Disclaimer: I received a free entry to The Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k Seattle as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
I was excited to run the Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k for several reasons: 1… It’s my first US race, 2… It’s my first Bibrave race, and 3… all the chocolate! This is a popular race series in the US, with events in 15 cities across the country (and more to come hopefully, including Vancouver). It’s a 5k and a 15k for all levels so you can treat it as a serious race or you can just have fun with your friends gorging on chocolate and marshmallows 😛
Registration was a breeze. I had no problems with it. I also liked that they sent weekly training emails to help you prepare and get hyped up for the race. I was also able to apply for a preferred corral using my last half marathon time. You actually have to show proof of it and if approved, they will put you in an earlier corral. Lucky me, I got into the second corral. Over 4,500 runners did the 15k race so I really appreciated that I was able to start earlier. A few days before race day, I received emails with links to all the important information I needed for race day including the QR code for package pickup, my corral info, and start time. They were very organized and I really appreciated that I didn’t have to hunt for anything.
Package Pickup, Swag, and Other Perks
I opted to pick up my package at the expo but for out-of-towners, the option to have it mailed was there. I thought that was a great idea, but it’s only open to US addresses. We got to the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall at around 4pm and there were hardly any lines. Had there been any, I bet it would’ve flown by really quickly since there were a good number of volunteers there. They quickly scanned the QR code from your email and handed you the bib. Funny, the volunteer who helped me almost gave me the 5k bib. Luckily she caught herself and gave me the right one. I found it interesting that Bib numbers weren’t pre-assigned. It was assigned on the spot. They just printed a sticker with your name and corral and stuck it on. The bib had a gear check tag, gear check pickup tab and of course the finisher mug tab (very important).
I was then directed to pick up my goodie bag, which essentially was the hoodie. The hoodie was awesome. It’s so comfortable and warm and I can see myself using it often, especially right now with this extended cold snap in Vancouver (grr). I can say that this is one of my favourite race swag. We then continued on throughout the expo and a number of vendors were there selling accessories, sunglasses, official Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k merchandise and other race representatives like Oiselle’s The Tenacious Ten.
Nuun Hydration was also there and I was very happy to see them. They were sampling various Nuun Active flavours and I was also able to try out their new line of vitamin drinks. Of all the flavours, I loved the blueberry pomegranate and ginger lemonade the best. Stay tuned, it’ll be available in Canada soon. They are also the hydration sponsor of the Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k so runners were able to stay hydrated with various flavours of Nuun throughout the course.
There were a bunch of inflatables around the expo for photo ops, which was cool. They were also handing out chocolate drizzled marshmallows and hot chocolate in case you didn’t want to wait until the next day to get a treat 😛
As for race day perks… Let’s start from the top. Gear check was available for runners, but I didn’t use it. It looked like your gear was pre-selected to be in a specific bin (as per the tag on your bib) and you just drop it off on race day while volunteers put it in the specific box. On the course, the aid stations were frequent enough and all had Nuun and water but some Sweet Stations had marshmallows or M&M’s. Race photographers were out on the course so if you’re lucky, you were able to download race photos of yourself for free. If you’re really lucky, you don’t look like a complete fool in them like some of mine 😛 I did manage to get some decent shots. If you’re a spectator, you could’ve tracked your runner but we didn’t try it out. There were timing mats at certain points so I assume, people could just look up your bib number and see if you ran a certain distance already. Instead, we used Garmin Live Track on my watch. The medal was a big, gold chocolate bar with bite on the corner. It was a hefty medal and it looked great, I got lots of compliments on it. The finisher mug was pretty awesome too. The mug had a cup of hot chocolate, a banana, bag of pretzels, rice krispies treats, cookies, melted chocolate for dipping, and a moist towelette. I would reuse the mug as a chip and dip holder at my next get together lol.
The course starts at Seattle Center on 2nd Ave N and goes downhill through Belltown and down the ramp underneath Pike Place Market. You then double back and head up into the Battery Street tunnel, which leads you to Aurora Avenue North. Runners then cross the Aurora Bridge and head up the long hill. Close to the top, you turn back and head downhill back the same way into downtown. The finish line is near EMP Museum and ends with an uphill finish.
