up at 4:30AM to drink my smoothie. (Point of a small smoothie was so I would not have to hit the porta potty every 5 minutes before the race). It was insanely delicious and hydrating. You must try this combo: 1/2 cucumber, 1/2 banana, ginger, lemon and 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk. I went back to bed until 5:00AM, then as per my cleanse, rose and meditated for 5 minutes. Meditating and sitting still is difficult for someone as hyper as me, but I guess that just proves that I really need it.

Once I dealt with my inner turmoil (!), I drank a cup of organic green tea with a splash of almond milk, and ate half a gluten-free English muffin with some Earth Balance. (In retrospect, I should have had the whole thing.) The weather was chillier than forecasted with 10-15 MPH winds, so at the last minute, I decided to put on a thin, long-sleeved shirt under my team singlet and tossed the arm sleeves in my gear bag just in case. I threw on my sweats and walked over the the Art Museum, where the race started and ended.

Luckily, Sloan came to watch and kindly offered to be my running sherpa, so I didn't have to deal with the gear check. The entire race area (tents, porta potties, gear check, etc) was set up on Eakins Oval, a grass-covered plot, and owing to the previous day's torrential downpours, it was a field of squishy mud.

I quickly realized I would be too warm racing in the long-sleeved shirt I was wearing under my singlet, so I dashed into a porta potty to change back into my singlet and arm sleeves. I locked the door. As you know, there's no room in those porta potties; I hung up my back pack and other stuff on the door while I carefully changed, doing twisting moves that would impress a yoga teacher in my effort to not touch anything gross. Just as I was pulling my singlet back on, some woman opened the door. I guess my backpack had somehow unlocked the door. I shrieked. I hadn't counted on flashing the entire porta potty line. That got my heart rate up perhaps more than my warm up did.

Speaking of my warm up, the race area was so crowded with runners and spectators that it was hard to find a clear place to run and to do strides. I did about a 3/4-mile jog and some dynamic warm ups in back of the corrals. In retrospect, I should have taken more time with my warm up; I'd have liked to have run a bit farther and have done more dynamic exercises and strides. Mental note for next time.

The race

All smiles post-race. I'm the slacker in an overachievers' sandwich ;) My Philadelphia Runner track Club teammate, Sam Roecker (left) won 1st female, 6 overall, and Kylie Pearse (right) won 2nd.

All smiles post-race. I'm the slacker in an overachievers' sandwich ;) My Philadelphia Runner track Club teammate, Sam Roecker (left) won 1st female, 6 overall, and Kylie Pearse (right) won 2nd.

I lined up in the first corral. Runners are usually packed in, but this one was strangely loose. The gun went off more or less right on time. The 5:57 on my Garmin told me I was going way too fast – normal for a race start – so I concentrated hard on holding back. It can be difficult when runners are flying past you, but in a race of this distance, I knew I would catch many of them down the road. 

I decided early on to divide the race into 3 5Ks. I felt strong during the first 5K. It was windy, so I kept tucking in behind a young, big guy who was at least twice my size. But I suppose I was irritating him. He kept looking at me through his peripheral vision and then ran alongside me, often annoyingly close for such a large open road. My first 5K came in at 22:39, 7:18 pace.

The middle 5K was just about staying in the groove. I tried to keep an even pace but there's a slight uphill at mile 5 so that slowed me down a bit. I reminded myself that I don't always have to run in 4th or 5th gear.

I took a gel at mile 5 and a gulp of water. My speedy teammates Sam and Kylie smiled and waved as they flew by on the turnaround. They came in 1st and 2nd place, female! I felt energized when I saw them in the lead, looking so strong and confident. Team work has a positive effect on perceived effort, as I mentioned in my post about why you should run with people faster than you. My 10K clocked in at 45:29, 7:20 pace.

I'm not going to lie, the last 5K was hard. My hamstrings felt tight, the weather was warming up and to be honest, I was running out of steam and just wanted to be done. I knew I was on track to PR, so at each mile during that last 5K, I silently gave myself permission to run the next mile at 7:30 if I needed to. That turned out to be a great mental trick, because of course, I never did. I ran my last 5K plus .3 at a faster pace than the middle 5K: 1:08:10, 7:19.

