Allstate Hot Chocolate 15K Race Recap

I ran the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15K on Sunday, logging my first 15K (in a race setting) in the process.

Like I said a couple of weeks ago, there are multiple reasons why I had never run Hot Chocolate. Timing was a big one, since the race falls soon after the Chicago Marathon. The bigger reason, though, is Hot Chocolate’s reputation for royally screwing things up. It’s been years since the debacle that was Hot Chocolate D.C., and while that was likely Hot Chocolate’s biggest screw-up, when I was more actively involved in the behind-the-scenes part of the Chicago running world, Hot Chocolate Chicago was also notorious for having nightmare packet pickup situations. I have very little patience for races that can’t get their act together, and even less patience for races that can’t get their act together when they’re put on by a for-profit company whose only purpose is to put on races (i.e.: RAM), so I thought it would likely be in my best interest to stay away.

However, I am not immune to the siren song of cool race swag. I started toying with the idea of running Hot Chocolate last year, and started taking that idea more seriously at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago expo when I saw the race’s sweatshirt for the first time.

hotchocolate15kpacket

I LOVED it, so at that moment I decided if I could make it through the marathon in one piece, I’d sign up for Hot Chocolate.

I have no idea how the expo was this year, because my cousin was in town at the end of last week for a conference at McCormick Place and offered to pick up my packet for me to save me the trip. He didn’t seem to have any complaints, though, so I guess it must’ve been fine. The contents, however, were less than helpful:

hotchocolate15ksafetypins

That is a zip tie that has already been zip tied. Good luck getting that to attach your gear check tag to your gear check bag!

Another small detail that was perhaps not messed up, but certainly confusing? My packet came in an plastic, opaque white drawstring bag. Additionally, other participants did get clear plastic bags for their packets. I also saw some people with black plastic packet bags. What gives?? The gear check rules online specifically indicated that I needed to use a clear plastic bag for gear check. If you’re going to require that I use a clear plastic bag for gear check, then you need to provide a clear plastic bag for gear check, like every other race that has that requirement.

hotchocolategearcheck

Please note the line at the end about the zip ties, too.

The forecast had called for rain on Sunday all week, so I was pleased to wake up to dry skies. It was fairly chilly and quite windy, though. I donned my Goodwill throwaways and headed out the door around 5:45 for the 7 a.m. start.

I know Hot Chocolate usually has oodles of participants (there were 29,702 timed finishers on Sunday. For those of you keeping score at home, this year’s Shamrock Shuffle had 20,899 finishers. Based on that, I would like to reiterate my belief the Bank of America should sell the Shuffle to RAM: a company much better suited to put on a race like the Shuffle.), so I wanted to arrive with plenty of time to check my gear and use the portapotties. As it turned out, there were ample portapotties for the size of the race, and I waited less than five minutes to get into one (a non-smelly one, no less!). I will certainly give Hot Chocolate credit for that. If I had to pick between an unusable zip tie and plenty of portapotties, I’d pick the portapotties every time.

15K gear check was quite a hike from the Wave One start corrals, but I got to my corral with 15 minutes to spare. I found myself a nice spot on the leftover blue line (not that it mattered, since this obviously wasn’t the marathon) and watched the pre-race ceremony on a video board they had right by the start line. The race supports Make-a-Wish, and they had a couple Make-a-Wish kids up on stage with their parents to talk about what the foundation means to them. One of the kids wants to skate with the Blackhawks, so they brought Tommy Hawk up on stage and had Jim Cornelison sing the National Anthem! That was really cool. They also used the board to display race etiquette, both for runners and runners with children, and to show how the 5K would split from the 15K. I thought it was excellent use of technology, and something other large races should definitely consider using.

hotchocolate15kstart

And then we were off! Hot Chocolate involves a lot of running in the Loop (if you do the 5K, you run almost exclusively in the Loop) and used a different course than the usual Loop-based races, which I enjoyed as a nice change of pace (heh puns). While we’re on the topic of the course, though, I would like to air my biggest grievance with Hot Chocolate: the online course map.

hotchocolatecoursemap

This is what was provided in the online participant guide: the only place I could find a course map for the race. At first glance, it looks just fine. Shows you the start/finish lines, shows you where you’re going to run, shows you all the race courses, even includes a detail with the 5K/15K split: what more could you want?

