DC Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap

Okay you guys, I have to start this post off by telling you one important thing about me: I am a positive person.  I generally see the glass as half full and in less-than-ideal situations I’m usually looking for the silver lining right from the get-go.  I make lemonade from my lemons.  I don’t like to dwell on things that don’t go my way.  I like to focus on the things that I can feel good about and MOVE ON.  I know things could always be worse and this usually keeps things in perspective for me.

But yesterday … well, let’s just say that yesterday I struggled with this and found myself feeling quite cranky. 

I’m guessing that by now many of you have read stories and opinions from various runners/bloggers/tweeters who experienced the “epic fail” that was the DC Hot Chocolate 5k/15k.  As much as I would like to say that my experience was all-together different from the rest, it wasn’t (though I’m sure there are people out there who had it way worse than I did).

The day started off perfectly.  I woke up on time and my buddy Chris picked me up right on schedule at 5:30AM.  There were five of us in the car and the drive to the race was a lot of fun.  Chris happens to be one of the most entertaining and hilarious people I know, so he made the car ride go by quickly even though we sat in traffic on the bridge for close to an hour before finally getting to the parking garage.  Chris secured a parking pass for us several weeks ago and we were able to park at the National Harbor, which was walking distance (though it was a long, hilly and freezing cold walk) to the start and finish lines. 

Despite the ridiculous traffic delays and all the confusion once we arrived, we were still doing okay with time and weren’t going to be late for the 8:00AM start.  In order to get to the Start Line though, we had to walk along parts of the course on a narrow path and up a steep hill.  It was so cold.  As we walked and walked and walked we could see the interstate still blocked up with cars that were barely moving.  There were tons of people walking behind us, tons walking in front of us.  All freezing cold, confused and anxious.  At that point, I knew this was going to be a serious disaster.  When we finally made it to the top of the hill, the 5k racers were in their corrals chanting “START THE RACE!  START THE RACE!”  It was about 7:45AM by then, 15 minutes after the 5k was supposed to start.  But they couldn’t start it, because all these people were blocking the course, still trying to get to the Start.

It was completely insane.  I have never seen anything like it.

Time ticked on by and we huddled together to stay warm.  We found our way to our “corral” which turned out to be a complete joke.  At the Expo we had to bring proof of recent race results if we wanted to be in a specific corral.  We did that and had little stickers on our bibs that designated us to be in Corral B.  But that was not enforced at all and we were in a corral with people who were planning to run a lot slower than we were.  I just think that if you are going to have corrals based on predicted paces and you are going to make people show proof of pace, then you need to enforce it.  Is that too much to ask?

Anyway, after about 45 minutes of waiting in the freezing cold in our fake corral, I started to get really really grouchy.  I was starting to feel hungry and didn’t bring any nutrition with me for the race.  I usually don’t eat anything for less than a half marathon, but with this race starting so late, I knew I was going to be dealing with a growling stomach and low energy.  I was starting to worry about my husband and my three children who I left at home, expecting me to be back before lunch time.  I began to stress out about the fact that as a nursing mom, I was going to be really uncomfortable soon if this race was delayed any more than it was. 

Part of me wanted to bag it and just go back to the car, bundle up in my cozy warm clothes, call my husband and get home.  But that wasn’t happening.  I needed the race to start and anything I said, any observation I made or worry I voiced, was negative.  It wasn’t like me and I knew that but I was just having such a hard time.  I was irritated with the situation and then on top of that, frustrated with myself for letting it get to me.

It’s a good thing I have the best running buddies in the whole entire planet.  Jodi reminded me every two minutes that we needed to be positive.  This was getting on my nerves as I stood in the cold thinking of nothing to feel positive about, but once the race started and we were on our way, I thought a lot about what she said and took it to heart.  And Chris was still making me laugh right up until the gun went off.  Plus, he gave me the one gel he had because he could tell I might need it more than he would.  Who does that?  Good friends do that, that’s who.  Awesome buddies do that.  They know how to make a crappy race day a good day.

The race finally started about 70 minutes after they said it would.  My feet were completely numb for more than 2 miles.  I felt like I was running on blocks of ice.  The course was horrible.  It was narrower than any course I have ever run for a race this size (it was crowded beyond belief).  There were a few u-turns along the way that had you passing people running the opposite direction with cones dividing the lanes.  This was also on a major interstate.  We were running next to huge trucks and cars that were spewing exhaust fumes literally in our faces.  It was dangerous and really really really unpleasant.

