Race Report: Atlanta Hot Chocolate 15K (And why it’s overrated…)

Race: Hot Chocolate 15K 1/25/2015

Finish Time: 1:11:02 (7:38 min/mi)

AG Place (F25-29): 15/673

OAF Place: 48/5604

Overall Place: 173/7484

So the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K has been hot since its inception. With the Atlanta iteration falling on or around my sister’s birthday, running it with the fam has become a bit of a tradition (couldn’t we just go to dinner or something like normal people?!). Prior to this race, I finally bested my longstanding 13.1 PR and then demolished it again two weeks later at the Thanksgiving and Kiawah Island Half Marathons, respectively. After this, I decidedly stowed away my keys to the running hurt locker until next winter. Additionally, this race also fell on Stage Two of the Tour of Sufferlandria—a virtual international cycling tour of gluttons-for-punishment consisting of nine consecutive days of intense indoor trainer workouts. With excuses aplenty, I set my sights low and even tried to use this race as an aerobic threshold test, which would oblige me to stay in the wonderfully unchallenging zone 2. Goals included: (1) celebrating the turning of another healthy and happy year of my sister’s life, (2) earning a calorie deficit for post-race chocolate and birthday cake, and (3) hopefully sparing some fuel in my legs for the 100 minute (literal) cycling sufferfest that awaited me post-race.

I ran into Dan Jones at the start (who announced the night prior that I was his Atlanta Tri Club Race Team rival) and asked him what pace he’d be keeping. <7:20 minute/mile was his response, and I wished him luck because I certainly was not in the mood for such ambitious endeavors. Sure enough, the gun went off, Dan took off, and my competitive nature convinced me perhaps I could actually race this race. Whelp, that lasted a mile and I backed off the pace considerably. And I didn’t see Dan again until the finish! Remember Dan—I let you win this one! There really isn’t much to report about this race. It became clear that the hilly and windy conditions were far from conducive to an aerobic run test, so I ignored the Garmin (pretty sure I didn’t want to see what it had to say anyway) and ran how I felt (cause I do what I want! Sorry Coach…). I eventually caught Peter Gurd (or did he catch me?), and we exchanged a few words. He pressed ahead at mile six, and I overheard him say, “It’s all uphill from here!” Aaannddd I backed down the pace. Again. I’d suffered enough at previous races this fall, and I’m suffering enough on the bike this week. No need to make myself unnecessarily miserable. I tried to enjoy the last 5K, but Peter was right. It was all uphill. With a demoralizing headwind. It sucked. And eventually it ended when I crossed the finish.

At the end of the day I achieved an almost perfect positive split. Which was actually a course PR (barely) by 1:40. And I immediately and happily negated the calorie deficit I had earned by stuffing my face with various chocolate postrace products (followed by birthday brunch). And I found enough fuel to successfully complete stage two of the Tour of Sufferlandria hours later (as well as stages three-nine in the days that followed. But that’s a different post for a different day).

Disclaimer: perhaps I’m being a tinge negative because my “race” wasn’t much of one at all. But the Hot Chocolate race is a bit overrated, in my opinion. Mainly because it’s not conducive to anyone, really. Tough for casual runners. Annoying for competitive ones.

  • Newbies: a lot of first-timers sign up for this race as their inaugural entry into the running world. With a course as brutal as this one with weather that is typically not uplifting, I’d call it more of a hazing. To all first timers: there are certainly more pleasurable races out there.
  • Competitive runners: the course had many unnecessary turns including a zigzag configuration through a neighborhood that was just annoying. It also went across many concrete bridges and other concrete surfaces, which leaves the knees an-aching. The last 5K is certainly challenging, which is probably a bonus for the suffer-seekers, but not a PR kind of course.
  • Fans of Fun: First of all, true fun is suffering. Haha just kidding. This race has great potential on this front, as the post-race festivities abound including a stage with live music, a “kid zone” with games (can adults play too…?), and sponsor/vendor tents. And the turner field parking lot is a great space for this kinda thing. But the weather predicably never is! There were a few brave souls doing the electric slide (a true indicator of a good time), but cold weather doesn’t encourage folks to hang out.
  • Weight loss seekers: many people run casually as a means to lose weight. With on-course nutrition including chocolate chips at mile one, to chocolate marshmallows at mile seven—combined with the fact that most people overestimate the calories they burn during exercise—many unknowledgeable participants will negate any exercise benefit before they even finish and receive their “reward” mug filled with high-calorie chocolatey deliciousness. Positive net calorie.
  • Logistics freaks: parking was a nightmare. We purchased parking passes but were unable to even enter the lots because traffic was so bad. Not sure if they oversold spots or if merely 7,484 participants (+supporters) entering at once caused the major backups. One unnamed logistically-minded family member of mine may have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown…
  • Penny Pinchers: this race is expensive! For a running race, that is. I guess the sweatshirt is cool (Thankfully they returned to the original design—I was not a fan of last year’s) and contributed to the cost.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a well-orchestrated race and has gained wild popularity for a reason. But I kind of wish it occurred during nicer weather, but that would nullify the “hot chocolate” shtick. Or a bit cheaper… Regardless, I’m sure I’ll continue to run it for the love of my sister.