Chocolate City: Atlanta “Hot Chocolate” 15K
Review: Atlanta Hot Chocolate 5k/15k 2013
America’s Sweetest Race
The Hot Chocolate 5k/15k series bills itself as “America’s Sweetest Race.” In the advertising for the race, the hook is the finisher’s mug filled with a cup of hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, and various items for dipping in that fondue. You also get a technical hooded sweatshirt for your entry fee of $50-$70 (depending on the time of entry). The Atlanta version of this race started at Turner Field and was scheduled for January 13. A race in January with hot chocolate provided at the end? It’s not beer but sign me up! I had already “earned my turkey” at the Atlanta Half Marathon so now I would earn my chocolate. As we got closer to the race I heard that the 5k had filled up and then just before the race the 15k did as well. What I didn’t expect was how many people that meant.
As the race approached, I started to get race emails explaining that parking would be tight for the event and that they would only allow people in the Turner Field official lots who had paid for a $10 pass in advance. They were also recommending no later than a 6:30 arrival for the 7:45/8:15 starts. That seemed extremely early to me and honestly over cautionary for a location that held a large race on Thanksgiving and routinely can hold 50,000 people for a Braves game. I did go ahead and buy the parking permit, however.
Family Friendly Race Expo
The race expo and number pickup was held at The Georgia World Congress Center on the Friday and Saturday before the race. We braved Atlanta Friday rush hour traffic and went up as soon as I could get off of work. I took the family and after we got there I realized that this event catered to families. The expo had samples of different types of chocolate and a number of kid activities that my little ones could do while I picked up my number and sweatshirt. The expo was definitely a female dominated crowd with groups like Moms Run This Town and a couple of beauty supply companies. I picked up a few items at the only running supply company (more beauty supply booths than running booths at a race expo. This was going to be a different race!) since they were half price and then we were out the door.
I started looking through the information once we returned to the house and I realized a couple of things: A) I was in corral “I” which would be the first group to start the 15k and B) the elevation chart for the race was scary. The course had lots of ups and downs with almost no flat. I don’t mind hills (remember the Brasstown Bald 5k?) but for longer races, I really like some stretches of flat to allow me to catch my breath between them. No flat meant a hard race! I was happy to be in the first corral since I usually run near the top 10% of my age group. However, I also don’t remember putting in an expected time so I don’t know if I just got lucky or if that was planned. I do know that I could have gone to anyone giving out numbers at the expo and got my number so I do not think the numbers and corrals were pre-assigned.
On race morning I got up early and ate my normal pre-race breakfast (PB&J with a banana) on the drive to Turner. Parking was easy as I got there at 6 AM and I hung out in the truck listening to music, watching for anyone I knew. People kept pouring into Turner. And pouring. And pouring. When I finally got out of the truck to stand in line for a port-a-john I heard an announcer say they had 20,000 people registered for the race. He said there were 11,000 people in the 5k and 9,000 in the 15k. That explained the line for the restrooms. They could have had twice as many port-a-johns and probably not made that large a dent in the lines. Finally it was time to get ready for the race. They lined everyone up for the 5k and started releasing people in the corrals for the race. At this point the 15k runners were bunched up around the start because the 5k and 15k corrals were in the same place and they would not let anyone in the corrals for the 15k until the entire group of 5k runners had started. After about 20 minutes the last 5k group started and they allowed the 15k runners into the corral. The problem was they only allowed them in through a two person wide chute for each corral. This led to a little nervousness about being able to get in when the announcer said we would start in 3 minutes and I had not been able to enter the corral yet. However, I got in and lined up with the rest of the corral, like cattle.
The race started and the first thing I noticed is that there were a lot of people starting ahead of me who had no interest in running the pace I wanted to run. I spent the first half mile or so weaving in and out of groups and trying to pass the people who were running slower than me. After about 3/4th of a mile the crowd thinned enough that we only took up one lane of the road and things were much more comfortable. Just after a mile there was a Liverpool fan in front of his house (I could tell by the huge flag) and being a Manchester United fan and knowing the two teams were nearing kickoff I sang “Glory, Glory, Man United” as loud as I could. That got his attention and a wave of a fist in return. We passed Grant Park and the Atlanta Zoo and were greeted with the smell of hay and elephants. After that we settled into a solid, if unspectacular course. It seemed we just avoided a lot of Atlanta monuments such as Oakland Cemetery or the Fox. Just before the end of Mile 8 there was a soul crushing climb of 100 feet in about 3/10ths of a mile and many of my fellow racers stopped to walk. I kept saying “At least its not Brasstown,” to myself and kept going. As we rounded the Capitol and headed back to Turner Field I was passed by a racer who looked about my age. I tucked in behind him and focused on staying with him until the end. About 200 yards from the finish line I found a kick and sprinted into the finish at 1:09.36.
Post-Race and After Party
The organizers had set up Gatorade and water stations along the corral at the finish for the racers. You then followed the corral back to the start area (about 300 yards) to pick up the promised finisher’s mug and your belongings. This is where the a real problem with the race occurred. Getting your finisher’s mug was simple and well organized. However, it was 65 degrees and a steaming cup of hot chocolate and fondue was a much less desired treat after a 15k than it would have been at 35-45 degrees. What the “after-party” area needed was water or cold beverages that could be accessed without the long walk back to the finish line. Regardless, I picked up my finishers mug, immediately dumped the fondue in the trash (or at least as much as I could, it was really sticky!) and took the banana and hot chocolate to the truck. Eventually the hot chocolate cooled enough that I could drink it and I had extra water in the truck for the ride home.
I found out after looking up my age group results that my feelings that this was a female dominated race were completely justified. Of the 7197 people that finished the 15k, 5654 were female. Also of the 8903 people that finished the 5k, 7174 were female. There less than 3300 men in both races combined. All in all, a decent race but I wish the start and finish had the corrections I mentioned. I would do the event again though as I found that I really enjoyed the distance. I felt I could get all the way through the distance without the let down I had in the 11th and 12th miles of the half marathon. I’ll be looking for additional 15k’s in the future.