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Hot Chocolate 15K: Safety first at inaugural Indianapolis event

After a Did Not Start in my planned marathon last month due to injury, I had been looking forward to the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15K in Indianapolis. The start and finish areas were conveniently located right next to my office

My injury had been healing steadily and I felt ready for the 15K distance. It would be a good test of the injury as I prepare for ultras in April and May.

Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate Indianapolis race on March 24 as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro ambassador, and check out to review find and write race reviews. Check out my previous post on reasons to run a Hot Chocolate event.

The world’s shortest 15K

The day before the race, plans changed. Due to an impending storm, the race directors cancelled the 15K and moved the start 45 minutes earlier. Everyone who registered would be doing the 5K race. The weather forecast was calling for four to eight inches of snow, strong winds, a chance of freezing rain and temperatures in the low to mid 30s. (For the record, Indy received nine inches of snow.)

The race directors did a great job communicating the changes — via email, the Facebook page and at the expo. Still, some people were upset. Kudos to the social media managers of the Hot Chocolate race series for handling the complaints with grace, thoughtful explanations and useful information.

I admit my first reaction was disappointment and surprise. (I grew up in an area of the country that averages 100 inches of snow per year, so wintry conditions are nothing new to me.) But as I weighed the decision, it quickly occurred to me that it was the right call.

It’s not just about the runners. The race director is also responsible for the volunteers’ safety too. Long after the last runner leaves the finish area, volunteers are dismantling the setup, hauling it away and driving it somewhere. Beyond that, the first-responders might be needed elsewhere during a severe winter storm.

Running the storm out

For me — and others — it was a case of making lemonade out of lemons.

The race director promised that all runners who signed up for the 15K but finished the 5K would still get a 15K medal. Initially I personally did not want to be rewarded for a race distance that I did not complete.

But I figured out how to get in a 15K, which was on my schedule that day. I planned to arrive at the race early, do a 10K beforehand and then finish the race. That would also allow me to drive home before the worst of the storm was expected to hit between 10 a.m. and noon.

Mission accomplished.

I ran my 10K at the easy pace I wanted too, finishing in just under an hour. My timing worked out well. I had about a 15-minute break between the end of my “warmup” and the start of the race. Just enough time to shed my headlamp, meet fellow BibRave pro Mark Davidhizar for a photo and well wishes, and plot out race strategy.

Since the 10K went well and I didn’t have any pain or discomfort in my foot, I decided to push the pace. It had been awhile since I had run hard.

During my warmup run, flurries had started but had not accumulated. During the race, the storm system picked up momentum. The winds were noticeably stronger and the snowflakes were coming down more rapidly. They were not sticking to the roads yet, but the grass was hidden under a bed of fresh snow.

The foot behaved throughout the race — and most importantly — afterward. I felt good throughout the race, ending up with negative splits, passing 25 people during the final mile and finishing in 24 minutes and change.

Even though I had not done any speed work in quite some time, it was good enough to finish 69th overall out of nearly 1,000 runners. But this race really wasn’t about my time, it was about testing the foot and having fun.

The post-race party

This was my second Allstate Hot Chocolate race, following the St. Louis version in December. The nationwide series of 15K and 5K races reward runners with a medal, water and a slick, easy-to-carry plastic case. The case includes hot chocolate, a banana, pretzels, a wafer bar, a Rice Krispie treat, a marshmallow and chocolate for dipping.

Since I am gluten-free, I asked the volunteer if I could have a second banana instead of the pretzels and she readily agreed. I appreciated her assistance; the kindness of Hot Chocolate volunteers is one reason why I enjoy these races.

The hot chocolate is a nice perk for a post-race refresher. It hit the spot.

Due to the increasing snowfall, the post-race festivities were subdued. Volunteers were helpful. Runners were grateful. Nearly everyone was anxious to head home.

The expo

The day before the race I headed over to the expo, which was conveniently held at the Indianapolis Convention Center downtown, soon after it opened. There were about 10 booths, including a local race series, running gear and — of course — hot chocolate and other chocolate treats.

It was quick and easy to get my bib, partially because I arrived before the crowds showed up.

Overall experience

Overall, the Hot Chocolate race was a good experience. Again, the race director made the correct call in shortening the race for all runners and starting early. (On my way back home, there was already one car that had slid off the highway near downtown Indy.)

The race started before sunlight but streetlights kept the entire course illuminated. The course began outside my office (The American Legion national headquarters), headed to downtown, then partially around Monumental Circle, toward the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus and then back toward American Legion Mall (the other side of my office building). In fact, I could see the finish area from my office window. (Photos taken from my office window show the finish area the day before the race, top, and after the race, at bottom.)

The course was flat, well-staffed by volunteers and security personnel, and offered one aid station somewhere around Mile 2.

This was the inaugural Hot Chocolate event for Indianapolis. I look forward to the race series returning next year when perhaps the weather will cooperate and I will get to see the 15K route.

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