I don’t know, maybe mile markers? And while we’re at it, aid station locations?

COME. ON. I complained about Rock ‘n’ Roll’s bizzaro map issues back in July, but this makes Rock ‘n’ Roll look like they had their act together. I’d rather have misplaced mile markers on the course map than no mile markers at all! It especially bothered me that they didn’t put the aid stations on the online course map. I fuel every five miles for runs seven miles or longer, which meant I needed to fuel during this race. Because no one at RAM could be bothered to give us any information on the location of aid stations, neither in the participant guide nor in the course map, I had to carry my water bottle for the whole run to ensure I’d have water to chase my chews at mile five. As it turned out, there was an aid station at like mile 4.8, which would’ve been MORE than sufficient for my fueling needs.

Did this completely screw up my race, a race I only needed to finish to PR? Of course not. The miles were all marked on the course, which is all I really needed. It didn’t put in me in danger or anything serious like that. But like I said after Rock ‘n’ Roll, the devil is in the details when it comes to these sorts of things, and when you combine it with the other detail-related issues (a pre-zipped zip tie, an opaque bag), all of those little problems make RAM look sloppy, especially when there are other event management companies that get every detail right, every single time. If all you do is organize races, you should be getting every detail right, every single time. Period.

Anyway.

As it turned out, the primary challenge of Hot Chocolate was not running blind in terms of mile markers or aid stations, nor was it having a pre-zipped zip tie, nor was it having to find a clear bag for my gear: it was the wind. Holy cow, the wind. There were 18 mph winds out of the southeast for the duration of the race, and you know the only two directions you run between emerging from Lower Wacker around mile one all the way through mile 6.a little change? South and east. Oof. Hot Chocolate marked the first time in my running career where I saw used aid station cups before I got the the aid station, because the wind was so strong downtown that it blew the cups up the course. It was nuts, and I was very thankful that we only had wind to deal with, not wind and rain.

The course was definitely one of the more unique ones I’ve run in the city. Not only did it not follow the typical Columbus-to-Grand-to-State Street route, but it was hilly by Chicago standards?? That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but there were a bunch of inclines on the course: up to get off of Lower Wacker, up to get onto the 35th St. pedestrian bridge at the southernmost portion of the course, up to get off the Lakefront Trail onto Fort Dearborn Drive, up from a dip around Soldier Field, up to get back up onto Columbus for the finish. It was quite the experience for a Chicago race!

I finished in 1:34:33, which was perfectly fine by me. I hoped to run close to a 10:00 pace and ended up averaging a 10:09. No complaints here. I’m ran a steady pace for most of the race (my 5K and 10K splits were both 10:14 exactly) and felt like I ran comfortably hard for all 9.3 miles.

The real highlight of the event, of course, is the post-race chocolate (there was also candy at the aid stations, but I skipped most of that). The finisher’s mug is really something else:

hotchocolate15kfinishermug

Yes. Please.

It started to rain a little after I got my mug, but it didn’t seem feasible to travel with it, given the chocolate fondue situation. I certainly wasn’t about to let any of my treats to go waste, so I chowed down while watching the awards ceremony. Everything was just as delicious and wonderful as I hoped it would be!

hotchocoalte15kpostraceparty

I don’t expect that I’ll do Hot Chocolate again, mostly because I don’t expect that it’ll be as convenient for me as it was this year moving forward. I’m glad I gave it a shot, though, and that I got a super comfortable, well-fitting zip-up sweatshirt out of it 🙂

hotchocolate15kmedal

What’s Next

Normally after the marathon, I’m more than ready for a break. I’m tired of the time commitment of running, the early mornings, the late nights, the never-ending list of extracurriculars that come along with running (cross training, stretching, foam rolling, PT exercises, etc.). I want to be done.

This year was different. I could barely make it through my off-week after the marathon, when I refuse to exercise at all (other than my Tuesday dance class). I was itching to lace up my Asics, and it felt so good to get back out there last Monday. I’m still riding a post-marathon high and want to run all of the miles on all of the days! Run! Run! Run!

Fortunately, my plans for the rest of the year line up nicely with my desire to keep running. Last year, getting through the remainder of my race season after the marathon was a serious grind. I’m hoping that my current enthusiasm for running will keep those feelings away this year, because I have a lot left on my calendar.

