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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hot Chocolate 15K 2011

Kim's Mistake #1: Hasty Signup with NO Research at All

I signed up for this race on a whim. Someone mentioned it on Facebook, and I was upset because I had accidentally scheduled some travel so that I can't run the Celtic Solstice 5 Mile Run in Baltimore this year. Celtic Solstice is a great race that I LOVE. My other option was the Jingle Bell 5K in Columbia, which I've always kind of wanted to run but never have. It was today also, and I was close to signing up for it when I heard about the Hot Chocolate. I was excited to hear that there was a race in December that was longer than a 5K but shorter than a half marathon. I signed up quickly and on a whim within maybe an hour of hearing about it. I never thought about the logistics, I never investigated that this was an inaugural race (I've never run an inaugural race before), I didn't realize that they weren't going to close the race until 20,000 (!!!!) people signed up.

Mistake? Well, yeah, kinda.

Once I signed up, I forgot about it for the most part, since I was getting ready for New York and that was all I could think about. 9.3 miles? Whatever, I'd worry about it later. Then, a couple of weeks ago I realized that this race was going to be on a Saturday and that it was 2 hours from my house with NO race day packet pickup. Ugh, I would have to get a hotel. There was going to be no way to get down to National Harbor to get my packet after work on Friday and then get back up to my house, eat dinner and still get to bed early enough to feel good to get up for the race in the morning. I figured I'd TRY to get down on Wednesday or Thursday for packet pickup, and if I managed that I would cancel the hotel. I didn't get down there on Wednesday or Thursday, so we kept the hotel reservation.

RAM Racing Mistake #1: No Signage to the Expo

I left work a little early on Friday in order to get a head start, since I knew I'd be fighting both DC and Baltimore traffic getting down to National Harbor. We made it down at around 6:15 or so. We sat in traffic trying to get into National Harbor, then couldn't figure out where packet pickup even was. No signs, no instructions, and everyone we saw seemed to be in National Harbor for a night out, not a race expo. We asked a few different people and finally found it. I'll go ahead and admit - the race expo wasn't bad. It was small, nothing much to say about it. It didn't compare to any other race expo I've been to this year - especially not one with 20k people showing up. Still, I can't really say that much about it that's negative, besides the jackets.

RAM Racing Mistake #2: The Jackets (Poor sizing, CHEAP, giving out Chicago Jackets and passing them off as DC jackets)

Oh, the jackets. The jacket was so nice that it was the reason that I had signed up for the race. The photo on the race page made it look really great, and I expected a race premium on the level of Celtic Solstice and the Annapolis 10 Mile Run. But, I should have known better. Both of those races are run by local organizations who care about the image that the show for their races. This Hot Chocolate race was run more by a corporate machine and the quality of the jacket wasn't much better than those white jackets that they sell at marathon expos for you to wear at the starting line and throw away. And - they were sized very small, so that even though I followed the measurements chart and ordered a Womens Large, I had to trade it for a Mens Small to find one that fit. That's two sizes bigger, and I hate wearing mens stuff. I thought it was odd that people had been exchanging jackets all week and I was there in the last 3 hours of the expo and was still able to find one that fit. Then, I looked at my jacket and put it all together - there was an ad on it for a charity in Illinois. These are leftover jackets from the Chicago Hot Chocolate race. Nice.

Kim Mistake #2: Deviating from the Plan and Eating Out

We had been planning to get pizzas and eat them in our hotel room, but National Harbor was so nice that we chose to eat there. We ended up eating at Rosa Mexicano, which was delicious, but we had to wait an hour for a table and it was stupid expensive. I don't want to say that I regret it because Todd and I haven't had a lot of time together lately, but we probably should have just stuck with the plan.

RAM Racing Mistake #3: Delayed Start (Traffic Issues, Really poor course planning)

And so, it was race day. We got up this morning at about 5:30. My friend Sarah was meeting us to carpool at 6, so we went down and met her. While we were meeting up with her, another lady approached us. Her name was Kathy and she had signed up for the race with a family member, only to have him bail an hour earlier. The parking requirements required that you have at least 2 people in each car, and she had paid for the National Harbor Parking pass that we hadn't paid for. We agreed to give her a lift to the race in exchange for using her parking pass. So, we were four!

