Hot Chocolate 15k – Atlanta, GA – 1/22/17

The big race day that had been on my mind since my stress fracture in September finally arrived, but not without a lot of drama.  Between parking drama thanks to the Falcons playing in the NFC championship game, which meant people were snatching up discount parking passes, and possible thunderstorms in the forecast, I was just hoping the race would happen in its entirety.  I had been pretty set on MARTA as transportation until I realized that 15k runners were only in the first wave meaning I had to be in my corral by 7:30.  And I was concerned about minimum pace so I needed to get as close to the front of that next to last corral as I could.  Corrals opened at 7, with MARTA service starting at 6, which didn’t leave a lot of breathing room in case of crowds or delays.  Upon learning the parking passes would only be good through 11am, I briefly explained concern on the Hot Chocolate Facebook page and I got a super quick private message reply assuring me not to worry as it was to ensure people weren’t staying for the game more than anything.  All I know is the social media person/team with Ram Racing, the group that runs the race, was/were top notch all weekend and not just with me.

Not only was there the parking drama, there was weather drama.  Thunderstorms were in the forecast for race day, but most weather apps don’t have detail until much closer to race day.  I can see how people have concerns, but when you sign a form saying if the event were to be cancelled, you don’t get a refund, it’s a minor risk we all take unless you purchase insurance.  And most race organizers are only going to cancel or shorten the course if they know the unsafe conditions will happen much closer to race start time (see RunDisney’s changes on the Wine and Dine half in 2015 and the half marathon a few weeks ago and Hot Chocolate in San Francisco). I get people travel for races, but I usually have more reasons for my travel than just the run because paying a lot of money for travel and hotel is a lot for only a race.  Like with parking, the social media team was on top of things and handled the criticism (that I thought was unnecessary) quite well.

Normally I would hit Expo on Friday, but I worked from home that day, so I headed into Atlanta with the kiddo on early Saturday morning.  I had my combined Expo-race day parking pass in the red lot, more because I didn’t want to deal with a long walk in the rain for Expo.  The red lot has a tunnel from parking that goes under the street  to the Georgia World Congress Center, so we stayed dry.  When we arrived close to 10am, it was pouring, so I made the right choice even if it meant a longer race day walk to Centennial Park. Unlike last year, when it seemed like everyone showed up at the same time to avoid Atlanta’s potential snow, there was no wait to get inside and soon I was getting my bib printed.  The volunteer seemed excited for me that I was running the 15k and when he said he couldn’t do it, I told him not to think that way as he could.  Apparently I started with the encouragement early on this weekend.

After bib pickup, I grabbed my goody bag with a super awesome hoodie that had thumb holes!  I have three different types of jackets now.  I love that a hood was back, but I missed the zipper pockets.  You can’t have it all, though.  Last year, I registered early enough that my jacket was embroidered as an Atlanta finisher, but that didn’t seem to be done this year.  In a way, I liked the embroidery, but then I also like the lack of a date.  I did miss the fact the bag wasn’t a reusable bag, as it was just a drawstring plastic bag. Granted last year’s reusable bag broke quickly, but my 2015 bag is going strong still.  I did double check my hoodie fit at the try on area and was pleasantly surprised with a slightly looser fit that prior jackets.  It’s very cozy and I’m a huge fan of the thumb holes and the hot chocolate logo attached to the zipper.  Overall, I love all of all my Hot Chocolate jackets.

Once bib and goody bag business was done, it was time to check out the vendors.  Goodness knows, I only run a few races that include an Expo, so I plan to spend something on merchandise or running gear.  Of course the first thing the kiddo spots is a bounce house, so I let her run off some energy, and she lasted about a minute in there. I expected her to be in there a lot longer, but I guess she wanted to check out sparkly gear like I did.  People love giving free stuff to kids as her highlight was winning a flashlight.  Sadly, she does not like chocolate so when the cookie samples already had chocolate on them, she was sad.  The poor thing expected marshmallows like last year, so she was a bit bummed.  

I was excited to learn about some local races and I even signed up for the Sizzler 10k on Labor Day.  My stress fracture made itself known after this race, so I’m looking forward to redemption in this fun race.  I didn’t find much else to make me want to part with money, so the last stop was official merch. The crazy weather accounted for my purchases as temps were forecasted to be in the upper 50s and low 60s so my “Chocolate made me do it” fleece headband wasn’t going to be needed. However, a hat with that phrase sure would come in handy in case of rain.  We left Expo with me ready to spend a quiet afternoon at home, but the kiddo needed quiet before then and found a giant couch/bench and took a rest on the way back to the car.  

