They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. I must politely disagree and go with chocolate. Needless to say, when I heard rumors swirling about a hot, new race hitting the ATL, I just had to check it out.
On January 13th, 2013, 16,000+ runners flooded the streets of Atlanta at a time when the rest of the city was slumbering snugly in their cozy beds.
My running group, the Adventure Runners, had 18 runners out that morning. Della, Libby, and I chose to carpool, leaving the ‘burbs around 5:50. We hit Atlanta around 6:20 to 6:30, and MAN, was it PACKED! Bumper to bumper as far as eye could see, with the exit to Turner Field being blocked by the 16,000 runners trying to make it into the city. I-20 was another viable options, but we chose to take 75.
Libby, being the smart cookie (literally too since she is employed by the Girl Scouts) that she is, drive past the exit, taking the next exit instead. Smart choice! It was smooth cruisin’ after that, and we landed a parking spot immediately!
For 2014 runners, I recommend getting into the city a bit earlier than the recommended 6:30. I would probably say be at the race no later than 6:00-6:15. I also recommend carpooling to cut down on the cost of parking and emissions Parking came in at $10, and parking at the expo to pick up race packets was also $10. If you can meet up with friends and split the fare, it would be well worth it! I also strongly encourage you to buy the offered pre-paid parking passes offered at the expo.
Music Pumping, a live DJ, and portapotties to your heart’s content…now THAT makes a runner happy on race day. Thousands of people filled the lot outside of Turner’s Field, and there were plenty of portapotties to go around, making for quick-moving lines. Johns were stations on 3 opposite areas of the lot.
Towards the center, water was available pre-race with plenty of stretching space. Large, inflatables including Marshall the Marshmallow and a GIANT hot chocolate cup offered photo-op areas, FREE of charge with a personal camera. Center-stage were hordes of runners warming up to the tunes of Gangnam style and Teach Me How to Dougie.
Libby, Della, and I walked around, checked out the Hot Chocolate merchandise for sale, and chit-chatted, as we still had plenty of time before the 15k began. I ran into this group of gals and had to get a pic. Check out their cute hats!
5k’ers got going first with 15kers lining up in the corrals around 8:15. My two girls and I were in corral J. The awesome part with the release is that each corral was released approximately a minute or so behind the corral in front. It might have been 2 minutes. What I do remember is that it was an appropriate wait time, so that you didn’t have hundreds of runners piling up on top of each on the course!
I didn’t have a time goal and told Della and Libby to run without me. An injury in October took me down for nearly 1.5 months or slightly more, so I knew better than to attempt to “race.” I was out here purely for the love of running, chocolate, and a run happy time!
To make sure that my legs didn’t develop a mind of their own, I brought along my brand-spanking new Olympus Tough 820 for a test run. I bought the camera a week or so before the race, so I didn’t really have a chance to play with it. I decided that the Hot Chocolate 5k/15k would be the perfect race to shoot my first racing pics while running.
The course, in my opinion, was MUCH BETTER than the courses for the Atlanta 13.1 and for the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half. The hills are more “spaced out,” in the sense that you have more rolling hills versus ones that just keep on going. Your legs get a break between each of the hills.
The race starts off easy enough with very gentle inclines and declines mixed in for an overall downhill effect, taking runners along the outskirts of the Atlanta Zoo and the surrounding Grant Park.
There were some pretty neat-looking houses and churches along the way, and I caught these shots towards the beginning of the race somewhere between mile 1 and the 5k point.
I know some people complained about the hills. The hills are typical of Atlanta and nothing more, enough to get the blood pumping. The one hill I felt in this race was the one around mile 5 or so, and it wasn’t enough to get me out of breath. It was one of those continuous hills that I hate. See, I can handle the sudden jumps in elevation with no problem…it’s the long, drawn-out ones that wear me down.
Shortly after the 10k mark, runners were treated to some fantastic views of the Atlanta skyline, where the “hills” became a bit more spaced out again. Among the highlights were a neat, little artist’s creation and the Georgia Capitol building.
Overall, I enjoyed the layout of the course, as did most people. Some disliked the number of homeless individuals that speckled the course after the 10k mark. I see it in more of a positive light and found them to be awesome cheering squads! They offered encouragement, thumbs up, cheers, and claps along the way.
The gals in this pic aren’t homeless, but are a part of the awesome cheering squad around mile 8 or 9. Check out the sign!
(Water Stations/Gatorade Stations)
The Ram Racing series definitely had this covered to the T! Runners started at the low end of the 60’s with nearly 100% humidity (hovering around 95ish percent). Normally, races held during the winter months tend to have less aid stations available, considering that runners typically take in less hydration. With the unusual warm front hovering over Atlanta, we had nothing to fear!
Water/Gatorade stations were offered nearly every 2 miles and could typically be found either at the top of a hill or right before a hill. Pretty cool, huh? It either gave you something to run towards or gave you that extra boost needed to conquer the next section of Atlanta roadway.
The volunteers were awesome too! Cheerful, exuberant, and quick to pass the next cup.
Remember that race where runners piled themselves into a bottleneck after the finish? The Hot Chocolate 5k/15k is NOT one of those races! 16,434 Hot Chocolate 5k and 15k runners crossed the finish line, and were quickly ushered through the shoot. Water bottle barrels were appropriately spaced, and runners were led to the Finisher’s Tent, where our finishers’ mugs awaited us via nearly two dozen, entry-ways. This allowed runners to quickly move on to the Reunion Area, which was conveniently alphabetized to make it easier to find awaiting family and friends.
Libby, Della, and I chose to meet up at “Z,” thinking not too many people would pick it. I found my girls already chomping away at their rice crispy treats and fudge-dipped bananas. Take a look at the finisher’s mug!
Suggestions for Hot Chocolate 5k/15k 2014
Whenever I run into a Hot Chocolate runner, I always ask what they thought of the race: likes, dislikes, and areas of needed improvement. Other than hills, I haven’t heard any dislikes. Many people have stated their disappointment at the lack of the pre-race expo and of the post-race party.
I do have to agree that I would like to see more vendors and booths at the pre-race expo next year. It was rather quiet in there. On the other hand, it made for a quick, hassle-free, in-and-out.
I would also like to see a bigger post-race party next year, something to make runners want to stick around, socialize, and see what else there is. I do know that the Falcons played that day, and Atlantans were already tailgating around noon, so perhaps that had something to do with it. I can vouch that I have been told that next year’s celebration will definitely be bigger, though I don’t have any details as of yet.
Would I Run 4 Chocolate again?
Uh…yeah! This race is DEFINITELY on my 2014 race calendar. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I’m looking forward to 2014 and have already been told that there are exciting things in store! If given the opportunity, I will certainly be proud to represent the Ram Racing series at the 2014 Hot Chocolate 5k/15k in Atlanta again. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy Run 4 Chocolate year! See you in 2014!