Monday, November 5, 2012

Hot Chocolate 15k Race Report

Whenever I go to a race, I always dislike the jerk talking all about "last year" and how great things were. Like, hello, It is this year. Yesterday, however, I was one of those jerks.

Let me back up a bit and talk about last year's Hot Chocolate 5k experience. I didn't have a blog then so I can't link you to a recap... Last year I did the Hot Chocolate 5k and had fun. It was one of the first few post-marathon races and I was happy to get out there and run "fast" (after running long and slow for so long). The post-race party was a blast and not very crowded. I got my cup of fondue and tons of little Ghiridelli squares. I mingled with some of my friends and I was able to meet up with most people that I knew were running it.

I heard nothing but great things about the new 15k course, and when registration opened up, I registered for the 15k with course envy from the 2011 event. The distance enticed me. Then, the new course map went up and it was not at all like the 2011 course. It was on Lake Shore Drive and a total snooze-fest. I was disappointed but I was already signed up. I had even tweeted and Facebooked Ram Racing asking if the course was on the Lakefront Path and they assured me it was not. Instead, it was run on the streets next to Lakeshore Drive. A little more room, same boring course of most (and much cheaper Chicago races). As race day drew near, I didn't really have lots of specific goals as I didn't want to set my hopes too high when I'm not at my ideal fitness level with everything else going on in life. When I heard the expo was in a tent in a parking lot, I thought it was some kind of joke. I had some coworkers that were going so I asked if one of them could pick up my packet. Based on the horror stories on Twitter, Facebook, and on various blogs, I was happy to have asked someone else to go. Ram Racing apologized a couple different times on Facebook, saying the race would be worth the wait. Somehow, I had my doubts.

Race morning came and I headed to our Chicago Blogger meetup. Since some folks were in wave 2 and others were volunteering, it ended up being just me and Sierra.
Pre-Race by Buckingham Fountain

We had tweeted back and forth about our race goals and we planned on starting the race together. With our B bibs, I felt totally legit as the corrals went all the way up to T (yes, T). After a pretty quick gear check, we made our way to the start, running into Amanda TTF on our way. We all ended up starting in the same corral so it worked out perfectly.  Sierra took a quick pre-race photo before we were off.

There was a 3+ minute wait between the start of each corral so I was very glad we were in one of the earlier corrals. I've been trying not to go out too fast on races and I think I've been getting better about it. I turned off the auto lap on my Garmin and manually clicked at each mile.

Mile 1 8:20
Mile 2 7:53

Sierra's husband was around mile 2. He snapped a photo of us together. I need to take some lessons on how to pose for race photos from her.

Mile 3 8:11
Right before mile 3, I caught my toe on a lip on the sidewalk. I knew I was going down but there was nothing I could do about it. I skidded on the ground a little and a few folks stopped to ask if I was okay. Thankfully with all the layers of clothing, the hands were fine and a few scrapes weren't discovered until after the race.
My "wounds"

Mile 4 7:56
Mile 5 8:04
Mile 6 8:29

This is where I started to feel it, we had turned around, there were some rolling hills but we still had a little ways to go. Once we hit the turnaround, we got a bit of our momentum back. Around this point, I saw another familiar face. Nicole Fritz was running next to me and we chatted for a bit before it became too hard to talk. We passed Nicole during one of the last water stops.

I took a few bites of a Picky Bar and a pretzel at mile 6. Have you ever tried chewing and swallowing a pretzel during a race without water? I don't recommend it. I waited to take my 2nd pretzel until I got to the next aid station.

Mile 7 8:27 (long)
Mile 8 7:34 (short)
At this point, the end was near. Sierra started to pull ahead and I let her go. The wind, little rolling hills, and everything else were starting to get to me.

Mile 9 8:00
The last uphill I was struggling when I hear a voice behind me. "You can do it Kelly!" with a little bit of pressure on my back, literally pushing me up the hill. It was Nicole! It was the boost I really needed just as the finish line came into view. It was time for the last few kicks.

Mile 0.3 7:16
Finish time: 1:15:19. I couldn't believe it. I did the math and that is about 8:05 minutes per mile. Holy schnikes! I found Sierra right away and I thanked her for a great race. I don't think I would have gone as fast for as long as I did without her sticking with me as we both pushed outside our comfort zone.
Finish Line smiles after a great race!

After grabbing my gear (and running into fellow Yankee Runners Curtis and Shelby), I headed to check out this finishers mug I had high hopes for and empty pockets for the anticipated Ghiridelli squares. The finishers mug wasn't really a mug, more like a piece of cheap plastic in the shape of a mug. It wasn't really anything I could take home with me, so I ate my food (and the hot chocolate was cold and not nearly as delicious as last year, much more watered down).

Look at that face! This candid shot really shows my disappointment with the post-race swag. 

And all the Ghiridelli squares I was hoping for were nowhere to be found. A dinky little generic chocolate square was included in our "mug" (but I would bet it would be milk chocolate and disappointing do I didn't waste the calories). I was thoroughly disappointed with the spread. (Turns out, Ghiridelli is no longer a sponsor of this race. After the Hot Chocolate DC, I'm not really surprised.)