I got home and set up my flat runner, complete with a rain jacket that I hoped would not see race day.  When I went to bed for my 4:30 wake up call, the hourly forecast was looking good and nothing had been posted on social media regarding changes or cancellations.  When my alarms went off crazy early, as I’d much rather get somewhere and take a power nap than be stuck in traffic, my first check was social media and the hourly forecast.  Both looked clear, so I got ready and headed into Downtown Atlanta.  When I arrived at the red deck, I actually had to show my pass to the people who were already preparing for the NFC Championship.  I drove right in with no wait and settled in for a power nap with plans to head to Centennial Park around 6:30.

A beautiful morning shot courtesy of Ram Racing.

Based on the forecast still not showing rain, I left my rain jacket behind and walked towards the park in a short sleeve shirt because I know I get hot when I run. I passed a lot of people wearing fleece headbands and even their new hoodies.  I was a little chilly with temps being in the upper 50s, but I wasn’t carrying more than I had to.  I did feel slightly under dressed until I saw more people at the park without jackets.  As I waited at the park, I was browsing Twitter and I was able to wish a fellow runner good luck.  One of my goals each race is to encourage others, so I was able to get some encouragement in prior to the race.  Centennial Park proved to be a beautiful  venue for the race as the Skyview Atlanta Ferris wheel made for a beautiful site.  Before 7am, I was heading down the street towards my corral.  They didn’t open on time, but I was right there to grab a spot at the front for corral F on the left side as I knew the 15k split would be on the left not even a mile in.  Besides the extra time cushion, it also allowed me to not feel claustrophobic waiting as Corral E didn’t get packed until almost start time.  I ended up passing time talking with a few others around me and psyching myself up that this was about to happen.  As we walked closer and closer to the start line as each wave started, my goal was becoming more of a reality.  

Then it was go time.  I mentally prepared to look at this race by miles and by 5k increments.  As I have done since doing my 30:30 intervals, I ran the first minute while also keeping a good eye out to make sure that I wasn’t stopping quickly on anyone in other intervals.  Before the course split, it was pretty crowded and there were a few times I had to run or walk more until I had clearance again.  Because it was early on and I knew I had a long way to go, I was okay with that especially since I was moving at a faster pace than I knew I could keep up.  I also chose to implement my strategy of running more if it involved a downhill while trying to only do 30 second walk intervals on the uphills.  I knew the first two miles had a good bit of downhill, so I wanted to take advantage of that, while conserving energy for the big uphills I knew were at the end.  Once the course split off, having the entire road to ourselves was great.  The majority of runners ran the 5k, so the crowds really thinned out after the split.

Mile 1 would take us past the Capitol and a pretty good hill on Mitchell Street. Despite that, I hit the first mile at under a 13 minute pace and my first goal was to finish without getting swept.  15 minute mile pace was the minimum, but I estimated I had a 6 minute cushion, putting me at needing a 15:38 pace.  I knew there was no way I was keeping a 13 minute pace the whole race, so I tried to pace myself a little better for the second mile. I was actually new the 12 minute mile pacers for a bit of this, too.  That was crazy being with the 12 minute pacers.   Mile 2 had the Capitol Avenue overpass as well as a small uphill near Turner Field, but there is also a long downhill on Pollard after you turn off Capitol.  It felt a bit odd coming up on the end of mile 2 just after Turner Field as this was where the course had started in the past.  I also did the Thanksgiving Day 5k that started there and followed the same route along Georgia Avenue, so running these areas in the third mile of the race versus the first would show.  Aid stations were two miles apart, so I was ecstatic that I made it to the first one located just past Turner Field.  The Hot Chocolate race offers sweet treats in addition to water and Nuun.  While I know replacing electrolytes is important, I also wasn’t sure how my body would react to Nuun early on, so I only opted for water.  I had my gu for the 45 minute/3ish miles intervals.  As I have an upset tummy at times, I wanted to avoid the treats for now.  

Now it started to get real.  Mile three involved the hill leading up to the Zoo and the first of the really bad hills.  This is where the hill being at a different part of the course made this hill feel completely different.  What kept me going at this point was knowing there were some downhills coming and the 13 minute mile pace group.  The pacer was super encouraging and the group passed me when I was walking and I passed them when I was running.  I think I did give in and walk an additional 30 seconds on this hill.  I was okay with my pace dropping as I hadn’t hit the 5k mark yet and knew I had a long way to go.  I was never so happy to see Cherokee Avenue come into sight along with the downhill.  Shortly after I was passing the mile 3 sign and I knew I was still under a 14 minute mile pace.  After I passed the 5k mark, I waited for the text to roll in with my exact pace and I was on a 13:43 pace. While it was the slowest compared to my running 5ks, I was ecstatic to be under a 14 minute mile pace on what was probably the third of the course with the most downhills.  

