Run all the miles. Eat all the chocolate.
That was the plan at the Hot Chocolate 15K in St. Louis on Dec. 10, my first foray into the nationwide series of 15K and 5K races that reward runners with a medal, water and a slick, easy-to-carry plastic case full of goodies. The case includes hot chocolate, a banana, pretzels, a wafer bar, a Rice Krispie treat, a marshmallow and chocolate for dipping.
At least, I think the chocolate was for dipping. It was so cold in St. Louis that the chocolate was hardened. But with my gluten-free diet, that was fine with me as I passed on the foods containing gluten.
Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Hot Chocolate race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro ambassador and check out www.BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
The expo, which was conveniently held at the St. Louis Union Station hotel, was a happening place the day before the race. There were more than a dozen booths, hot chocolate being handed out and plenty of other chocolate treats (and mini candy canes, too, given the season).
One of the best swag items was the quarter-zip sweatshirt (blue for guys, purple for ladies) which is really comfortable and a welcome respite from the usual race T-shirts.
There was nearby parking, easy access from several hotels and volunteers aplenty. The expo itself was easy to navigate with appropriate signs and eager volunteers. Kids (I’m guessing from a local school or youth group) staffed the tables and excitedly called over people to their lines.
(One quibble: I had a question that several kids could not answer. It’s not their fault, of course. But it would have been helpful to have a staff member or volunteer or help table easily identifiable.)
The young man helping people understand race morning travel logistics was incredibly helpful and patient. The race had routinely encouraged runners to opt for shuttle service or take public transportation to reduce the traffic flow into Forest Park on race morning.
Rolling hills, scenic park and eclectic neighborhood
I elected to drive since my hotel was only about 10 minutes away. There was ample parking a short walk from the start-finish area. It was cold on race morning — real-feel temperature around 20 degrees when I arrived just after 6 a.m. for the 7:30 a.m. start.
There were plenty of port-a-potties for runners, as well as a gear check. I liked the fact that there were corrals to split up those who qualified for a fast time, which makes it safer for everyone involved.
The course weaves through Forest Park, a sprawling park just outside the heart of St. Louis. It is mostly flat but there are occasional gentle rolling hills. There is a decent amount of crowd support. And the aid stations provide water, Nuun and — of course — chocolate goodies.
The first — and last – portions of the course were in the park. In between, we ventured out into nearby city streets. Toward the end of the race, we ran through an eclectic neighborhood, full of individually owned restaurants and shops, and interesting street art. It looked like a fun place to frequent but nothing was open — it was early Sunday morning — and I had a race to run.
Great job, finishers
I treated the race as a training run and was out to just have fun, run easy and aim for an 8:30 per mile finish. I stuck with the 8:30 pacer for the first three miles or so, then felt good so I went by feel and lowered my pace to around 8:15.
Later on, I would do a couple of sub-8 miles but never really pushed it until the final .3 when I passed eight runners heading toward the finish. Final time was 1:16:28, good enough for 23rd in my age group of more than 100 runners and 264th (check) overall out of more than 3,000.
After crossing the finish line, runners were presented with a Hot Chocolate medal. While the medals look to be the same for the various races in the series, there is a unique St. Louis medallion that is a nice touch. I would assume that each city has its open special medallion. I’ll find out for sure when I do the Indy version of the Hot Chocolate race next March.
In the runners finish area, volunteers also handed out water. The finishers then hiked across a field to the tents where the chocolate goodies were handed out. I quickly grabbed mine and enjoyed the hot chocolate and banana.
Overall, the Hot Chocolate race was a wonderful experience. It’s a nice niche to entice both competitive runners and those interested in a fun experience, or trying their first 5K or 15K. Certainly, there were people who walked some or all of the race.
But it truly does not matter how the runners crossed the finish line. All of them should be proud to have completed their distance and wear their medal with pride. I say, "Cheers!" to all my fellow finishers, with a toast of my hot chocolate.