Monday, October 31, 2016

Hot Chocolate 15k 2016 Race Recap

This was my fifth time running the Hot Chocolate 15kAs always, it's an opportunity to use some of my residual marathon fitness for a potential 15k PR. However, as I mentioned previously, going into the race I was dealing with some major post-marathon leg and hip soreness. Luckily in the days since that post, I did a handful of recovery runs and was able to work out a couple of the kinks that were hobbling my legs. 

The Expo:
The expo was on the west side of McCormick Place. I paid for 45 minutes of street parking but was able to run up the escalator to packet pickup and grab my bib, hoodie and visor and get back to my car in about 15 minutes flat. The race organizers have had years to smooth out the packet pickup process and it shows.

Pre Race (Run in with the jerk once again!)
I paid in advance for a $13 SpotHero parking space in my normal pre-race parking lot underneath a downtown skyscraper which is about three blocks from the starting line. There is typically a line of cars to get in the garage as the attendant scans your driver's license and does a security check of your trunk. Before last year's race a woman in running attire waved her building ID badge out of the window as she drove ahead of the line and forced her way to the front. At the time, I yelled at her for cutting the line. Well, as I was waiting in line once again, who rolls up behind me, but the same woman waving a badge out the window! This time I leaned my head out my window and stared her down. I wonder if she remembered me from last year, because she didn't cut in front of me thankfully.

Race Strategy
My 15k PR is relative to other races, my slowest PR and thus it's tempting to try and smash it by a wide margin. However, due to my still recovering legs, my main goal was to have fun. My secondary goal, was that I wanted to finish feeling strong. Since my last memory from a race was a painful and demoralizing run/walk to the finish, my strategy would be to run the first 5k by feel and err on the side of running too slowly. Then I could see how I felt and make a mid-race decision on how to proceed.

On arriving in Grant Park, I used the porta pottie. I have never seen as many porta potties in one place in my life. They were seemingly everywhere. They even had about 50 to the side of the corrals so people who lined up early in the corrals would be taken care of if nature called.  Once I was in my corral, a woman sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, and then three cancer patients were interviewed including a 13 year old girl with leukemia who was running the 5k. Her family was going to bring a wagon along so that if she couldn't finish on foot they would pull her in the wagon to the finish. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house and it put all of my fretting about my legs in perspective. Here's a moving video of her story. Anyway, the DJ then played "Go Cubs Go!" for a few minutes, and all of us runners sang along at the top of our lungs until the gun sounded.

The Race:
First 5k:
The Hot Chocolate 15k and the Chicago Marathon share the same start and finish lines, some of the same streets, and with almost 40,000 runners and walkers, the two races are comparable in size. However, for the Hot Chocolate race there are hardly any spectators, so the race is surprisingly peaceful way of running the same streets that were so loud and crazy only three weeks prior. The first half mile was relatively uneventful. Once we found our way on Lower Wacker along the river, I finally checked my watch and discovered that I had run a relatively slow first mile of 7:00/mile. I tried to determine how my legs felt and tried to predict how they would be able to handle the remaining 8.3 miles. All systems seemed to be "go" so I decided to speed up, which wasn't too difficult as we had a nice tailwind for the next two miles. We ran through the Loop and onto Michigan Avenue headed southbound. It was already time to bid adieu to the 5kers as they made their way up "Mt. Roosevelt" to the finish line. 
20:22, 6:34/mile

Second 5k:
Aided by a tailwind, we continued running down Michigan Ave on the marathon course in reverse. Once we got south of Roosevelt Rd. Xaarlin was standing on the right hand side of the street and L and CB were off to the left cheering me on. 
Running down Michigan Ave.
(pics courtesy of Xaarlin)
I started running alongside another guy and we started chatting about race goals. He said that his goal was a sub-60. I glanced at my watch and told him that if we kept up at our current pace, we would have a sub-60. So we continued on chatting and then he started to take off ahead of me and I wished him well. He said I was welcome to draft off of him, so I sped up a little as well and tucked in behind him.
19:36, 6:19/mile

Third 5k:
As we headed eastward and into the wind at the 10k mark, I noticed my buddy was starting to fade ever so slightly and I realized that if I wanted to go sub-60, I needed to separate from him. So, I gradually sped past him into the headwind by myself. The McCormick Place tunnel was a nice respite from the wind, but I had to take off my sunglasses in order to see the potholes. I had no idea how close I was to a PR since I stopped looking at my watch and just put my head down and kept running. As we went up the final hill and made the turn onto Columbus drive, I made a mad dash down the hill and my legs were moving fairly fast but never found their all-out sprinting gear. Anyway, I saw the clock quickly moving up towards my PR time of 59:45. I knew I had an 8 second differential between my chip time and gun time so I gave it all I had and as I crossed the line just as the clock hit 59:45 on the nose!