We were about 10 minutes from National Harbor, and we had left the hotel two hours before the race start. We were staying in Alexandria, Virginia and only had to cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to get there. Well, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was a parking lot. We sat and sat and sat, with people finally getting out and walking, and then we finally made it there and parked. It was about a mile walk to the starting line (something people complained about, but isn't that unusual for a race of this size), and we made it to the starting line at about 7:55, nearly two hours after leaving the hotel. The 5K people were corralled, but not moving. The 5K was supposed to start at 7:30, the 15K was supposed to start at 8. Race organizers had chosen to delay the start of the 5K, not only because of the traffic, but also because they had laid the course out so that the people walking to the starting line from the parking had to walk on the course.  So, there was simply no way to start the race. They finally started the 5K at about 8:30, an hour late, and my understanding is that people were still walking from the parking to the start at that point. Can you imagine starting a 5K with people walking towards you on the course?

They ended up delaying the 15K even more in order to clear the entire 5K course before we started. We finally started the 15K at about 9am, an hour late. At that point, my feet were hurting and frozen and everyone was shivering, miserable and angry.

RAM Racing Mistake #4: Corral MESS

The way the corrals were supposed to work was that we were supposed to loop around. So, the front of the packers at the beginning were going to cross and we were lined up next to them and were supposed to walk in the opposite direction and then around the corner and down their whole chute to the starting line. Well, the people all the way in the back - the WALKERS - 15 min, 14 min, etc, broke the gate down - presumably because they were cold - and cut into the start of the race. Not realizing what we were supposed to do and with virtually no course officials directing traffic, we followed them. So, suddenly we were on the race course at the start of a CROWDED race with people trying to run about a 7 minute pace. Can you say NIGHTMARE for someone who was trying to run an 11-12 minute pace and runs Galloway???? Can you imagine the anger of the fast people up in front suddenly having to weave around 14 minute people after they waited an hour longer than necessary to start the race?

RAM Racing Mistake #5: Overcrowded course - GREED

I wanted to believe that they could handle this many runners. They could not. The course was PACKED and it NEVER let up. They oversold this race, big time. Oh, let's start a new race, and let's just go ahead and go with 20,000 runners for the first time. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and it's nothing other than greed. So, not only was I totally in the wrong pack, I was also trying to take walk breaks on a packed course. People at my pace are USED to Galloway runners. These people were not. I had people cussing at me. I had two separate people yell at me, "when you walk, you HAVE to be on the RIGHT!"  Ok, I've got to be honest, I've never heard that before. I've run something like 50 races and I've never had anyone tell me that I needed to stay right. I've always been told that when you walk, you should get to the SIDE, right or left doesn't matter. I was doing that, but I was preferring the left because the right was a shoulder with a guardrail. I moved right, but it was miserable over there. Anyway, I'm sincerely sorry, fast runners, I wasn't on that part of the course on purpose. The starting line was a mess. I felt stressed out the entire race, and I skipped a whole bunch of walk breaks in order to try and not cause any problems with these fast runners, but the hills kicked in and I had to walk. I'm sorry!

RAM Racing Mistake #6: Bad course in general (highway, construction site, gravel, dangerous path, narrow path)

The course sucked. Todd said it was one of the worst courses he's ever ran. Ok, it was hilly, but I don't complain about hills. You can't help hills. But, the 5K course was scenic and they made the 15K course by basically adding 6 miles of out and back on a highway to the 5K course. And, the highway wasn't even closed. One lane was open, and the course was so crowded that runners kept getting into the travel lanes. Then, they opened up a second lane while we were still out there. I'm not kidding, suddenly, they pushed us all farther left. Then, we ran through what looked like a construction site with dirt and mud and big rocks that people were tripping over. On to the scenic part of the course, until we got to the last few miles where a portion was on this crushed shell path right on the waterfront - and when I say right on the waterfront, I mean that there was no barrier between the overcrowded path and the water. WTF? Then, it narrowed into a tunnel, where I understand that people faster than me were forced to walk.

