Over the last year or so I had been experiencing serious race-envy as I watched people complete “Hot Chocolate” race events, but being from NY where one is not hosted, it was not a race series that was easily accessible to me. I had played around with driving to Philly for the 2017 15k that they held there in April, but when that didn’t pan out I put the thought of doing one of the “Hot Chocolate” events on the back burner, and said “Maybe in 2018.”
So, when my cousin Jen first started running last summer, you better believe that I started researching races that coincided with dates that I would be available to visit Atlanta. After she decided to sign up for the Star Wars Half Marathon, which will take place in April of 2018 in Florida, we decided that February would be a good time for me to visit Atlanta, and a 15k would be about where she was up to in her training for the half. So, I proposed running the Hot Chocolate 15k that would take place on February 4th to her, and (not so) secretly did a happy dance when she agreed to run it with me, excited that I would finally get to experience one of these races that everyone spoke so highly of. Plus, I would get my hand on some nice race swag – a half zip, a giant chocolate shaped medal, and a big bowl of chocolate goodies.
I booked a flight for Friday night that I could take after work, and Dennis dropped me off at the airport. My flight was supposed to takeoff at 8:20, but due to high winds I had an hour and a half delay. As I waited in the airport, after I made the adult decision to have a pretzel for dinner, I realized that southwest had another flight heading to Atlanta, that was supposed to have left at 4:10 but was getting ready for an 8:20 departure… so I headed over to the gate agent, and by some tiny miracle they were able to change my flight so I could get out on the earlier plane! I am pretty sure I was the happiest customer on that flight, despite being a little squished by the broad-shouldered gentlemen who was seated next to me. Once we were in the air I turned on “The Office,” and before I knew it we had landed in Atlanta.
Jen picked me up at the airport and it was a joyful reunion, as always. I threw my stuff into the trunk of her car, and we headed to pick up her boyfriend, Will, before turning in for the night. The best part about picking up Will? I got to meet the cutest little golden retriever puppy, named noodles, and she was truly an excited ball of fluff.
By the time we got to their apartment and got my bed for the weekend all set up, it was around 1 am and we were all ready to call it a night. On Saturday we were planning to grab brunch, and then head to the race expo!
On Saturday morning I woke up before Jen and Will, so I read for a little bit and then got ready for the day. Once they were up we put our names in on the brunch list at a place near their apartment called “First Watch,” which was right by their apartment in Chamblee. We met up with Jen’s friend Nicole to eat, and this place had so many delicious sounding options. We all agreed to split an order of maple glazed bacon (which was an excellent choice), and I ordered a Chia Pudding power Bowl, which came with whole grain toast covered in almond butter, with a side of biscuits and gravy (mainly because I love this dish and it’s not something that is easily found in NY). Everyone else ordered some variation of eggs, and when the food came out it was a sight meant for a food-lovers Instagram. We passed around tastes of all our dishes, each trying to decide which breakfast was best. While they were all delicious, I still maintain that the winner was my chia pudding, topped with fresh fruit and granola. If I ever wind up having brunch here again, it would truly be a struggle to talk myself into ordering a different dish.
Once we were all well-fed we headed downtown to the race expo. I had never been to downtown GA beyond driving through it, and it was cool to see places that Jen goes to on a regular basis in her every-day life. We cut through the CNN center to get to the convention center where the race expo was held, and it was easy to navigate through the Georgia World Congress Center and find our expo hall, as there were signs pointing us in the right direction. The expo was on the smaller side compared to NYC or Disney expos, but still gave us a good selection of gear to check out.
Our first stop was at bib pickup, where we gave our last name and received our bibs before moving over to shirt pickup. They handed us our half-zips in plastic bags, and we also received hats with the race logo on them, as we had signed up with a promo code that gave us a “premium item” upgrade for free. There was an area to try on the shirts, so we went over there and made sure that the sizing was good, and both decided to stick with the size we had ordered (by which I mean I tried on a shirt and Jen declared that was good enough for her).