Up next: Hot Chocolate! Would you believe that I’ve lived in Chicago for close to six and a half years, have been actively involved in the running community that entire time, but have never run Hot Chocolate? (Probably, if you’ve been reading my blog that long and/or have stalked my past race recaps.) I planned to run 10 miles that weekend regardless, so I figured I may as well run 9.3 in the Hot Chocolate 15K and get a reward for doing closet to what I intended to do in the first place. Plus, I’ve never run a 15K before, so as long as I finish, I’ll PR. If any of you have any interest in running Hot Chocolate, they started a referral program for this year’s event the day after I signed up (naturally). If you use my code, I get $5 and you save $5. Everyone wins!

Why did I plan to run 10 miles that weekend? Because the following weekend, I will once again be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon. This is perhaps a little surprising, given how after last year’s race I swore that I would never, EVER do it again, but here we are. This year, I have much more realistic expectations. I know it’ll be embarrassingly difficult. I know it’s at a terrible time of day. I know my sleep and nutrition and hydration will be a disaster going into the run, not to mention how off they’ll likely be during the run itself. I know that it’s very unlikely that I’ll break 2:30 due to all of those conditions. I assume knowing all of these things will help me enjoy the run a lot more–or at least, enjoy it as much as one can possibly enjoy a late afternoon 13.1 mile run through the desert.

I would like to do a turkey trot in some capacity on Thanksgiving, though the exact details of that (distance, location) are still up in the air. While I didn’t like getting up early on Thanksgiving to do a turkey trot last year, I did like exercising (and being rewarded for it–clearly a theme in this post 😛 ) before spending the rest of the day eating. Since the city and what feels like every single suburb offer turkey trots, I’m not too concerned about finding one.

In December, I’ll do my annual 5K. I expect that this will be my last year doing that race, so I’m hoping to walk away with an age group award. I’ve placed in my age group every time I’ve run this race in an even year (2012, 2014, and 2016), and I’d certainly like to keep that streak alive! I’d be happy to turn in a nice time at this race, too, but my only real concern is how I do compared to the other women between the ages of 25 and 29. I don’t care if I run a 35:00 5K as long as the fourth fastest 25-29 year old woman runs a 35:01.

One of the most unexpected things that came out of marathon season was my newfound interest in strength training. While it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that I enjoyed getting up close to an hour earlier than normal three times per week all summer long to go to the gym before work, I did enjoy being at the gym, and I definitely enjoyed how strong it made me. I also enjoyed how amazing it made my legs look, and I will fully own up to the fact that a big part of my motivation to continue strength training comes from my desire to continue having kickass legs. Sorry not sorry. I want to keep up (or rather, get back into, since I haven’t been to the gym at all since the Thursday before the marathon) that routine, even if it means regular two-a-days while I’m actively training for a race. The pros (increased overall strength, increased confidence, increased discipline, decreased running injuries) strongly outweigh the cons (getting up early), so it’s a worthwhile endeavor as far as I’m concerned.

I have one last thing I want to accomplish with running while I still have the flexibility to train on my terms: breaking 2:00 in the half marathon. While I have come close-ish to breaking 2:00 twice (a 2:02:50 and a 2:05:19), it’s been awhile (2014 and 2016, respectively), and I honestly consider breaking 2:00 to be as audacious of a goal as running a 4:45 marathon. But hey! I just did that! I can do hard things!

Across the 17 half marathons I’ve run, my average time is 2:19:18. If you throw out all the ridiculously hot half marathons I’ve done (three), my average drops to 2:16:33, and if you throw out all of the just-for-fun half marathons I’ve done (four), focusing only on the ones where I was actually trying, my average drops to 2:12:14. So let’s say that, when I care, I can run a 2:12 half marathon. That’s still a ways from 1:59:59. Then again, prior to two weeks ago, my average marathon time was 5:07:02, and that’s even farther from 4:45 (22 minutes) than 2:12 is from 1:59 (13 minutes), so maybe I shouldn’t get down on the myself and the “impossibility” of running 1:59:59 quite yet.