I found a few other friends after the race and snagged a pic with Nicole.

The grassy field was covered with people and heaping garbage cans full of our treasured "mugs." It was wayyy overcrowded to the point where you could barely move. How is this a safe environment for folks? Not to mention all the people that brought their strollers and children to this family-friendly event.

When time for the post-race blogger meet up, some of the folks had dispersed but I met Pete @ Lakefront Trail for the first time. We chatted for a bit about the race before taking a pic and I headed home.

Despite having a great race and really enjoying the 15k distance in general, I really have some huge disappointments with Ram Racing.

-- Sweatshirt is nice although sizing is off. I've come to expect this from them and I ordered a size up in anticipation
-- Great aid stations with plenty of water and Gatorade
-- Tons of porta-potties

-- Boring course. Along the streets right next to the lakefront path (including Lake Shore Drive), under tunnels of McCormick place with poor lighting (I was worried I would trip for the 2nd time), rolling hills that weren't really expected. I felt unsafe (and always do) running on Lake Shore Drive, despite the traffic cones. If one person swerves, isn't paying attention, or causes an accident, runners could die.
-- Crowded course: there was lots of weaving around runners. I felt bad for those that started much farther back. With 40k runners though, I guess that can be expected. However, with part of the course on a busy street, I felt this was dangerous.
-- Corral System: great idea in theory, poorly executed. Verify times of runners. People running the 5k that started in A should not be walking when the B corral goes through. Police the corrals so that folks that have a Q corral cannot start in B.
-- Post-race party was too crowded. I don't remember it being this crowded last year. I couldn't even move. There were lots of parents with children and jogging strollers for this family-friendly event (to go along with the added "kids dash")

I think I had a different perspective of this race, having had such a positive experience last year. I had high hopes and was just continuously let down. I've run a decent amount of races... some big, small, cheap, expensive... and this has to be one of the most disorganized events I've been to. It seems that last year things went fairly smoothly, and yet Ram Racing decided to make lots of changes. This led to lots of confused, frustrated, and upset runners. Some people responded to the nay-sayers on Facebook and Twitter talking about putting things in perspective (with everything going on in New York). To a certain extent, I agree about the complainers, but on the other hand, many of these complainers have valid points and concerns.

I know a lot of runners (newbies and veterans alike) were upset with this race between waiting for 3 hours in the freezing cold to pick up a packet at an expo, waiting an hour and a half to start, running around walkers 5-abreast (despite notes telling people not to do this), disappointing post-race food, a "finishers mug" that was basically unusable... I've decided that I won't be running another Ram Racing event. It was obvious at the post-race party that this event was all about "packing them in" and Ram Racing has learned nothing from their previous poor experiences. It was not an event about every runner having a safe and enjoyable experience. I don't like to sit here and talk poorly about an organization as I'm sure it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to put on a race. But, if your organization doesn't have the resources to properly handle the crowds, it is probably best to sell less race entries to ensure everyone (including runners, volunteers, and those helping plan/run the event) have a better experience overall.


  1. Tim ran the 15K too. I also was unimpressed with the post-race in general.

    I couldn't make it to the finish line to see him cross, so I had to wait in the post-race party area. There was no shopping, unless you wanted the branded crap, and only a few tiny booths to look at. There was also no post-race food and drink, other than the chocolate mug and coffee that you could buy.

    Tim's mug had three pretzel, one marshmallow, a not-ripe banana and a teeny tiny rice krispie square. Really? The "mug" went right in the trash too.

  2. I feel bad for everyone who did this race. When you shell out $70 for a race put on by an experienced company, you expect to get your money's worth. It sounds like the vast majority did not, for all of the reasons you outlined. Spending 3 hours waiting in the cold at an expo, and another hour waiting in the cold in the corrals, to run a boring crowded course, not to mention the "OMG CHOCOLATE" that they keep bragging about sucked, is not my idea of a good time, and I'm really glad I decided to sit this one out. And while yes, things could be a lot worse, that doesn't excuse the fact that RAM has no business selling 40K entries to this race.

    This also makes me excited for two of my upcoming races. Chicago's Perfect 10 and the F3 Half both state on their web sites that they will keep their fields small, to a number they can manage, for the safety of their runners. That is MUCH appreciated. And no surprise that both of those races have had happy runners in the past (hence why I decided to register for them).

    Just because the Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon can mange 30-40K runners doesn't mean every race in Chicago can handle that. Clearly, RAM has illustrated that.

  3. This was my first Hot Chocolate race & will never do another again. I have two finish times: one with my NAME (with a different bib # that RAM gave me at packet pick up) and another time by the Bib # I wore (with someone else's name attached!) as a "newer" runner this was completely disheartening. I now have a PR that someone else ran & will take me awhile to actually achieve. Very disappointing to say the least!

