When I signed up for the Hot Chocolate 15k it was my way of getting back into running after being on a hiatus and/or loss of motivation spree after my half marathon in May. I’ve found that if I’m not signed up for a race, I’m likely not to run. I do other things to stay fit – HIIT workouts, lifting, walking, etc. but I won’t run… don’t ask me why, because still to this day I have no clue. I enjoy running, I love the clarity of mind it gives you but it’s not instinct for me I guess. I signed up by myself knowing that I would have to push myself by myself. Whew, what a mouthful.
Soon after I pressed the “register” button, I talked my friend Katie into running the race with me. Considering I was essentially starting training from a 3 mile base and Katie had only ever done 5ks before… I felt better knowing it would be a challenge for both of us.
Anyway, onto the race. We arrived in Chicago with our man friends on Saturday night, picked up my packet and walked around the expo a little bit. The expo was in the basement of the Hyatt which was surprisingly big and pretty nicely laid out. We took some pictures and snacked on hot chocolate, marshmallows and samples of Lara Bars. Nom Nom Nom! It was my first expo experience and it was quite the success.
Around one of the corners there was a booth with a bunch of coolers and tiny sampler cups – it was nuun! I’ve been dying to try this stuff without spending money on it – because I’m normally just a straight water kind of girl… but I tried all the flavors and they were delicious, so delicious I had to buy some! I got the orange and grape because those tasted the best to me. I like that the flavors aren’t too overwhelming and the water has a little bubble to it when drinking. We also got a free bottle specialized for Chicago 2015 which was pretty cool… and it’s surprisingly a pretty nice bottle (see below). I also purchased some gloves from one of the vendors because I had forgotten mine at home and it was supposed to be chilly on Sunday morning for race day.
We checked into our hotel – The Palmer House Hilton – it was a beautiful, clean and old-ish hotel with a lot of charm. We got settled in and decided to head to dinner at Sweetwater Grill – our third choice which should have been our first choice. We tried a couple pizza places, which was silly of us on a Saturday night in Chicago and only ended in frustration with wait times and snotty hostesess. I digress. Sweetwater was great! We had a couple beers, Katie and I ordered the same food and so did the boys – so weird.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel to sit in the hot tub – but in an old hotel on a busy weekend the hot tub was pretty packed as you can imagine. We swam in the pool while the hot tub cleared out and man was I glad we waited around for it – well worth the wait. The pool room closed at 9pm which was disappointing but okay since Katie and I needed some sleep… and sleep I did – not sure about Katie. I know I was a nervous wreck before my half marathon, hardly slept a wink.
We woke up at 5:30 the next morning and I slowly put on every piece of my Flat Meredith.
I ate my banana and drank my Energize. At about 6:00 it was time to head out. On the way out the door I grabbed a piece of pumpkin loaf at Starbucks – not perfect, but it was the closest thing to my ritual of “a banana and two pieces of toast with peanut butter” as I could get. The walk to the corrals was short because our hotel was essentially right across Michigan Ave from Grant Park where the race started.
We were in F corral which was the last of the preferred corrals – it was my first time having to send in previous race results to get placed and even though it was the 11:30 pace corral, it was nice being ahead of everyone doing the 5k and walking. There were people everywhere, the race announcer said there were 45,000 participants between the walk, 5k and 15k; which is crazy! The majority of those 45,000 were in the 5k and about 12,000 were in the 15k. Hot Chocolate posted a graphic on their Facebook that explained 73% of the participants were Female. Talk about girls running the world!
Race temperature was in the 30s and man was I glad I bought those gloves. As the sun was coming up the Star Spangled Banner rang out and the gun went off. It seemed like Corral A-E went so fast and before we knew it we were off! We ran through the Wacker tunnel through downtown. Skyscrapers towered over us and the familiar sounds of GPS watches malfunctioning rang through the streets. As soon as we got away from all the concrete and buildings of the heart of downtown my watch started working again, but by then it was so off that I stopped paying attention to it. I took in the sights, sounds and smells of the city, did some people watching and chatted with Katie to take her mind off the running.
We started seeing signs for the 5k split off which was clearly marked ahead of time – you can see we were pretty happy and also very blurry! We saw the boys waiting for us and handed off our gloves. We said hello, waved good-bye and headed on our merry way.
Being that it was her first long distance race… Katie and I decided to stick with the 11:30 pacer so she didn’t bonk before the finish line. I think we honestly could have passed the pacer quite a few times but she was our “Go! space on the Monopoly board” we did not pass in hopes of collecting $200 (which we still haven’t received by the way – outrage!) Our “Go! Space” was within a few feet of us until Mile 5 when it was time to take our first gel. Things slowed down a little after that but I was determined to get Katie over the finish line in one piece. I ran ahead slightly but never let her get too far out of my sight before I paused to walk and catch up with her. I continued doing this and watched people running as I walked – quite an interesting experience being a “fly on the wall” during a race.
The sticky pavement from Gatorade at the aid station at mile 6 reminded me of running my half and brought back a few memories… what was new to me was the crunch of M&Ms and other chocolatey things and the squish of marshmallows that were being handed out. Not exactly the most pleasant feeling – but when in Rome!
We ran through the McCormick Place tunnel just before Mile 8 and rounded the corner toward Soldier Field. It was so awesome to see downtown pushing up into the sky and the miles and miles of runners in front of and behind us all working toward one goal – chocolate! I mean… the finish line 🙂
Just after Mile 8 we saw the boys and I knew we were close. Katie’s husband jogged with her for a little bit and Alan ran with me chatting briefly and offering apple slices before they parted with us for their attempt at making it back to the finish line before us (they didn’t, but they were close! and they were there for us after we got through the finishers area).
I won’t forget the look on Katie’s face when we came up the hill from Lake Shore Drive she saw the finish line in the distance. The look of shear exhaustion turned into hope and a little smile crossed her face as she said “I can see the finish line!” I asked her if she could push herself and push herself she did. We sprinted across the finish line at 1:50. We collected our finishers mugs, took the obligatory metal-biting selfie and basked in the glow of finishing our first official 15ks together. The boys congratulated both of us with hugs and kisses – I’m so grateful to them for being there for us and being our pack mules 🙂
The post-race party was nice – live music, our finisher mugs and a huge group of people that had one thing in common… the love of the sport and the love of the finish! It was crowded, there wasn’t much of a place to sit or stand – but that’s to be expected with 45,000 people plus spectators. We got our mugs and headed out of the park and back to the hotel to shower.
Training and running this race with Katie was an awesome experience. I’m so proud of her for finishing her first race and I can’t wait to run with her at her first half marathon – hopefully in the spring! This race has brought back a lot of memories/feelings from my half marathon training and race. It made me remember that you have to run for the fun of it otherwise you shouldn’t be running at all. It reminded me to enjoy the sights and sounds of running – I ran the race without headphones and it was such a wonderful thing to experience the quietness of your own mind mixed with the noise of other runners and a city that has such an interesting story to tell.
I couldn’t have asked for a better day – beautiful weather – or a better running buddy! Here’s to running with your heart not your legs and to friends/man friends that love and support you.