Monday, October 22, 2012

10 Things You Don't Know About Chicago's Sweetest Race

Mmm, chocolate post-running in 2011. Credit
Chicago likes its chocolate. Have you ever noticed that certain spots within the city smell like chocolate? Admittedly, I never picked up on it until someone mentioned it, but next time you're here, take a sniff and you'll see what I mean. So it comes as no surprise that there would be a race to cater to our sweet teeth. Besides, isn't it better to eat chocolate after we have a slight calorie deficit from say, a run? Of course.

It's America's Sweetest Race and it's second stop on its 2012-2013 circuit is Chicago (Albuquerque, N.M., is its first). It's the race Washington, D.C. would rather forget (though judging by the cancellation of the 70.3 triathlon that was supposed to be held out of National Harbor in August it might be more the location's fault than the race's)--but we're not going to dwell on the past. It's turning five in Chicago and it's pulling out all the stops to make Chicago runners giddy for chocolate. It's the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K.

But unlike some races that are nearly the same year after year, the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K is more about shaking things up. Take the race location: The first Hot Chocolate race was held at the popular Montrose site, and now the race starts and finishes in Grant Park. Take the race chocolate: One year it was Hershey bars as far as the eye could see, yet another it was square upon square of Ghirardelli. Take the race swag: a runner's jacket, a lighter runner's jacket, a hoodie. Put it this way: If you've done all five you have quite the collection of chocolate gear.

You can also have quite the collection of blurred memories. I know I ran the race in 2009 and 2011, yet I remember stories told by people who ran the race in 2008 and 2010 and have managed to confuse course details from all four previous races. Add the 2012 race into the mix, the one that I just added to my race calendar, and I know I need to drill a few details into my head before I show up ready to run on the wrong side of the start line, at the wrong time, in the wrong corral. And seeing as how I didn't read the fine print for Fort2Base as well as I should have (I missed packet pickup), I don't want the same thing to happen for Hot Chocolate. I'm getting a head-start on noting the details about this year's race.

  1. The course is different. Last year the race was rerouted at the last minute when a semi got stuck on the course. But even so, I think this year's is different from what we were supposed to run before that quick change. This year, the race starts on Columbus Drive and Monroe Street. Runners will head north on Columbus, turn right onto Randolph and then left onto the northbound on-ramp to Lower Lake Shore Drive. The course will pass by The Art Institute and Millennium Park, and then the 15K course will run south past Soldier Field and the John G. Shedd Aquarium. Both races finish in Grant Park at roughly the same spot as the Chicago Marathon. 
  2. It's a (mostly) closed course. In triathlons, I've been on bike routes where suddenly a car is trying to pass me--a scary feeling. But at this race, there's an emphasis on soft road closures throughout the course, with several roads not being reopened until all of the participants have passed and the race materials removed. That could mean delays for cars, but room for the runners.
  3. Finishers receive a commemorative cup of chocolate. If you've run Hot Chocolate before, you know about the chocolate fondue and hot chocolate at the finish line. But usually those items come in generic cups and holders. Not anymore. This year, participants will be treated to a finisher's cup filled with chocolate treats.
  4. The hoodie. It wouldn't be a Hot Chocolate race without a new and different wearable item in the goodie bag. And this time around it's a technical hoodie--I'm guessing it's better than cotton?
  5. The expo is at Soldier Field. I've been to packet pick-ups at the University of Illinois' basketball pavilion and Union Station, but this time around pre-race central will be in a tent in the Soldier Field parking lot.
  6. The races starts at 7 a.m. That may seem early--I swear we started later last year--but with daylight savings the night before, we're gaining an hour.
  7. More than 40,000 runners and walkers are expected at this event. No wonder Hot Chocolate's start and finish line mimic that of the Chicago Marathon. I can't name another spot in the city that could host that many runners.
  8. The 2012-13 Hot Chocolate tour is heading to 8 cities. Albuquerque was first, Chicago's second, then Columbus (Ohio), Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle and San Diego.
  9. One million dollars (try saying it in that creepy Doctor Evil voice). Hot Chocolate isn't just done for profit. Ronald McDonald House Charities is the race's beneficiary and the tour expects to raise $1 million for the organization by the time it's complete. In Chicago, donations have already doubled from last year.
  10. It's sold out. Yep, Chicago likes its chocolate. The 5K race sold out first, followed by general entry to the 15K and the Walk for Little City, and now there are only a handful of charity entries left for the 15K before that, too, is full. If you want to run for chocolate, you'll have to wait until next year--or pick another city (hey, destination races are always fun!). 
Now it's only a matter of me remembering these details for race day--and making sure I get to the right place for packet pickup (I already learned my lesson once this year). Who else is running for chocolate on November 4?

Photo grabbed from Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar at flickr.

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