Taking a bite out of our chocolate bar medals post-race.
I kicked off the 2015 racing season yesterday with the Hot Chocolate 15K in Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to sign up for this race because I knew a large number of people who were running. It also seemed like perfect timing in the build-up to my half-marathon next month. And yes, I really liked the cute hoodie that they were handing out to all participants. As a result, I found myself driving into Philly early on Saturday morning.
My awesome friend, Jen, helped me out by picking up my race number and goodie bag at the expo on Thursday, which spared me the extra trip into the city. Jen reported that the expo was small, but well-organized, and provided plenty of sugary-snacks to munch on while wandering around. Her adorable daughter was happy to help out with the sampling.
The best thing about running races in Philly is that the logistics are usually pretty easy to figure out. Over the years, Jen and I have run more times than we can count on both sides of the Schuylkill River, so we are very familiar with that area. The race was starting and ending at Eakins Oval, which is just in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. We chose to park about 2 miles away, which kept us out of the congestion near the race start, and allowed us to tack on an easy 2 miles before and after the race to increase our training a bit.
I found this race to be a bit unusual, as the 5K actually started 45 minutes before the 15K. By the time we arrived at the starting line, around 7:35, the 5K was already underway. We actually were able to mill around and see the winners come through the finish before we wandered over to the start corrals. The corrals were well-organized and easy to access. To our surprise, we found that we had been placed in the first two corrals, though we did decide to move back a few spots so that we could start together with Jen’s brother. Jen and I both got a big kick out of the “No Walkers” signs that were posted below the first several corrals. I think it’s great that most races allow for walkers, but I find it both dangerous and frustrating when walkers get mixed into the early corrals, so I was happy to see the guidelines so clearly posted. As members of the first corral, we crossed below the start line 9 minutes after the official race start, which felt very reasonable. There were, however, another right corrals lined up behind us, so I imagine that athletes in the final corrals had quite a long wait before the start of the race.
Once we were underway, the race itself went without a hitch. The wave start did a good job of controlling the volume of runners on the course. Though there were close to 7,000 runners, the race only ever felt crowded during the first half-mile or so. For the remainder of the course, there was always a good volume of runners nearby, but there was also plenty of room to move around fellow athletes when need be. There were respectable crowds during the first and last miles, but most of the race ran along the river, so it was pretty devoid of spectators. Fortunately, we knew to expect that and we managed to pass the time quite easily by chatting with each other. The race course was simple, but scenic. We started in front of the Art Museum, and ran along the Ben Franklin Parkway for about half a mile before circling around and heading back towards the museum. The course then traveled out along the river for about four miles before doubling back and finishing just in front of the museum. The out and back course actually kept things interesting, as there were almost always runners to watch coming from the opposite direction. I enjoyed searching for and cheering on several friends as we crossed paths along the course.
The big news of the day was the weather. The overnight rain managed to move out in time and we were greeted with brilliant sunshine for the entire race. We were also fortunate to have good temperatures, hovering right around 50 degrees. The challenge was the wind, which was gusting between 25-35 mph for the duration of the morning. We were able to finish the race with the wind at our backs, but that meant that the majority of the first 5.5 miles was run directly into the wind. It made it much more challenging to stay on pace, and in fact, there were a few times when we passed through a tunnel and the wind intensified to the point where it felt like we were running, but standing still. Suffice it to say, we were thrilled to reach the finish line. Better yet, we discovered that even with the wind, we managed to cross the finish line in 1:29:52, which was good enough for a 9:39 pace throughout the race. I had been hoping to stay between 9:15 and 9:30, so I was happy to come in so close to that, given the weather conditions.
After we finished, we quickly put our jackets back on, watched a few more finishers come through, and then headed over to collect our prized finishers mugs. The mugs were filled with all kinds of chocolate goodies. We received a cup of hot chocolate, some warm melted chocolate for dipping, and then a variety of potential dippers – mini pretzels, a Rice Crispies treat, a wafer cookie, a large marshmallow, and a mini banana. Jen avoids gluten, and I try to avoid processed sugar, so we saved the sweets for the kids, but enjoyed dipping our bananas into the chocolate. I also tried a couple of pretzels and we both sampled the hot chocolate, which was a great way to warm up while the winds gusted around us. Unfortunately, the winds caused us to ditch the post-race celebration pretty quickly. We sampled our snacks for a few minutes, and then tossed our cups and ran back to our cars to warm up and continue on with our days.
Overall, I was impressed with this race. I think it is important to know what to expect from a race, and to judge it accordingly. This was a great race for those looking to have a good time. The two different race distances provided varying levels of challenges for both beginner and more advanced athletes. There were a lot of walkers in the field, which made it a nice option for people looking to experience racing for the first time. The race cost us $64, which seemed a reasonable price, given that we received hooded sweatshirts, a bowl full of chocolate goodies, and a well-organized race. We even managed to use a coupon code to snag hats which read “Will run for chocolate”. If you have a sweet tooth, or enjoy a fun, festive atmosphere, you really can’t go wrong with this racing series! An enjoyable start to the 2015 racing season.