Normally, I have a little somethin'-somethin- at the end of a race. I can usually fly across the finish. Not this one. I was so happy to cross that line! Sam and Kylie were waiting for me, little sweeties, as was Sloan who took our photo and sherpa-ed for me some more. (Chivalry is not dead, girls.)

I ended up running relatively even splits based on my 5K splits except for the first faster mile and the middle hill: 7:08, 7:16, 7:15, 7:16, 7:22, 7:17,  7:19, 7:17, 7:19. Negative splits would have been better. Perhaps if I had held out a bit more at the start, it might have helped. But who knows? I can honestly say I did my best. 

Final results:

TIME: 1:08:10 PR!, 1 of 420 in 50-54F age group; 41st female of 4,940; 134th overall of 6,518. I guess being on the cleanse didn't hurt!

My A goal was to win my age group, and my B goal was to PR. It's a great, rare day when you achieve both goals, and I managed to do so. I bettered my previous time by almost 1:30, which I'm very happy about. I didn't have a C goal – but perhaps I should have.

Race review: the good

Finally, a sweatshirt I will wear. And it fits!

Finally, a sweatshirt I will wear. And it fits!

Cute visor I got for signing up early.

Cute visor I got for signing up early.

  • Easy bib pick up at expo, with delicious complimentary chocolate square. 
  • Great swag – attractive, well-made, warm zip-up jacket with pockets and thumb holes. You could wear it to run or to run errands. And it came in XS! I also got a free black visor for signing up early. (Always sign up early to save $ or get more freebies.)
  • Well staffed, well-organized race. Two well-manned water stops, one with Nuun hydration (my favorite, easy on the tummy). Lots of volunteers. Apparently, chocolate and other sweets were also available on the course, but I was so focused that I didn't notice them, nor would I have had any, even if I weren't on the cleanse.
  • Fast and flat course.  Huge markers at every mile. Clearly marked. Foolproof.
  • Plenty of porta-potties.
  • Fun post-race grub: Hot chocolate and various items for dipping in chocolate at the finish, in plastic finishers' mug.
  • Cute medal. Middle of the medal pops out and can be used as a magnet. Not many people were aware of this feature so race could have done a better job of highlighting it.
  • Free race photos. How rare is that? 
Hot Chocolate 15K medal (with removable magnet, see main story photo) and mug, clearly labeled "finishers' mug," just in case there's any confusion.

Hot Chocolate 15K medal (with removable magnet, see main story photo) and mug, clearly labeled "finishers' mug," just in case there's any confusion.

Race review: the not so good

  • Security could have been better. Over the years, this has evolved into a large, more competitive race, with more than 6,500 runners. And that's just the 15K. There were also 4,074 5K runners. Add in all the spectators who came to watch and that's quite a crowd. I didn't see much police presence. And amazingly, the gear check bags were not clear, which I think should be a given in this day and age. This race has become way more popular. So next time, they need to beef up security.
  • Expo was .... minimal. Only vendors were a huge Hot Chocolate swag store, Nuun, a sunglass stand and a headband stand. Expo did feature free chocolate drinks, which was fun. But I expected more.
  • Lonely course. Since 8 miles of the race was an out and back on Martin Luther King Drive, there weren't many spectators. More spectators help energize the runners.
  • Lost its feel-good vibe. I ran this race two times before, and I gushed about it. Now that it's grown so large, it's starting to feel as corporate as a Rock-N-Roll race. It's definitely a more competitive race now, which is a good thing, and it's great to see so many people involved in running. I just miss the old crunched-out vibe.
  • All photos taken at the finish. I appreciate the free race photos, I really do. But the only place they took photos was at the finish, where everyone is wearing their sweaty, scowling, grimacing, cussing, WTF race face. Would have been nice to get a few shots elsewhere on the course. Maybe at the start or mile 1 where we're still cute and fresh as daisies? Just sayin' 

Did you race this weekend?