Given that it is the fall semester on a college campus, I should not be surprised that I am finally recovered from an epic early cold season amalgamation of viruses. After returning from the UK I came down with a nasty cold, but the following week assumed I was on the mend… until Sunday rolled around. Last week I finally went to the doctor and was prescribed some terribly effective medication, but it all definitely threw a wrench in my fall training plan. However, months ago I had signed up for the Denver Hot Chocolate 15K, and knowing how great this race was last year, I couldn’t pass it up.
Saturday I decided to try a medium run, so I headed out on Saturday afternoon for a solid 5 miles. Having not partook in any physical activity for a week, I knew it’d be tough. Unlike how I usually feel (body is great, lungs would appreciate more air in this mile high city), my legs were a bit shaky, but I could thankfully breath. I kept a 10:25 pace, and was satisfied at the end of my five miles. I did a few extra lunges, squats and leg lifts for good measure, and prayed that the 9.3 miles the next day wouldn’t kick my butt too badly. Thankfully I had already visited the pre-race expo at the National Western Complex Center earlier in the day, getting my bib, AWESOME goodie bag, and some other paraphernalia from the vendors on site, like Skirt Sports, Lara Bars, and Sweaty Bands.
The Hot Chocolate race series hosts races in cities throughout the country, and I was so excited that Denver was one of those cities. I woke early Sunday morning so as to make it to Civic Center Park (the park by the capitol building in downtown Denver) by 6:40am. I parked at 6:30 at the Colorado History Museum and walked the two blocks to the event area. Tents lined the parks, housing merchandise, hot chocolate (courtesy of Ronald McDonald House), bag drop-off, and the post-race chocolate bar. A number of people arrived early, as the 5K started at 7:00am. The 5K and 15K had separate starting times, but I found it odd that the 15K did not go first. My only assumption was that this was designed so as not to disperse the 15K medals to 5K finishers if the two groups converged at the finish line.
Although the 15K didn’t begin until 7:50am, I arrived early so as to meet up with my local sorority sisters participating in the race. Our sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, works closely with the Ronald McDonald House charities given it is our national philanthropy. Knowing this race supports Ronald McDonald House charities, our group decided to make this a local alumnae event, garnering more attention and attendance. In order to get the obligatory photo-op (let’s be honest, it’s what sororities love to do), we had to meet before the 5K race started.
After our photo, my fellow sisters, Christie and Carrie and I waited for our start time by huddling in the merchandise tent. It was cool, but thankfully not cold that morning, and absolutely ideal running weather. We finally made our way to the starting line. Christie was in corral H, Carrie in I, and I was in J. Carrie and Christie decided to start together, but I took my place back in J, waiting for the race to start.
The race was much bigger than I expected, about 8,000 people total registered for either of the races. Thankfully, after we crossed the starting line, I didn’t have to weave through people as much like I would for most of the larger races. Very few people stopped to walk, and nearly everyone was considerate about their spacing and not blocking people.
We snaked our way through a good portion of the city, first heading out on 15th Street, past the CU Denver Business School (which made me happy, go Lynx!), then made our way northeast for about two miles on Walnut Street. At this point we’d already had a chocolate (not necessarily a good idea this early in the race), water and sports drink station with amazing, friendly and enthusiastic volunteers. Around this time I caught up with Christie and Carrie and we ran together for a bit. After we passed the 5K mark, we were heading in the opposite direction on Larimer Street. Another water station was available shortly afterwards, and one of my colleagues was volunteering! At this point I separated from Christie and Carrie and kept running. The course eventually took us left onto 20th Street, which veered into 20th Avenue. Then I realized where we were… the dreaded hilly section.
Christie and Carrie ran this race last year together, and warned me in advance that the second half of the race was significantly hillier. Thankfully the first half of the race was practically flat and primarily snaked through both business and industry sectors of the city. The second half on the race made its way through residential areas of the city, with lovely quiet tree-lined streets, that also happened to incorporate a lot of hills. The run from just before mile 5 to mile 6 was probably the toughest part, given it was one of those hills that never seemed to end. Once we made it to the 10K mark, however, the course leveled a bit and the hills afterwards we more manageable. The course dipped downward first as we headed towards mile 8 and again towards mile 9, which provided great opportunities to gain time and regain oxygen.
Along the course volunteers not only passed out water, Gatorade and chocolate, but also marshmallows (both regular and strawberry flavored), tootsie rolls, and random other themed snacks. I didn’t partake simply because chewing a sticky marshmallow or tootsie roll while running did not seem at all appealing, and I was desperately looking forward to my hot chocolate and chocolate fondue at the end.
As we finally made it to mile 9, the next .3 miles seemed to stretch on forever along the fairly flat and wide Broadway. Thankfully kids with incredibly clever signs (“Is your butt hurting? It’s because you’re kicking ass!” “Keep running so the zombies don’t get you!” “Are you really doing this just for chocolate?”), and a local high-five giving priest (who also added in a “God bless you” as you ran past) were there to motivate the runners to the end. When we finally reached the finish line, I realized again why I love races so much. That accomplishment as you pass through is such an incredible feat, regardless of time. More volunteers were ready with water bottles and the adorable 15K finisher medals, congratulating us on a great race. I finished in 1:37:31, not my best time, but better than I had expected post-plague.
While I was en route, I passed an adorable couple who were running the race together. It sounded like it was the wife’s first race and she kept looking ahead at all the runners around her, worried they weren’t going fast enough. The husband grabbed her hand and said simply, “Don’t look ahead at those other people, don’t even think about them. This race is about you, about accomplishing it for yourself, about beating your own time and proving it to yourself.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I run: for me.
After the race, I met up with Karen (from the Esprit de She race) and waited for Christie and Carrie to finish. We went to the
post-race party area and collected our finisher mugs complete with chocolate fondue, marshmallow, pretzels, graham crackers, rice krispie treat, banana and hot chocolate. AH-MAZING. Best post-race treat ever. I may have kept the mugs to replicate this idea later…
Given we had run 9.3 miles that morning we were well on our way to hungry, so we tried to meet up with some of the 5K ADPi runners at Snooze on Larimer, but they weren’t able to seat us, so instead we made our way to Sam’s Number 3 on 15th street. We waited about 35-40 minutes, but it was worth it. Where else can you get a burrito the size of your face, a side of bacon, coffee, and chocolate milk for $14? And it was delicious to boot.
This is a race I would do every year, not just for the amazing swag (check out the incredible zip-up we got! I may have also
purchased a neon yellow zip-up and purple ear warmer because all the merchandise was just too cute!) and post-race goodies, but for its contribution towards Ronald McDonald House charities. The race takes place in 15 cities across the nation – I recommend it if you can find one close!
Would you run for chocolate? Have you ever participated in a Hot Chocolate Run? Know of any other sweet-incentive races out there?