Hope you like hills because you’ll get lots with this course! You can’t escape it. You kind of just have to suck it up and adjust your pace accordingly. If I were you, I’d do a bit of recon on the course in the days leading up to the race. Luckily, we drove along Aurora on the way to the expo so I had a sneak peek of the punishment that’s coming. Don’t let it discourage you, just mentally prepare and you can conquer it. I know it’s easier said than done but really.. it’s mostly mental. My favourite parts of the course were the downtown parts, running across the Aurora Bridge and anywhere that’s a downhill lol! I ended up with 200 m of elevation gain on my Strava entry. So… yeah not flat. To add insult to injury, it’s an uphill finish… which was a surprise to me.
Don’t expect cheer sections. It was a little disappointing that there were only a handful of people spectating and cheering but that’s ok. There was a cheer section at the top of the Aurora hill which was really cool. They gave me the boost I needed to keep going. The volunteers at the aid stations were really lively though. I appreciated their smiling faces as well as the huge marshmallows they were handing out. I felt like a cyclocross racer accepting a hand up 😛
How Did I Do?
View my race on Strava.
I came into this race with no expectations since my ankle was recently acting up. My physio suggested that I run with insoles again. I tried it during the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Run, the day before, and it seemed fine. Things started to fall into place. We had no problems travelling to Seattle from Vancouver, got to the expo on time, and the weather was cooperating. We stayed at Hotel Nexus, which is about a 15 minute drive from downtown and relied on Uber to get us around town. My start time was 7:55 so I had arranged a pickup around 7am to ensure we had plenty of time to get there. Sure enough, thanks to the efficiency of an Uber, we got there with plenty of time to spare. In fact, they were still going through the rest of the 5k corrals.
I knew the hills were coming and all I could do was just play it by ear. I ran a strong first 5k (29:15) and was already feeling overwhelmed by the hills. While running through Battery Street tunnel, there were a number of times when I wanted to take a break. I shrugged it off until the next downhill and just kept going. I distracted myself by looking around at the sights and checking out the runners who were already on their way back. The leaders were FAST. I looked for fellow Canadians and BibRave or Nuun runners, too. The Aurora hill was upon me and I was getting discouraged by the length and the grade. Suddenly, I received some text messages from Cuski on my watch. He’d been tracking me and wanted to give me some words of encouragement on this tough hill. I loved it and really appreciated the cheer. It worked… I got to the top, enjoyed my long downhill and cruised to the 10k mark at 1:02:28.
I decided to keep pushing for the last 5 km. Within the last few kilometers, I gave myself a goal of 1:35:00. It was doable and possibly even a PR. I kept my speed up heading back into downtown and I was surprised that there were more hills. The last mile or so until the finish line was uphill, from what I remember. I kept going, what seemed to be an endless final kilometer. As soon as I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line, I bolted and ended up with a 1:34:56 finish… I beat my goal by 4 precious seconds! If I didn’t take any photos along the course or even paused to grab hydration, I probably would’ve gotten there sooner but whatever! I’ll take this victory 😛 It was a very successful race!
I have to give a shout-out to Cuski for coming with me, supporting me, cheering for me when I needed it most, and snapping some awesome photos, especially this one (above). It shows the pain face and the incline towards the finish. Thank you <3
Would I Do This Again?
Yes… But I’d like to try a Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k in another city just to change things up a bit. The race is well-organized, the website was easy to navigate and had all the information I needed. What you get out of it is fantastic: the hoodie, the sweets, the finisher mug full of food and hot chocolate, the big medal, the race atmosphere… It’s definitely worth it. With so many races across the US, you’re bound to find one that will be convenient for you to get to.
Upcoming Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k Races
Did you like my review and want to try the race for yourself? Here are the upcoming Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k dates along with a special BibRave promo code that will get you a free visor when you sign up:
San Diego – March 26, 2017 – code: SDBRHC – Register
Philadelphia – April 1, 2017 – code: BRPhillyHC – Register
Minneapolis – April 15, 2017 – code: MinnHCBR – Register
Did you run the Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k in Seattle? What did you think of it? Do you want to give it a try? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!