RAM Racing Mistake #7: Poor water stop planning (Pour your own!)

Pour your own water, I'm not kidding. I guess the water stop volunteers couldn't keep up, because at every single water stop, there was no water. They had it, but they didn't have it ready, so water stops really meant STOP. The first four miles, I couldn't even GET to the water stop because the course was so crowded, and when I finally HAD to stop because I was so thirsty, I had to wait for someone to pour me Gatorade and then it was only about a centimeter of Gatorade and it was full strength and GROSS. At another water stop, I had to FIND the cups (they were on the ground) and then pour my own water. The Gatorade didn't have enough water in it, and it was undrinkable. Only the final water stop actually had people standing handing out water.

RAM Racing Mistake #8: Uphill finish + uphill to chocolate = unhappy runners

You had to walk up this giant hill to get to the chocolate, and people were PISSED. I will say this though - the actual chocolate pickup was well organized and the Ghiradelli was delicious. It was a tray of fondue with half of a banana, a rice krispie treat, apple slices and a marshmallow. Yum! Plus, hot chocolate, which Todd liked but I couldn't drink because it would have made me sick.

... and we got stuck in traffic leaving and barely made it to our late checkout at our hotel.

The Good Stuff
Like I said, the chocolate part was awesome. But, I can make that at home on my own. It was a challenging course, and I had a great time running with Todd, Sarah and our new friend Kathy that we met this morning. She had never done Galloway before, and I had to explain that it's usually so much easier. It was nice to meet a new friend. I had a great time with the three of them, and I hope that they did, too. Despite the fact that I kind of regret it, the dinner was probably the best part of the race.

I have a pain in my foot now, which I hope is my arthritis and not a stress fracture. It bothered me during the last half mile of the race. I didn't eat before the race (BIG mistake - Kim Mistake #3) and so I was so HUNGRY during the race. It didn't help my energy, I'm sure.

This is a one and done for me, and I should know better than to do a race with this many people. I HATE large races.

Final time: 1:48:49, an 11:41 pace (a new PR, but only because I've never done a 15K before)

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abbi said...

Wow, this sounds like a disaster! Don't think the chocolate would be worth it. I was reading a couple other recaps on it...sorry it turned out to be such a mess for you!

Anonymous said...

Great write up! I agree 100%. It was a disaster on an epic scale for road racing.

Kandi said...

I did this race and I experienced most of the things in this post. One thing I didn't have an issue with was the water stops. I must have been lucky because even though there weren't that many people at most of the stops, I was able to get water from the volunteers. They did only fill the cups about an inch though so at one of the stops I took two cups of water.
The hills wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been so crowded.
I can imagine how frustrating it was for both you and the faster runners who were yelling at you for walking. There was NO SPACE on the course for people to run, let alone walk. It was awful. I definitely will not do that race again. I thought the jackets were cheap and waiting for an extra hour in the freezing cold was SO not worth it.

Elizabeth said...

Glad you were able to get water at the last water station. Thats where I was working! I've read a couple of posts where people had to pour their own drinks now and I cant believe that! Hope you enjoyed our water :-)

Anonymous said...

I carried my own water, so I was able to avoid the water stops, thank god. What a nightmare.

misszippy said...

I heard all kinds of bad things about the race from my friends yesterday. It's funny--I was so bummed not to be doing it but now? I guess I'm lucky!

Solstice next year for you!

Black Knight said...

It sounds like a nightmare!
I have a personal black list of the races and when I write "no more" it really means "no more"!

lindsay said...

well the name of the race sounds fun... but it sounds like a mess! and it took me a few minutes to figure out what a RAM mistake was. haha. i was sitting here thinking... "random ass mistake?" but then i figured out it was the racing company. at least that's what i'm assuming :)

i've always heard that faster people should pass on the left, but i've NEVER considered it a "rule". sheesh! those people need to chill out.

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