The Hot Chocolate race in Atlanta is one of the biggest races I’ve run in the area. It offers two distances, the 5k (great for beginning runners) and the 15k (which earns finishers a medal). I ran the 5k last year before I considered myself a “real” runner, so I was eager to see how my year of experience would pay off. First plan was to enjoy Expo and do some browsing rather than my rushed in and out that I did last year. The weather decided to do a number on Atlanta the day as a winter weather advisory was to begin at 3pm the first day of Expo. School was cancelled for my daughter and that was the beginning of what would attempt to wreak havoc on the weekend. Have no fear, I defy havoc.
Instead of my quiet work from home morning, the kid was bouncing around with hopes of snow. Plan was now to grab lunch and stop by Expo on our way to Auburn for the Florida Gators gymnastics meet that evening as we weren’t staying overnight and I wasn’t driving that way three times in a weekend. We got parked at the Georgia World Congress Center around 1:15, hiked inside in the dropping temperatures and rain and were greeted by this humongous line to get in. I freaked out a bit as I did not see this last year, but figured the impending winter weather got everyone there earlier and it wasn’t a by product of the later opening time than last year. After a potty break was mandated for the kid, we got in line. I was pleasantly surprised to be inside about ten minutes later. Bib pickup went smoothly and then there was massive line for parking passes. Luckily, the Hot Chocolate folks got someone on it for pre-purchases and we were good to go. The kid had enough time to get a marshmallow from the post-race goodies preview, too. Next up was the goodie bag and apparently I registered so early, my jacket was embroidered with Atlanta 2016 finisher. What a cool thing?
There is a try on area if you aren’t sure about sizing, and in the world of women’s clothes, that is always the case, especially since I haven’t been littl in quite some time. I let the kiddo burn off energy in the kids bounce house before shopping merch. One “I run for chocolate” shirt and one “chocolate made me do it” fleece headband later, we were on our way to more vendors. The only other major stop for me was the Sweaty Bands booth as I recently chopped my hair off and headbands are the only way to keep hair off my face. A buy two get one free deal garnered me a sparkly blue and American flag design (for future races) and a sparkly pink just because. A quick stop for hot chocolate and a marshmallow and we were off for some quick pictures before heading out.
Race day morning started with an alarm at 4:40am and I was in Turner Field parking by 5:33am. No backups for me this year! After a quick porta potty scouting, in what felt like 13 degree temperatures, it was back to the heated confines of my car for a nap. And plotting how long I could stay in my car before one last porta potty visit and make my corral on time. The cold definitely kept more people away, but things were a lot less crowded. I made Corral C in plenty of time! I was glad to have been a veteran this year with a submitted time as this started earlier and would mean it was less likely to have walkers right off the bat. I am not a stranger to walking in a race, but not at the beginning, blocking runners. I hope it was the corral that helped more and not the abundant no shows.
After running super slow in the cold on the Wednesday prior, I wasn’t sure how I would fare. And it was my first race after having my gall bladder removed on December 10. I knew the course from the prior year, and my biggest goal was to beat last year’s time of 41:11. When we finally started, it felt like 15, and it apparently lit a fire under me. Last year, I remember making it five minutes in before a m not awalk break, which was consistent with my couch to 5k training, and then running downhills while walking the hills. Five minutes coincided with an uphill and this time, I’m much more capable dealing with them and I stayed on pace. Soon, it was the turn onto Cherokee and the first mile marker and I was around a 12:30 pace facing another hill. I kept it up knowing the water station was close. So it was down a good steep hill and another short steep uphill and Memorial Drive was next. I knew the worst part was near the end and unto the turn to the I-20 overpass and I was feeling great at the 15k split point and at the second mile marker. Pace was dropping some, but I knew I was on track for a good race, but not quite a PR (38:30 was my PR going into this race).
Memorial has pretty easy hills and I felt myself picking up the pace especially as I saw the turn get closer. I knew the nine mile marker for the 15k was on top of the overpass and I could make it u that hill. I also noticed my time was looking closer to me getting the PR and I surged up that hill knowing I would get almost all downhill to the finish. Normally I try to sprint that last tenth of a mile, but due to racing down the hill and not accounting for the slight uphill to the finish, I was using every bit of willpower to keep going. I knew I had made my PR, but once I got through the cool down zone and a bottle of water, I looked up to find it was 37:24. Not only did I meet a goal in 2016 of a PR, I also got under 38 minutes, another goal!
Now that the race was done, the best part awaited. A cup of hot chocolate and bunch of goodies to be dipped in chocolate including a banana, a marshmallow, pretzels, and a Rice Krispie treat. After drinking my hot chocolate and eating the marshmallow and banana, the cold was sinking in again, so I decided it was time to head to the car for warmth. I ended up running into a friend and in the short time we chatted, my chocolate froze! I was sad, but guess it was to be expected when it was below freezing outside. Despite that, I still was on a PR high and enjoyed what chocolate I did get. I am hoping that I can do the 15k next year as the bling is a motivator! I highly recommend this as a fun race and great for beginners!