This weekend I did the Hot Chocolate 15K with about 11,000 of my closest friends. Man, it was crowded. Here are some thoughts.
The packet pickup at McCormick was a bit of a shit show. Getting the packet was easy once you got there, but it's always challenging to find where to park over there, and parking was $10 no matter how long you stayed. This is in contrast to the Shamrock Shuffle pickup in 2016, which was free for a short park. Boo!!
This is also the point at which I started to think that the people who do this race as a 5k are out of their minds. Way too much work for packet pickup for a race of that length.
This was my first race where I deliberately tried to follow a pacer to stay on track. In my case, 10:30 was a bit of an aspiration for 9 miles, but I thought I'd try to follow her as long as I could. This helps me because I have trouble keeping myself on a challenging pace unless I'm on a treadmill.
I was able to hold with the pace group until about mile 5, at which point I let them get a bit ahead of me. After mile 6, I lost them entirely. But the good pace in the first half meant that the overall pace ended up being pretty great for me. Woo hoo for my first 15k!
This is probably the biggest draw for this race - and probably the reason that women outnumber men so vastly on this course. You get a cup of hot chocolate, some liquid chocolate fondue, and some dipping items (pretzels, marshmallows, rice krispie treats, banana, etc.). It's a popular race, so I thought, let's try it.
OH MY GOD. What a mob. In following the crowd toward the post-race party, I felt like I was in a zombie horde. Plus, why was it so far between the finish line and the post-race party? I can only assume that they are trying to pull the masses away from the finish line so that the crowd doesn't back up. Still, the Shamrock Shuffle has as many people and they are able to get their beers in Buckingham Fountain and get the hell out of there.
Another thing: the 5k people completely overwhelmed the post-race area, which was a muddy crowded mess. I could barely find my coworkers, one of whom had spilled hot chocolate all over herself after being bumped by someone. Dave had completely abandoned the idea of trying to meet up in the runner reunite area, instead hiding out in the relatively open area of Buckingham fountain.
I'm not saying a 5k is not a big deal - I don't want to become a running snob that looks down on 5ks. But good lord. This race is full of people who aren't normally in the other well-run, higher distance races in Chicago, so I think they don't really know what to do.
I have spent a lot of time in this post comparing the Shamrock Shuffle and the Hot Chocolate races. I think the comparison is justified because the Shamrock Shuffle seems to be the "opener" of the Chicago running season, and the Hot Chocolate is becoming the "ender." Plus, about the same number of runners participate in each race.
I think the trouble with Hot Chocolate is that it blends two worlds - the more serious runners and the not-very-serious runners. With a more serious race, you can offer great swag and the experience is not too diluted by crowds, walkers, etc.
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