 19:39, 6:20/mile.

PR by eight seconds! 

Basking in the glow of my new PR and candy bar medal!

Time: 59:37
Overall: 27/11,100
Age Group: 3/379
Official Pace: 6:26/mile

 5k Splits:
1st 5k: 20:22
2nd 5k: 19:36
3rd 5k: 19:39

This was my fifth year running the Hot Chocolate 15k and my fifth 15k PR set at the event! The headwind for the last 5k was a challenge, but my marathon endurance helped me maintain the pace I set after the 5k mark until the end. I also won 3rd place in my age group for the second year in a row, so once I get my AG award in the mail I can display it next to last year's award!

I have now PR'd in every distance I've raced this year: 1 mile, 5k, 8k, 10k, 15k, 10 mile, half marathon and marathon!

My "buddy" caught up to me in the finisher's chute and asked me if I got my sub-60. I said yes and he congratulated me. I asked him if he did as well, but unfortunately he came up just short but was pleased with his time anyway. Gotta love the instant comraderie at races! After that encounter, I got my gear and then feasted on some fondue and hot chocolate.

This race has everything: Easy parking, thousands of porta-potties, beautiful finisher medal, and a chance to run down Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. Keeping my 15k PR streak alive will be an even bigger task next year, but that's the way it goes.

Next Race:


  1. Geez. Gotta love that post marathon fitness! Impressive that you were able to chat with the other guy while running 6:19!

    1. Thanks. Yes, it was fun to take advantage of my post-marathon fitness even though my legs were throwing fits over the last few weeks! Yeah, it's pretty funny that we were chatting at a 6:19/mile pace. Maybe that's a good sign that I wasn't over exerting myself at that stage of the race! :)

  2. Congrats on your PR! I ran part of the race beginning on 18th and Michigan till Soldier Field. I did not like the course, too many turns. Plus it was windy but I know you cannot control the weather. I cannot believe that the same lady from last year tried to cut in in front again. What are the chances of that happening?

    1. Thanks Zenaida! Yes, the course has lots of turns, but at least the first half is downtown and the stretch on Michigan Ave is over two miles in a straight line! Wind was definitely a factor, but luckily it was not too bad since we were protected by the buildings here and there! Yes, can you believe that lady was back again!

  3. Way to tear it up out there, Pete!!! Even with what you describe as post-marathon recovery legs, you still lit the race on fire!!! This is been the most amazing year for you in running, EVER!!! Your year-end recap is going to be the stuff of legends. =)

    Crazy that you ran into that rude woman who tried to cut in front of all the cars to park! I am glad you stood your ground with her. Very cool to hear that the packet pickup process has become such a well-oiled machine! It must have been awesome to hear Go Cubs Go at the start line, and I would have been bawling my eyes out to hear the story of the 13-year old with leukemia. I didn't realize this race had a charitable tilt!

    1. Thanks Emily! I'm thinking some of my stiff leg issues were due to inactivity. However, I needed to take a couple of weeks off from running in order to "hit the reset button" and give myself some needed rest. It took about three easy runs last week until my leg muscles began to feel better. Yes, I can't believe the same parking garage lady tried to pull off the stunt two years in a row and I was a witness to both instances! Ha, yes, I was humming "Go Cubs Go!" in my head pretty much the entire race! Yes, that 13-year old girl is truly an inspiration, she really had a positive upbeat attitude during her pre-race interview which made my whining over my stupid leg issues seem completely trivial!

  4. Yay! Congrats on your PR! Did you stick around to see when that other guy finished?! I hope not too far off 60!

    I can't believe you ran in to that horrible lady at parking AGAIN. Wtf. Get there early if you don't want to wait!

    I saw gates up today on Columbus and wondered if they were for this race! I am happy to hear packet pickup has gotten better!

    1. Oh yeah, as I was shuffling down the corral post-race trying to catch my breath that guy came up to me and asked me if I got my sub-60. I said yes then asked him the same and he said he came up just short. It's cool when you have that camaraderie during a race! Yes, why do I always have to start my HC race day off with the parking lady? Although maybe it gets my heart rate up which I'll need for the race? Ha, ha! Yes, I think the over-compensate for past issues with packet pickup and now have it down to a science! :)

  5. Great job with the post marathon fitness! Looks like you're recovering decently and keeping your racing in check!

  6. Very late to the party- but congrats on yet another PR and AG finish!! You looked so strong out there on race day. I am inspired by your running work ethic. :)

    1. Thanks, and also thanks for the pictures. :)