Regardless, I know that breaking 2:00 is not going to be easy. It will require the same dedication to training that I had this past marathon season, where getting in every run, every cross training session, every strength training workout is my #1 priority. No excuses. Throughout marathon season, I said that I did not want to miss 4:45 because I didn’t train hard enough to make it happen, and that’s the same mentality I plan to use in my efforts to break 2:00 in the half. If it doesn’t work out, so be it. Sometimes it’s just not your day, and you can’t do anything about it. But I don’t want it to not work out because I threw in the towel in training.

I know it’ll need to be cold, so right now, I have my eye on either F3 in January (where I ran my 2:05 in 2016) or the Chi Town Half in April (where I ran my 2:02 in 2014). If I do F3, training will start on Nov. 5, so my offseason will have to wait until after the race. I will admit that it makes me nervous to jump into intense training again less than a month after the marathon (and to try to do intense training during the holidays), so I’m not quite decided yet (though I’ll need to make a decision soon!). I’m open to any input from the peanut gallery!

So that’s the plan for the next few months. After that, things are still a little up in the air at this exact moment in time, butttttt…I’m probably going to do another marathon next fall >.< I KNOW, I KNOW. I said I was done. And I am done, at least as far as intense training goes, at least for now. I know that marathon training won’t be able to be my top priority next summer. I put a lot of things on the back burner to accommodate marathon training being my top priority this summer, and it won’t be possible to do that two years in a row. Besides, I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish with the distance (well, I suppose I’d like to qualify for Boston, but since I’m 1:12 (that’s hours:minutes) away from a BQ, obviously that’s not going to happen without really, really, really intense training, haha), so I feel like it’s more reasonable to expect myself to be able to train to run just for fun rather than to train for a goal.

But. I really, truly enjoy the process of training for a marathon. I’ve said that dozens of times before, and this past summer confirmed that. Yes, it can be a grind when you’re in the thick of it–the 90-degrees-and-humid afternoon runs, the 4:30 Saturday alarms–but at the end of the day, I love working towards a not-too-distant goal and I love following a structured plan to get there. I also really liked the girls I ran with this year. Changing training locations and paces made a world of difference in my experience this year vs. last year, and I felt like I developed some good friendships that I’d like to maintain next summer (especially since I know both of my friends plan to run again next year). Right now, I’m thinking that I’ll register for Chicago (since I have a guaranteed entry) and enter the New York lottery just to see what happens. But who knows! I have just over a month to decide whether or not I want to register for Chicago, so we’ll see how I feel as this month goes on.

For those who have broken 2:00 in the half (after running lots of 2:00+ half marathons): training advice? I’m not sure how to go about training for this. I have little/no information from how I trained when I ran my 2:02 and 2:05, so I could really use some guidance, particularly in the speedwork department.

How to Run Commute

Last summer, I incorporated run commuting into my training for the first time. I more or less followed Hal Higdon’s Marathon 3 training program for my sixth marathon, and while I like that it only required three days of running per week, the number of miles I needed to run on those days stressed me out.

Four weeks into training, I gave run commuting a try and instantly fell in love. Run commuting allowed me to do long(er) runs on weekdays without sacrificing my entire evening, alleviating what I felt was the most burdensome part of marathon training.

That being said, I couldn’t just get up from my desk one day and run home. Run commuting required a fair amount of forethought and planning. Today, I’d like to outline the various things I did to make run commuting a pleasant and successful addition to my training.

run commute, active commute, commuting on foot

Is run commuting for me?

Several questions can help answer that:

  • Can I reasonably cover the distance between my office and my house on foot?
  • Is there a safe way to get between my house and office on foot? (Are there sidewalks or running trails? If there aren’t, is the traffic light enough to run on the shoulder? Am I comfortable running in the areas I will need to pass through to get between my house and my office?)
  • How will I return to my starting point in the afternoon/tomorrow morning?
  • What do I need to bring between my house and my office on a daily basis, and how will that fit into my running?
  • Will my destination have the accommodations I need after I run? (If you run commute in the afternoon, this is likely a nonissue, since your house should have everything you tend to use during your post-run routine. If you run in the morning, you’ll need to consider these things.)