Somehow in all the excitement of doing so well at the 5k mark, it was almost 50 minutes in before I remembered to take my first Gu.  Even though it was five minutes later than planned, I desperately needed the fuel.  Before I knew it, I was back north of I-20 and turning off Memorial into what would be new running area to me.  Mile four was complete and water stop number two was complete.  After heading up Grant Street, there was a turn onto Decatur Street running alongside the MARTA tracks that felt like one pretty slow, steady uphill.  I think this race started to take a toll on people as I felt like I was passing a lot more people during my run intervals.  I was happy to turn and be done with a long, steady hill.  

Well, I was never so happy to be done with a long, steady hill until I was running Randolph Street and hit this short, but extremely steep hill.  That hill make have made a few curse words bounce around in my head, but I made it up and passed the mile 5 sign.  So much for mile 4-6 being the flat-ish miles of the course, right?  This course went through a lot of neighborhoods and it was fun to be cheered on.  The residential cheering section highlight of the course might have been after the turn onto Highland Avenue as a few houses with large front windows had two different scenes.  One had a family with a kid and a dog all eager to cheer us on, while the next house had a man eating breakfast while his cat was asleep in the window.  I think the dog wanted to join us, while the cat didn’t care at all.  It was a much needed amusement when it was still a long way to mile 6 and then the 10k mark.  The Highland Avenue stretch was a great time to catch your breath as nothing was too bad hill-wise through this stretch.  

It felt great at the next turn to know mile 6, the 10k mark and water station awaited.  This station was more in line with my fuel schedule so I got water along with my gu.  I had a third gu packed in case the last 5k was rough.  When I passed the 10k mark, I was at at 13:52 pace only dropping 9 seconds from my 5k pace.  What’s incredible was if this had been a 10k race, I would have PR’ed as. 1:26:07 is 1:27 faster than my 10k PR.  I was amazed I was under a 14 minute mile pace and knew I could make it.  Sadly, this was the part of the course where we were crossing quite a few major roads and there were some times I got stopped for traffic.  I hate stopping as my motto is to just keep moving, but I tackled it mentally by speeding up after the “rest.”  

As I was on Piedmont moving closer to the 7 mile mark, I realized the inside of my right knee was incredibly sore.  Now I had a stress fracture in my right foot, was dealing with ankle tendinitis in my right ankle and now my right knee?  If this had been a training run, I probably would have called it quits, but I was running a great race, so I forged on.  If I can run with a stress fracture, running with a bum knee is nothing.  I passed mile 7, still under a 14 minute mile pace.  Shortly after was the turn onto what I considered the route back to the finish as we were no longer moving away from the finish line in direction.  I was so excited to see Atlanta Track Club people cheering us on at 5th and Spring.  Suddenly I had made it to the last water station almost at mile 8 and I knew I could finish, even if I crawled.  

I was thankful for this last bit of downhill winding down to Bobby Dodd Stadium, home of Georgia Tech football.  I didn’t know just how thankful until I turned onto North Avenue and realized the hill looked worse in person than on the elevation map.  I got to the point where I just walked until my heart rate came back down some.  Little did I know the turn onto Luckie Street wasn’t all that much better, so I just kept telling myself to get up the hill to Alan Iverson (what we jokingly call Ivan Allen especially since the mile 9 sign was there.  Once I passed that, I said no more stopping with.3 to go.  I was passing the aquarium parking deck knowing the finish was one turn away, but I didn’t know he finish was pretty much right there after that turn.  

I had done it.  I got a little teary eyed given how I managed to not quit on the thought of the 15k after my stress fracture and the weather held off.  It was such a relief to finish.  Honestly, this race showed me to be proud of my body for what it can do.  I’m overweight (technically obese by a few stubborn pounds 😳), but I can run 9.3 miles on a hilly course.  And my official pace was 13:56.  I set a goal to beat a 14 minute mile in a 10k and I dis it for a longer distance!  Run walk run for the win!

Photos courtesy of Ram Racing.  I was determined at the start and finishing strong in the others.

 I collected my medal, water and a cup of Nuun and went to collect my chocolate.  The fun of rain leading up to the race meant Centennial PRk grass was a mud pit, so I gingerly walked over to get my finisher mug.  While it was over 60 degrees, that hot chocolate never tasted so good.  Also included is chocolate fondue with a banana, marshmallow and other snacks.  I ate like I ran a marathon rather than just a third of one.  After I inhaled my goodies, as I was gathering up my stuff, I noticed a blogger I follow, Funner Runner and her mom were right there.  Since one of my goals is to get to be more social, I decide to go up and say hello.  We both were parked in the same place, so we talked running as we made the walk back to our cars.  

A 15k was definitely my biggest running challenge to date and I’m looking forward to doing the 15k again next year.   Hopefully next year, my hubby will not be having a minor heart attack while I’m running the race.  Yes, it took awhile to get this recap up given the week after.  Good news is he’s fine now and expect to read some more fit family adventures along the way.  This race will always be known as that time I ran a 15k while my hubby was having a heart attack.


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