I recently was able to travel to Atlanta to run my first ever Hot Chocolate Race - and also my first official 15K distance race. Since I hadn't been to Atlanta since I was a freshman in high school, I was excited for the opportunity to not only run this sweet race series, I was also excited for the chance to see the city on foot - my favorite way to travel! You'll find my race review for Hot Chocolate 15K below.
This race was scheduled for the weekend of January 21-22. While this would usually be a cold weekend to race, we had been experiencing quite the warm spell in this particular area for about a week and race day temperatures were going to be in the 60s by the finish of the race! I'm not one to complain about warm temperatures, but unfortunately in the south unseasonably warm weather also brings with it a chance of thunderstorms! That's exactly what we dealt with on Saturday and Sunday in Atlanta. Being nervous the race would be canceled, I went ahead and got in a half marathon distance run with a friend before deciding to travel down for the race expo. Other events on Saturday had been canceled due to lightening. After chatting with someone from the race on Twitter (@HotChocolate15K) I was more confident in the fact the race would be taking place as usual Sunday morning, so I packed up my stuff and headed down for my one-night racecation!
After getting to Atlanta I was so thankful I purchased the pre-race parking package offered on the website. With all the events taking place in the city during this weekend (Women's March, Falcons in the playoffs, etc.) I was glad I had a place to go and didn't have to add time to driving around the city. I was also excited to be able to meet up with two BibRave Pros - Samantha and Jessica! We hit up an Atlanta Institution - The Vortex - for some pre-race grub. After being up since 4 a.m. I was finally able to hit my hotel and get in bed about 10:30. It had been a long day and I had an early wake up call for HC15K in the A.M. - race organizers recommended getting there before 6:30 a.m.! I slept well until yet another absolutely wicked thunderstorm hit at 5 a.m. Lightening so bright it woke me up with thunder so loud it shook the hotel (which was not easy to do being that I was near the airport!)
When I got up in the morning, thanks to Facebook and Twitter updates, it was easy to see race organizers had consulted with the NWS and there was no threat of storms during the race. I really appreciated their profession and quick updates about the weather. Being that I drove nearly 4 hours to get there and had to stay overnight, making sure I had the most up-to-date info was important to me. Getting back downtown was super easy and I had no trouble getting to the assigned parking lot I registered for before the race. Getting to the race venue, however, was a different story. Thankfully, there were plenty of people who seemed to be familiar with downtown ATL because if I hadn't followed the crowd I would've been lost. There was zero signage to let us know where anything was. Granted, the maps were online, but if you're in a city you've never explored on foot you aren't going to find anything. After wandering around and meeting up with Sam and Jess one more time for photos, I was also able to meet up with a fellow Spandits!/Altra ambassador Amanda! After this, it was time to find my corral, which was thankfully much easier than finding the race location itself, and we were off!
The thing I loved about this race was the fact that you could use your times from previous races to get into "preferred corrals" and get ahead of the crowd early. My qualifying times actually put me into the very first corral and it never felt crowded, especially because I took it easy from the beginning. We left the Centennial Park area and ran straight toward the state capitol building. The 5K runner split was only about 1 mile in, so the crowd thinned even more then! After leaving the Capitol Building behind, we headed toward Turner Field. Since I had run 13.1 miles the day before, I was in full on sightseeing mode and not at all concerned about time. I stopped for photos and thank volunteers and spectators for coming out when we ran through the Phoenix Parks toward Grant Park. There were a few gentle uphills and downhills during this part of the race. We then ran toward Oakland Cemetery and skirted it for a few minutes.
We took some turns on side roads and ran close to the MLK Jr. Historic site before running into the Old Fourth Ward and back towards Emory Medical Center. More gentle hills, but they honestly weren't that bad. This is the southeast after all! We should know hills are part of the deal! We were back into downtown and running past fraternity houses near Bobby Dodd Stadium before I knew it. It was a short and quick downhill run into Centennial Park for the finish. Thankfully, a race volunteer saw my cell phone drop out of my pocket and chased me down to return it! I can't say enough great things about the volunteers in this race! The finish line for the 5K and 15K was the same, but they kept it separated with a fence - something else I really appreciated to ease congestion at the finish line! I received my finisher medal from some happy and enthusiastic volunteers before making my way through the crowd to get my finisher mug and snacks.
The snacks in the finisher mug were phenomenal - the typical runner fare like bananas and pretzels, with the addition on a cup of hot chocolate, a giant marshmallow, some pirouette cookies, and a rice krispie treat - all of which were complimented by chocolate fondue! I did some stretches with the thousands of others in Centennial Park and munched on my snacks, saving my hot chocolate for the walk back to my car. Unfortunately, the signs back to the parking area were also non-existent and following the crowd didn't work well for me. I had to use Google Maps to discover I had walked the wrong direction! On the way back, however, I saw a race photographer packing up his equipment and thanked him for being out this morning. He took a great photo - the only one I have from the race - and I thanked him. I was definitely happy to see all race photos are free from this race series, and I had notifications about photos emailed to me throughout the day.
All in all, here's my list of pros and cons about Hot Chocolate 15K Atlanta:
-Expo is required. I hate expos. No offense. I get it though, you have to go because that many volunteers at 4 a.m. on a race day to hand out packets is hard to coordinate!
-Parking is expensive. I purchased parking ahead of time, which was $20 for both the expo and the race. I'm glad I did this because Atlanta doesn't have a single free parking space in probably a 100-mile radius. I even had to pay to park at my hotel for the 7 hours I was there.
-Signage was non-existent. Great for locals, but not so great for out-of-towners.
-Great finisher swag for the 15K. You get a hoodie with thumbholes, free chocolate at the expo, and the tasty finisher mug! Only the 15K runners get the cute chocolate bar medal.
-Fun for sightseeing. Like I mentioned early on, I hadn't been to Atlanta in years. I got to see a lot of it on foot in only an hour and a half!
-Easy course. For the 15K there was only a 380-foot elevation gain. There was actually more downhill than uphill. This was a relaxing and easy run for me.
I loved this race so much I signed up for the race in Nashville in two weeks! I can't wait to share my experience with you guys from that race! Have you ever run a "fun run" race series before? What about Hot Chocolate? Would YOU run for chocolate?!
Disclaimer: I received a free entry to review Hot Chocolate 15K - Atlanta as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!