I swim. I bike. I run...usually covered in boogers and crayon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hot Chocolate 5k/15k DC

The Hot Chocolate 5k/15k is a race series that started in Chicago and is now in several cities. This was the first year it came to the DC area. It was extremely hyped up and seemed to appeal to beginner runners as there was a lot of swag touted and much chocolate to be had after the race. I decided not to register because I knew it was going to be a cluster and I really, really, hate crowded courses. Well, lo and behold, three days before the race, I got the itch to get out there with the other 20,000 runners. I bought a 15k bib off of Craigslist for $40 and my name was Alayna for all intents and purposes the day of the race.

The race was not actually held in DC proper. Rather, it was held at National Harbor which is a tourist trap on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. It has several hotels including the Gaylord, restaurants, and stores. It is easily accessible over the Woodrow Wilson bridge from Virginia. Being as how I live less than 1 mile from the bridge on the Virginia side, I decided to run with Bridget to the packet pickup on Friday. I had decided to bike to the race so I found a bike rack to use on the day of the race and figured I had the best plan of anyone.

The race expo itself was not an issue for me. I got there at 10:30am even though I knew it wasn't open until 11. I figured I could wait in line for a few minutes but the doors were open and I got in and out in ten minutes.
The weather for Saturday was posted on a dry erase board at the expo and it said the temperature at the start would be thirty six degrees. Brrrr!(It hasn't been that cold here all fall.)

The 5k (3.1 miles) was scheduled to start at 7:30 and the 15k (9.3 miles) was supposed to start at 8. With this in mind, I left home on my bike at 6:30. I saw the traffic backed up immediately. The exit for 495 to cross the bridge was PACKED. No cars were moving. It was brake lights as far as the eye could see. (Thank you, thank you, WW bridge for your pedestrian onramp from route 1!!) I passed all of the cars and rode the 3.75 miles to National Harbor in twenty minutes. It was a little before 7am and I saw the 5kers headed to the start which was a twenty minute walk from the harbor. I locked up my bike at the harbor and started to walk up to "the plateau" which is the top of a hill behind National Harbor from which you can see over the WW bridge and into Virginia. It was the staging area for both race starts/finishes, the gear check, and the after party. It was 7:30 and the 5k hadn't started yet. I heard that there was a car accident by the entrance to the race and that the race would be delayed indefinitely. I was still waiting to meet my friends so I was standing by the gear check, freezing, and checking my phone incessantly. At 8, I met up with my friends who I knew were running, I checked my stuff, and we walked to the 9 minute mile corral which was quickly filling up. (Keep in mind that it is freezing. I couldn't feel my toes by now.) The 5k hadn't started yet. I don't think it started until 8:30. The announcer was trying to keep everyone excited but we were just getting annoyed at standing in the cold for over an hour without our coats. (Note: I prefer not to look like a homeless person as I run with jackets tied around my waist after stripping them off once being warming up. I stick with a throw away shirt, a tank top, and arm warmers.) We no longer gave a crap about hot chocolate or fondue fountains. At 9:15, we heard the horn and assumed that the 15k had finally started. It was still 16 minutes later before we crossed the start line which was a quarter mile away. (Shuffle, shuffle, stop. Shuffle, shuffle, stop.) A wide corral gave way to a narrow start line and the bottleneck was impossibly congested. After a long wait, we were off! Uphill!! Yay. We ran out a quarter mile and turned around. Some (dumb) girl next to me insisted that the people running the opposite direction next to us were already on mile five. (In 20 minutes? Really?) We turned down a road, ran another two miles downhill and turned around to go uphill. We were like a herd of cattle. People were WALKING in the middle of the road. If you're going to walk, move to the right, or don't enter a 9 mile road race. I got some nasty looks from people as I weaved in and out of slower runners. It was rather impossible to have a pace so I just sprinted in and out of people until I could get into an open space. (Oh, did I mention that there was still traffic? Yes, for some reason, dump trucks were trying to get past us. Some guy in a BMW almost hit me and I was not outside the cones.) At mile 4, my time was 35 minutes. I skipped the first water stop. It was lacking volunteers, cups, water, etc. It wasn't worth the hassle. At mile 5, I grabbed a cup of Gatorade. BLECK YUCK WHAT THE HECK IS THAT? They were serving gatorade concentrate. No one had mixed it with water. It did nothing for my thirst. It was salty! I was ahead of my friends and I was focused on getting the thing over with by this point. The rest of mile five was downhill and on the other side of the road were people finishing. (I hated them.) The 10k was marked by a large, daunting hill that went on into mile 7. We ran around National Harbor, along the water, down a street. Finally, it was mile 8. (I passed the bike rack. I was relieved my bike hadn't disappeared.) Almost...done...It was shoulder to shoulder somewhat and still hard to get around people. This was the only place with crowd support. Around 8.5 miles, we started the uphill climb into mile 9. I was falling apart and didn't know how I could do another 3/10 of a mile. Suddenly, there was a sharp left hand turn and the finish line was about 25 yards away. It wasn't .3 miles in my mind...this is my 40th something race. I know what a mile is and I know what a third, a quarter, a half mile feels like. Ohhhh well!! I was done in 1:23:15. My friend was right behind me. We walked to our meeting place together and waited to get into the staging area behind hundreds of other people who had just finished. After we were all reunited, we went to get in line for the fondue and hot chocolate but, honestly, I was so sick to my stomach, I couldn't bring myself to eat or drink much of anything. We didn't stick around long and not many other people wanted to, either, because it was a mess trying to exit. We jumped a fence along with a bunch of other people to get out of the walkway down to the parking area.

We felt relieved to have gotten there on time, to have survived the long wait in the cold, and to be finished with it all. I was looking forward to the short bike ride home.

Overall, I wasn't majorly inconvenienced by the race. It was disappointing to have to wait for the race to start and therefore making us stiff and tight before the race. I am more sore today (Sunday) than I would normally be after a hilly nine mile run and I do believe it was from being improperly warmed up. The jacket that we got fits me well and, yes, it's cheap. So what? If you only wanted a jacket, spend the $65 on a jacket, not a race. I didn't have to swap sizes, fortunately, which I realize people did thus creating a shortage. There are hundreds of complaints on the Facebook page. I think some people have legit complaints but I think some people are just whiny. It was an INAUGURAL race. Meaning, it hasn't been done before and there are problems with any plan once it goes from paper to implementation. I can't speak to the parking or transportation issues. All I would suggest is encouraging people to park in Old Town Alexandria and riding a bike or walking to National Harbor. I only passed a dozen people walking over the bridge on the way home and I definitely did not see any bikers. People were complaining that it isn't in DC. If you looked at the website or saw the course (like I checked out beforehand) you would know that it's not a scenic tour of DC. If you want that, run a race in DC like National, Cherry Blossom, or Army Ten. I was home by 12pm so considering the timing of the race and the massive amounts of people, it wasn't too painful.

A Positive note--As we were walking back to the harbor, a lady overheard me talking about my bike ride there. She asked if I was a member of the Old Town Tri Club (I am.) She said she had seen my post on the message board about biking to the race and was amused that I had done so. We talked for a few minutes and now I have a new tri friend :)

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