Sunday, November 6, 2016

hot chocolate 15k chicago recap

Disclaimer: I received an entry for RAM Racing Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Chicago to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

You can read my shorter review over on BibRave.

The Hot Chocolate Race Series takes places all over the US beginning with Denver in October of 2016 and ending with Minneapolis in April 2017.

RAM Racing puts on the race series and does a great job. It’s a well organized event with a larger expo than some of the other races (due to the size of registrants it seems a smart idea). Registration through RAM is very easy. If you have an account you just log in, your personal info is already filled out and you need to select your expected pace/finish time, gear size (this year it was a jacket in gender-specific sizes), emergency contact, etc. If you have a code, you enter that on the last page (you need to click on the promotional code on the last page above where you enter your credit card info). The nice thing about having an account is that you can add on shipping if you want at a later time (I think you can add this on up to 3 weeks before the race). Packet shipping is an additional $15.

The expo was held at McCormick place on the Friday and Saturday before the race (October 28 and 29). Friday hours were 10am – 7pm and Saturday 10am – 6pm. It was in the West Building Skyline Ballroom which was nice - if you park in the A lot it’s not as far as a walk as the east building, especially when it’s in the Lake Side ballroom.

Packet pickup was really easy. When you got to the end of the building, there were lots of computers and volunteers ready to get you your bib. They scanned the QR code in your confirmation email (or the email they sent out a few days prior with a link to your code) and got you your bib. Then you headed to the west edge and got your jacket/bag, lined up in order of women’s sizing and men’s sizing. The bag included your jacket and pins. You could try on jackets inside to see if they fit ok (and I think then exchange if needed - not sure on those details as I knew my size was fine). On your way into the ballroom you could grab a clear gear check bag.

Inside the ballroom you could find Hot Chocolate merchandise, grab some hot chocolate, marshmallows with chocolate sauce and/or cookies with chocolate sauce, Fleet Feet Sports (they had some Marathon gear left over and were selling at a great discount), OOFOS, stations where you could register for other RAM Racing events, and a few others. On your way out get your parking validated and then stop at the pay stations to pay $10 before heading into the garage.

About a week or two before the race they provide runners with a Participant Guide on the website that has just about all of the information a runner would need. Course guide, gear check/corral/pre-race map, post-race map, Expo, parking info, etc.

Race day was on Sunday, October 30 and with such large participant numbers, there were two waves. Wave 1 started at 7:30 and Wave 2 and 8:15. I was in Wave 2 so had a little extra time in the morning to get there. We parked at Soldier Field and walked over. The morning was cool in the 50s and cloudy, but I knew it would be wonderful running weather. I even felt hot at times. The wind got a bit out of control at times, but I never felt cold while running and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt (while others were bundled in tights, gloves, and knit hats). We stopped at the bathrooms on our way to the corrals and there were no lines. Awesome. However, I got out and put soap in my hands to find out there was no water left in the station. Lesson learned - always check for water before sudsing up haha.

I had a chance to meet up with my friend Rachel briefly to chat and then got into my corral. While waiting to start there were a few times it started to rain, but it seemed to leave as quickly as it came. No problem. My wave finally got started around 8:37. 

The first mile is practically all on the lower streets of Chicago (so sort of underground). I found this section to be super warm, as there was no air flow. It was also a section where it was a wall of runners or walkers almost the whole way. Congestion didn't clear up until mile 2 or so, but honestly didn't really clear up enough until the 5k runners headed to the finish by turning east on Roosevelt while the 15k runners continued straight down Michigan Ave. It was a much nicer running experience once the two races separated. Maybe people in the faster corrals didn't witness as much congestion, but it was rough goings for a while with a mix of runners and walkers.

The course was different, which made it more exciting than the usual Lake Front Path up and back (not that LFP isn't beautiful, it's just nice to do something different sometimes). There were plenty of aid stations with Nuun first and then water. There were also 4 sweets on course - chocolate chips, strawberry marshmallows, M&Ms, and chocolate marshmallows. Luckily, these were all located right before a water station, so could easily wash it all down.

Each mile was clearly marked with a clock and mile flag and the volunteers were all great. The course was easy to follow as well.

LOTS of warning signs like this to make sure people followed the correct
course for their race.

At the finish line, runners received their 15k medal (medals only for 15k, not for 5k finishers) and bottled water. Continue onto the post-race party in Grant Park at the far north side (where Petrillo Bandshell is) for your chocolate goodies. There was a tear off on your bib to get your Hot Chocolate (plastic) Blue Mug filled with chocolate fondue sauce, a cup of hot cocoa, and dippings for the sauce – marshmallow, Rice Krispy Treat, banana, pretzels, and these stick things with chocolate in the middle (fancy name I can't remember haha).

There were a lot of people hanging out at the post-race party. There was a Kids Zone with a bouncy house, a DJ, and a tent with merchandise. I was cold since I had gotten so sweaty on the run, so wanted to get into the warmth of my car and get some starbucks. I obviously drank the hot chocolate quickly before it cooled down too much and then ate the snacks on the way to the car haha.

I was so happy to conquer a new distance and gain a new PR haha. I had always wanted to do a 15k, but hadn't had the opportunity. The jacket is top notch and so is the Chicago chocolate bar medal 15k runners received at the finish. I think the expo and race were well-organized and would suggest if you're in Chicago during the Hot Chocolate Race to give it a go!

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