Then it was time to check out some running gear. Jen bought a new SPI belt, since she’s getting into higher mileage these days and will need to start carrying running fuel in addition to her phone and inhaler. Then we stopped by the “BFF electric foam roller” booth and tried out the massager they sell. While we all agreed that the massage felt great, holding the unit made our hands feel weird after a minute from all of the vibrating, so between that and the price we moved along. Both Jen and I took advantage of expo pricing and bought some Nuun, and even got to try out a few new flavors. They were giving out a “hot chocolate 5/15k” water bottle when you bought three tubes for $15, so that was the path we took. I even managed to pick up a tube of grape flavored Nuun for Kasey, who has been having trouble finding her favorite flavor locally. We sampled some chocolate snacks that were a sample of what was to come on race day, took a photo in front of the giant inflatable hot chocolate mug, and wandered around the entire expo, before making one last stop back at the track shack booth, where Jen decided to pick up some good priced gear – a Run Atlanta shirt and a water resistant jacket, since the forecast was calling for rain on race day. Lots of rain. And I know, every runner will tell you “nothing new on race day,” but I think we have all broken that rule at least once.
We took the rest of the day easy, heading to the movies to see “The Phantom Thread” and then getting dinner at The Olive Garden. Any excuse to eat breadsticks and pasta will get me into an Olive Garden, and Jen and I were excited for our pre-race meal, even if we maybe didn’t need THAT many carbs for a 15k.
Once dinner was done, we called it a night and headed back to the apartment to get everything together for race morning. We had been checking the weather all day in hopes that the forecast would change and maybe it wouldn’t rain, but as we put our outfits together, it was all but certain that we would be running in a downpour. After debating between several options, we both went for ProCompression socks, full length leggings, half zip long sleeve shirts, hats, gloves, and running jackets. Raining and 30 degrees… lovely weather for a 15k, right? I put thermal blankets, ponchos, and our race day fuel into a plastic bag that we could easily bring along the next morning, and we all headed to bed, our alarms set for 6 am the next morning.
Both Jen and I managed to have pre-race anxiety dreams, and it was indeed POURING when we woke up. My brain quickly entered a happy state of “You’re going to get soaked, but you can still enjoy this race. Make the best of what you have,” while Jen entered the state I had been in the night before, of what the heck are we getting ourselves into?!
We loaded into the car, which was thankfully in a garage so at least we stayed dry for the time being. Will was nice enough to drive us to the start area, and walk us through the CNN center before we parted ways. We had the luxury of indoor bathrooms, and after using them wrapped our feet in plastic bags and pulled out the thermal blankets and ponchos, which Will helped us assemble ourselves into, before heading out into the storm. We started following a group of runners heading for the start line. It was about a mile walk to get there, but lucky for us we were able to spend most of the trip indoors, cutting through the Georgia World Congress Center. We pulled off our shoe covers once we were inside, but kept the ponchos and heat sheets on until we got to the start line. It was a short outdoor walk once we got outside, and we got to the entrance of corral C just before the first corral began their race. We pulled off the ponchos and heat sheets, putting most of the stuff into a near by trash bin. I decided to fold my heat sheet up and put it in my pocket just in case conditions took a turn for the worse, but thankfully we did not need it. We clicked our Garmins into run mode as soon as we got into the corral, so they would have time to pick up the satellites before we started running, shuffled forward as the earlier corrals began their races. Then it was our turn – already wet from rain before the race had even started, we crossed the start line, which was under a bridge of giant inflatable marshmallow men.
Now, as I don’t know the geography of Atlanta well, and spent most of the race focusing on not stepping in puddles, please excuse my less than specific recollection of the race –
We crossed the start line in a mass of people, mingled between 5k and 15 k runners. As a result of the rain, the race had announced that people due to start in the second wave were now allowed to start in the first wave, and no one had been checking bibs as people entered the corrals, so it was truly a mixture of every speed as we started this race. There was a lot of weaving in mile one, and we soon came upon the course split where the 15k and 5k parted paths. We kept right, and continued on our journey. There were plenty of hills on course, leading us up and down, and when saw the first aid station we made our way to the right side of the road, thinking we would be able to grab some water. Our plan for the race was to walk all of the aid stations, and try not to do any walk breaks beyond that. But what we had originally thought was cups of water turned out to be little cups of chocolate chips! A cute touch for a chocolate themed race, but I passed because it just seemed like that would be too messy with all of the rain. Thankfully just after the chocolate chips the volunteers were handing out Nuun and water. Despite the rain, the volunteers throughout the whole course were happy and encouraging, which was super uplifting! Once we had finished our drinks we started running again, uphill of course.