  4. I kind of know how you feel April - last December, I ran a "5K" that was actually 2.9mi. My goal is to someday achieve my time for that race at an ACTUAL 5K. In the meantime, I feel like my Athlinks profile is a lie, haha.

  5. Amy B @ Second City RandomnessNovember 5, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    Wanna know why that stupid hot chocolate was so damn cold? Because they started filling cups (that are clearly not insulated) like 20 minutes before the race was over. And they just sat there. I kept telling the woman doing it that our main problem would not be filling the hot chocolate, but having the finisher's mugs filled and ready.

    No one ever listens. And everyone got cold hot chocolate.

    AND no squares at the finish line? What's up with that? I scored maybe 20 last year... lol

  6. I think we need a "Chicago was not impressed" tumblr page for all these Hot Chocolate complaints. SERIOUSLY... I put the marshmallow in my hot chocolate so I didn't even have that to munch on... Last year there was whipped cream that you could put on the hot chocolate! The banana that I got was very under ripe too. I still ate it, but I wasn't happy about it.

  7. I heard a lot of people had problems with the bib system and weren't assigned the right name, etc. That really is disappointing, whether you're newer to racing or not. I think that Ram Racing lost a lot of customers this year with how they handled the race situation. I hope they learned their lesson (but somehow I don't think they did or will)... Best of luck on your next race!! :)

  8. That stinks. Did this woman hate chocolate or something? Why would someone want a cold "hot chocolate"??? That is the name of this race after all. :(

    Also, Ghiridelli is no longer a sponsor (mostly due to the Hot Chocolate Washington DC race). I think that is why there were no chocolate squares.

  9. I saw a couple people trip too, and almost did myself! I actually had fun this race, I suppose coming off the Chicago marathon it was just what I needed. :-)

  10. Sorry about the fall! I almost tripped once and was very surprised I didn't trip in Mccormick! I was not a fan of the course, and like you I signed up for the 15k this year since the course seemed really good last year. The corral system was not implemented at all which was annoying but it was good that they spaced people out at the start...I can't imagine what it would have been like if they wouldn't have! Congrats on a great, speedy race!!! :)

  11. I'm glad you had fun! Have you done this race before? I think a lot of my gripes were that things definitely went down hill from last year.

  12. I was really, really nervous running through some of those dark tunnels that I was going to trip and fall flat on my face AGAIN... Have you seen some of the reasons/excuses they are showing on their Facebook page? It is like a train wreck; I can't look away!!! Thanks so much!

  13. Since I was lucky enough to avoid packet pickup, I would say that the course was the most disappointing aspect of this race. For $70 give me city streets the whole way! Oh yeah, and make sure there is not car traffic on those streets while I run! :-)

  14. For a race of this size there is no way it should have been run along the lakefront. Congrats on a speedy race regardless of the circumstances, plus you earned new running battle wounds! Hope you heal up quickly. :)

  15. Thanks! I agree, for the price, the course should at least be on the city streets. I mean, I know the money supposedly "goes to charity" but that doesn't mean it has to be a crappy race.

  16. Thanks! I agree, the course was not ideal with the amount of people running the race. The entire thing was way too crowded as the corral system was a big fail. The wounds are already starting to heal!

  17. Congrats on your speedy race! You rock! I am so sorry you tripped. :( Do you think it was from the crowds?

    Does your speedy race make you excited for the HM?

  18. Thanks!! I think I just tripped because I am clumsy. I didn't feel like I was shoved, but another girl ended up falling too, when asking if I was okay, because someone fell over her. Now THAT accident was due to overcrowding.

    I'm suuuuper excited about my winter half marathon! I already emailed Coach Britt to talk to her about it. :)

  19. Thanks for the review. I ran the 15K as well. I'm a slower runner and I *started* the race maybe 10 minutes before you finished. I started in corral Q and my finish time was 1:41:03. I understand the need to space people on such a tight path, but they shouldn't be trying to fit that many runners in the race then! I agree that I'm never running a RAM event again.

  20. Thanks Allison for your input! I've been looking at the Hot Chocolate Facebook page and it appears that most of the comments left (that I assume haven't been deleted) are talking about how awesome the race was. I think that the best thing we can do to hope that RAM Racing gets their act together, is by not participating in their races... And that is a great time for a 15k! "Slow" is such a relative term! :)

  21. Another glowing review of the hot chocolate LOL. This race scares me- while shamrock and the chicago marathon are like 40,000 people, i never feel crowded. This race seems like a free for all.

    Congrats on the race even after the road bit you! For not such a great race, you look super happy in your photos! :)

  22. Thanks! I really enjoyed the distance and I was really happy with my time... But I just can't justify paying the $70+ to run another Hot Chocolate race ever again.

  23. I love your obvious dissappointment in the chocolate - sometimes a face says it all! Congrats on a great race despite your fall - layers or not, i bet that stings!!

  24. Haha, totally! I didn't even know Sierra took that photo until she emailed them to me later the same day! Lol. The elbow scratch stings a bit more as it was a deeper scrape. The knee one is already healed.