For me, the answers to all of these questions made run commuting (in the afternoon) sound reasonable:

  • I can walk the distance between my house and my office.
  • No matter how I went from my office to my house (I usually had to take very indirect routes to make sure I got in all of my miles), I would never need to run in conditions that made me feel unsafe (i.e.: there would always be a sidewalk or trail) or in unfamiliar areas.
  • I take the CTA to work. The CTA runs regardless of how I got home from work the previous day, unlike a car, which will stay where you left it until you move it later.
  • The only things I needed to take between the office and my house every day were my Ventra card, my phone, my house keys, and my work badge. I also chose to bring other particularly important cards from my wallet (like my license and my insurance cards) in case of an emergency. I leave my laptop and work shoes at my desk every night regardless of whether or not I run commute, so I didn’t need to consider those items, and everything else–my lunch box, the Tupperware in said lunch box, my work clothes, my backpack and the various pieces of scrap paper in it–were all things that I could survive losing without a major disruption or inconvenience to my life.
  • Since my runs ended at home, I had everything I needed to return to normal after running. If I ever did choose to run in the morning, my office has fully equipped shower facilities I could use (and a gym with space for foam rolling, stretching, and PT exercises, though I can’t imagine I’d ever start my run commute early enough to fit in all of those extras after a run).

How should I plan for a run commute?

If you answered with yeses: congratulations! You’re a good candidate for run commuting. Now comes the “forethought and planning” part of the equation.

If your office has a dress code, chances are you can’t wear your running clothes during the day. If you run commute in the morning, regardless of your office’s dress code, chances are neither you nor your coworkers want you to stay in your sweaty clothes all day. You’ll need to have work clothes available at the office, either by bringing them in a small backpack with you on your run, or by bringing them the previous work day–which means you’ll have to know that you plan to run commute at least 24 hours in advance.

To run home in the afternoon, you’ll need to bring your running clothes and any related accessories (watch, water bottle, fuel, sunscreen, hat, etc.) with you to work. This doesn’t offer you much flexibility when it comes to make last-minute decisions on what to wear for your run, nor does it offer you much flexibility in terms of deciding to run commute at the last minute, either.

Regardless of whether you run in the morning or afternoon, you likely won’t want to carry much with you beyond the absolute essentials. You’ll need to have a plan, then, for the nice-to-haves. For example, I bring my lunch to work every day, but I don’t want to haul my lunch bag + ice pack + Tupperware home with me on a run. To accommodate, I have two lunch bags, two ice packs, and more Tupperware than any one person needs. That way, I can leave all my lunch accessories at the office overnight and still be able to pack a lunch for the next day. To run commute successfully (i.e.: without forgetting something important), you need to think through all the things you’ll need to run, all the things you’ll need during your work day, and how to get those things from Point A to Point B in a way that won’t burden your run.

One other note: if your run commute will take you through areas with tall buildings and you tend to rely exclusively on your GPS for distance data, realize that your watch may not provide remotely accurate readings while you run near the tall buildings. If you’re concerned about getting in a particular number of miles (compared to running for a certain amount of time), I recommend mapping your route ahead of time on something like MapMyRun to ensure you cover the right distance.

When can I run commute?

Whether you run commute in the morning or afternoon comes down to your personal preference and your access to post-run accommodations (like a shower, or, minimally, a bathroom where you can freshen up). I prefer to work out in the afternoon, which is why I run commute home rather than to the office, but you can certainly do either!

In Chicago, I think summer is the only easy time to run commute. When you run commute in the summer, you have one less major essential to consider: a coat. I don’t want to carry my fleece, pea coat, or parka home on a run commute, but I also don’t want to try to get to work the following day during the colder months without a fleece, pea coat, or parka. Because my coat is a non-negotiable for my next commute after a run commute when it’s cold, unless I’m going to bring that coat with me on my run, I’m not able to run commute. In the winter, boots also come into the equation. I’m absolutely not going to carry my heavy boots home on a run, but I’m also absolutely not going to try to get to work through snow and slush the following morning without them. Not having to consider those elements in the summer simplifies the process immensely, which is why I stick to summer run commuting. (Though I am also willing to run commute during jacket weather. I have two lightweight jackets, so I can leave one at work when I run home and wear the other to work the following morning.)

Even though it requires a fair amount of planning, run commuting has been the most positive addition to my training. If it’s an option for you, I highly recommend giving it a try!

Do you ever run commute?