This blog post was written by my sister and Hot Chocolate 15k survivor, Katie. She promised other Katie that she wouldn’t complain too much, and I don’t think she did. Please enjoy this post while I work on my Key West race report, which won’t be anywhere near as entertaining as last year’s.
I firmly believe in not traveling for races; if I can’t bike, bus, or metro to your starting line, I’m happy to let someone with a car and a taste for race-parking blood take that spot. I live in one of the most active cities in the country, so I don’t have to go far to run almost any distance on any terrain. Plus I really, really like to sleep. I’m also a quite literal fairweather runner; if it’s too cold, too hot, too rainy, or too dark outside, I’ll pass, thanks. But when you put the words “hot chocolate” onto your December event’s name, you bet your ass I’m willing to be mildly inconvenienced. Hot chocolate is delicious. Throw in a ladies-cut jacket and my better judgment cedes all responsibility to my covetous id. Shit, for running, hot chocolate, and a jacket, I’ll wake up at 4:45 in the morning after working until 10:00 the night before, ride my bike across the city because the metro isn’t running yet, and mooch a ride off a friend’s friend to get to you. And that’s precisely what I did!
DC’s inaugural Hot Chocolate 5k/15k was held at the National Harbor, an oasis of hotels and conference sites in a suburban Maryland wasteland.* Despite being well off the metro, $45-65 to enter, and held in friggin’ December, some 18,000 runners schlepped to the starting lines from parking lots at Crystal City to Rosecroft Raceway. (I told you hot chocolate was delicious.) My friends and I parked at Rosecroft, grateful for the modest traffic we sat in when compared to the lines of unmoving drivers exiting at the Harbor. Conveniently, a half dozen shuttles arrived as we did, so despite being behind schedule, we made it to the start quickly. On the shuttle, I noticed someone checking the weather on their iPhone. It was 29 degrees outside, and I wished I’d worn more layers.
Walking from the shuttle stop, I overhead a volunteer announce that the start was delayed 20 minutes for each race and relayed the information to my friends. It seemed somewhat reasonable, given the traffic we’d observed.
Then we waited.
The 5k started about 30 minutes late and the announcements stopped. Nobody told us that they’d mistakenly sent the runners in the wrong direction, and the 15k would run right into them if it was released. We just stood in the cold for another half hour as people got cranky. They chanted pro-start slogans. I suggested storming the hot chocolate tents at the finish festival. (Instead I ate some of the shot blocks I had packed, an uncharacteristic act of foresight on my part.) My friends devised a “Cinco de Mile” race that involves tequila shots, and you are rightly jealous. Finally, at 9am, they released the 15k, funneling the unseeded, slower runners into the seeded start. This was probably extremely frustrating for some faster competitors, but it pushed me to a comfortable 9:30 first mile.
As you’ve likely read on other race reports, the course was too narrow, and the first five miles abutted freeway traffic on one side. There were also cones and barrels all over the course. It was pretty unsafe, and I wasn’t able to crack another sub-10-minute mile until runners finally gave up and spilled across the entire roadway. We came off the freeway, crested a hill, and just beyond the five-mile marker enjoyed a long downhill past the announcer and cheering spectators. My spirits lifted as I picked off dozens of runners apparently unfamiliar with the strategy of friggin’ flying when the course is easy. Right around here, the course became scenic as well; instead of a four-lane highway, we ran on slightly rolling hills past hotels and green space. Had I been running alone, not with 12,000 others, it would have been a really pleasant and moderately challenging route. We snuck into the harbor’s downtown and, in the span of a mile, passed about four MarathonFoto photographers. We also seem to have passed the Awakening, if the photos are to be believed, but I don’t recall seeing it. The course veered onto a bike path and gravel stretch beside the harbor that, again, would have been pleasant were I a visiting businessman out for a jog and not one of 12,000 racers.
Somehow, I heaved my heft across the finish line in 1:28.18, pretty much exactly as fast as I’d hoped to finish. This seems miraculous given the crowds, but I am not going to question my awesomeness. My legs burned, and the spectators were crowding the finish line, but I managed to snag a bottle of water and stagger up to the finish festival. I drank a hot chocolate before they ran out of marshmallows. I wished they had spared us a few more pretzel rods or maybe a whole banana for our fondue dishes. I wondered if it was me that smelled so bad or the combined stinks of everyone present.
If my assessment of this race seems fairly neutral, it’s because I had a perfectly good race time, enjoyed but did not gorge myself on chocolate, and at least fit into my jacket even if the sleeves are a little short. I’m used to that. It comes with being long-limbed. So, no, I’m not calling for anyone’s heads or trying to run RAM racing out of DC for good. If you want to enjoy those comments, check out their facebook page. But next time my better judgment is questioning 1) driving to a race 2) in the winter and 3) when I’m working all weekend, I will probably take her advice: I’ll sleep in and make my own Swiss Miss when I wake up around 10:00 in my nice, warm bed.
Here's a pic of me and Katie at an infinitely better organized run--the one where we ran around town with a xeroxed piece of paper collecting shamrocks.
*It’s probably lovely; I don’t know. I only saw the freeway. (Ed. note–It is indeed a wasteland. I’ve been.)