Soon after this water stopped we started to encounter some street flooding, which meant our feet went from “kind-of wet” to “completely soaked,” as there was no way to navigate around these little rivers that ran through some intersections. The sloshing of wet shoes began, and we hoped that we would manage to get through the race blister free. After the first mini river, I turned to Jen and proposed a bet – the person with the least damaged feet at the end of the race buys drinks! That way if one of us wound up with a narly blister they would at least get a free drink out of it. The miles kept floating by as we battled hills, and Jen and I started high-fiving at every mile markers (there were a few fist bumps thrown in there too, as I eventually pulled all of my fingers into a fist in the center of my gloves). There was an aid station with marshmallows just after the 5k mark, but I again passed up the treat as the rain had left everything soggy, and the thought of taking off my rain soaked gloves to eat them was not appealing. We agreed that we would take a Gu when we hut the next aid station, and by then I had removed my gloves to see if my hands would be better off not in cold water soaked gloves – it was equally miserable in case you were wondering, but I opted to keep them off after that because they were holding so much water. As we walked through the third aid station, which was around mile 5, we passed by Jen’s friend Danielle, who she often does training runs with, and were quickly introduced to each other – I am so happy that Jen has found runners that she can share miles with in Atlanta! When we finished our Gu (salted watermelon for me and jet blackberry for Jen) and waters, we discarded the cups and started climbing the hill that was ahead of us. It was still raining at this point, and we were soaked to the bone, but honestly we were in such good spirits, and really enjoying the race together.
As we passed the 10k mark I got a text from my Dad – who was tracking us from NY – and pulled out my phone to respond. I had my phone wrapped in a zip lock bag to give it a little protection, even though it is supposed to be water resistant, and when I tried to answer the text my phone started freaking out! It was not wet, and I took it out of the bag to check it out, it was just freezing! I tried to shut it off so that it would stop flashing its screen on and off, and in the process managed to trigger the emergency response feature that the iPhone 10 has – eek! As we entered mile 7 and the second to last aid station, I tried to cancel the alert, and since no emergency response team showed up I guess I was successful? It made for a few stressful moments either way.
We ran through our last water stop of the race as I tried to calm my phone down, eventually just putting it away to deal with later. As we walked through the aid station, Jen said that she really wanted to run the rest of the race, and not have to walk at all for the last 2-ish miles. At this point, some of the streets were so flooded that we were being diverted around intersections and onto sidewalks to avoid puddles that were deeper than our ankles. Right before mile 8 we had a short out-and-back on the course, and I am pretty sure that this quarter mile or so was the ONLY flat stretch of road on the entire course. After we passed the mile 8 marker, the rain started to clear up. At this point we were entirely soaked, so it didn’t really aid us in any way. Jen remarked that she was upset that it had stopped, because it would have been a more bad-ass finish photo if it was pouring… I can’t say I disagreed with that thought. But at least my hands would be a little less wet, and I could just worry about trying to warm them up a bit and not about drying them off. The last mile of the course was a bit winding, but we were still going strong.
Finally, We approached the overpass that would be our last uphill climb, and deliver us to the finish line. This was nothing after the bridge we climbed during the Savannah bridge run back in December. We could see the split for the 5k and 15k participants, directing us to stay to the right as we entered the finish chute. As we made the final turn, we spotted Will and Nicole cheering and holding up signs, and Jen and I both teared up as we got closer still to the finish line – and then it was done. In a state of happy bliss, smiles as wide as could be, soaked to the bone, we crossed the finish line. Jens longest run to date – a 15k, clocking in at 9.5 miles rather than 9.3 on our garmins.
We were handed our medals, and in a moment of blissed out runner-brained panic Jen turns to me and says “Did I have to step on the finish line!?”
I laughed and reassured her that she was ok since she had passed over it, and we made our way passed the finish line to find Will and Nicole, and hugs were shared by all. Jen and I pulled the tag off of our bibs to get our finishers mugs, full of chocolatey treats, and once we had our mugs we made our way inside and snacked for a few minutes before heading to the car.
Despite less than stellar conditions, Jen and I both agree that we had an amazing time running the Hot Chocolate 15k. We love the half-zips we got, and the HUGE medals that we earned. When you have great company the miles fly by regardless of the weather, and I feel like I will always look back on this race fondly. Plus, now when we worry about the weather leading up to the Star Wars Darkside half-marathon in April, odds are we will be able to say we have raced in worse weather, no matter what gets thrown at us.
I hope that one day I can run this race again, hopefully in better conditions. But it will have to wait until after 2019, as next years race falls on the same day as the Walt Disney World Marathon.
Oh, and as for that blister bet- both of us came out unscathed, so Will agreed to buy each of us a drink. I would call it a win-win situation.