I wanted to stop at the first water stop to eat my gel and drink some water, but I missed it.  It was on the right-hand side and I was on the left and it was just too crowded to get over there without being run over by other runners or causing a serious problem.  The second water stop came along and I grabbed a cup of water, but there was hardly any water in it!- not enough to wash down a gel with.  At this point I was feeling really hungry and my energy was slipping.  I knew that I would have to stop at the next water stop to eat my gel and drink some water, otherwise I would be in trouble.  I decided I wasn’t going to care what the clock said when I crossed the finish line. This was my first ever 15k and I was going to PR no matter what because of that!  It was a beautiful day and I was running – how bad could it be, really?  I was running a decent pace under 8:00/mile, which on a course like this and feeling hungry and grumpy, wasn’t so bad! 

I climbed a hill and made it to the next stop and took my time to eat and drink.  I was more than halfway through the race at this point and wasn’t sure how much my gel would help me, but I had to try.  I had a hard time getting it down, but once I did I was on my way.  My stomach didn’t feel right from that point on though.  I stopped again at the next water stop (I think around mile 7ish) and drank more water to try to wash it down more.  We ran down another long hill and I was hoping to catch a groove and finish the race strong.  Every time I let go of negative thoughts about how much I hated the race, I would enjoy running for a few minutes and then something would annoy me again.  It was hard to get into a groove when there were so many changes in the course – lots of tight turns and different terrains – from paved road to gravel/shell path to narrow paved path to a little tunnel thing, and then the final part of the course leading up to the finish line was a massive UP hill.

I was so happy when the race was over!  I crossed the finish line in 1:11:32.  A 7:41 average pace/mile.  I have a new 15k PR and am happy with it, even though I know I have a faster one in me.  Once we finished we thought we would go get our hot chocolate but it wasn’t at the finish line as promised.  To get our chocolate we had to walk back up another big hill, in the opposite direction of our car!  So we decided it wasn’t likely to be worth it based on how disappointing the race had been thus far.   We started walking back towards our car (which meant we had to cross over the race route, which was still going on – because the only way back to our car was along the course — ridiculous).  The whole thing was silly and I still can’t believe it.  We survived the walk back though and got a warm cup of coffee at the Harbor before heading home and all was good.  I’m so glad it’s over.  I’m so thankful for good friends.  And I know I will never run a RAM Racing even ever again.  Even after reading their apology and explanation.

12 thoughts on “DC Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap

  1. Love your blog! What a crazy post. So glad you made it through all of that chaos. It is funny how some events go so amazing and others just completely miss every mark. I have had one bad race experience, not as bad as this one though. Keep that glass half full, your awesome!

  2. I think you are a superstar for staying so positive. I was stuck back in the open corral in the 8:00min/mile section that was behind the C corral (yeah, that didn't work well)

    If I was still a nursing mom, I would have killed someone for delaying the race.

  3. Jessica,

    I was annoyed by the disorganization of the race and the freezing late start, but after reading your recap and a few others I now see what a disaster it truly was. Since I'm not a speedy runner (yet!) I didn't have to worry about the corral issues and I stayed at the harbor on Friday night so I also didn't know about the traffic issues until I started talking to other people in the corrals. My main issues were that I was freezing and hungry. This experience has showed me how much of a newbie I am. There were things I hated (the course was awful and that jacket will probably last me 5 more days before it falls apart), but I just thought it was me and that I'd have to get used to it if I'm going to be racing. Thank goodness for the blogging community or else I'd keep wasting my money on bad races!

  4. Dang.

    I'm pretty hot tempered, and would have left after the race didn't start on time. Luckily, you stuck it out and got a PR – but STILL. I'll make a note of it to never run a RAM race, that's for sure. How disappointing. I'm sorry lady. At least you know your next race experience won't be NEARLY as atrocious!

  5. Jessica, congrats on your awesome time; I was much slower, but felt the same disappointment in the lateness of the start, the freezing cold feet, the paths, the exhaust fumes, the gravel, etc. RAM is so disorganized that I doubt I will ever run another race of theirs.

  6. These guys are going to try to have this race in Denver next year. I was excited when I saw the word “chocolate,” but after reading your report and Kara's, I'll take a big ol' pass. We have lots of other reliably good races out here.

    I'm sorry it was so sucky (at least you were still really fast). And being negative is appropriate when that's the only possible reaction (and sometimes even when it's not).

  7. So sorry you had to experience that! I hate that running-on-blocks of ice feeling. It strains your ankles, too, and can cause injury. I'm glad you didn't just go home and that you decided to actually run the race. Congrats!

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