Monday, February 12, 2018

Hot Chocolate 15K Charlotte - Second Verse, Better Than The First

So I have always wanted to do a Hot Chocolate 15K and had been dismayed that there wasn't one near me. I finally bit the bullet and signed up for the closest one, which was Atlanta, determined to get my chocolate on. Well, to my surprise, shortly after signing up for Atlanta, they announced that the Hot Chocolate series was coming to Charlotte!! Could I handle double the chocolate? I knew I could!

Scenes from the Expo

Having done Atlanta the week prior, I kinda knew what to expect for the most part, however, each city has their own way of doing things and their own charm so it did not feel like I was doing the same exact race twice in a row. The Expo was much smaller, held in the ball room of a hotel just on the outskirts of Uptown Charlotte. It was pretty easy to get in and out of and if you stayed less than 20 minutes, your parking was free. I didn't stay long so I wouldn't have to pay, and was in and out easily while still getting everything I needed - the Bib system is like magic - they scan a QR code from your email and print a sticker to put on your bib - and exchanged my shirt (it was a bit on the tight side), picked up some Nuun, got some goodies (Hot Chocolate, chocolate dipped marshmallow and 2 small chocolate bars) and still was out in time. There was also a retail store set up with both Hot Chocolate gear and Charlotte gear.

Decided to rain coat up after all
This race was a local one for me so I knew the area and set out to arrive and get parked and settled with about 30 minutes or so to spare. With the horrible weather I had in Atlanta the week prior I had been obsessively watching the skies and while it was by no means a dry race, it was not terrible. Mostly it was damp and misty with a few minutes here and there of light rain. The roads were a bit puddled and my feet ended up fairly wet after, but I was just glad there was no downpour. I had planned ahead and wore a light waterproof jacket just in case and I am glad I had it, but would have been OK without. 

Just look at those shoes POP
Another pre-race decision I made was to do my run in the Under Armor HOVRs that I have been testing since January. Last week when I ran Atlanta, my shoes got so wet that they gained about 10 lbs each worth of water. The HOVRs are a remarkably light shoe so I figured they would retain much less water if they got soaked. And, while I hadn't raced in them yet, I'd put about 40 miles on them and really liked the way they were performing for me. In fact, the week before I had done a 3 miler in a 8:45 pace without even realizing it until after, I beleive due to the advanced energy return that reduces foot impact. At a minimum, I thought having such bright shoes on such a dreary day would make me feel happy. I am happy to say that all of the above were on point. My shoes were bright and happy and my feet were much lighter which I know contributed to my pace. 

There was lots of parking options around the area as the race was held just outside of Uptown Charlotte on the campus of a local community college (CPCC). I would have liked to see more signs directing parking options, but once you parked, there were lots of signs pointing to the start line and even with parking almost a half mile away, I knew exactly where to go. There were tons of port-a-potties available near the start and corrals were well marked with signage.

This pic was taken literal seconds before the start
Now the start was where you could tell that this was a first year race, as it was a bit confusing. The race was slated to start at 8:05 and I was in Corral D, so I thought that meant I had an actual start time of 8:21 as they said that waves would be released every 4 minutes. Well, joke was on me as Corral D was actually the first one (Apparently A-C were the 5K Corrals which started at 7:45). By the time I found a place to park almost a half mile away (it's a downtown area after all), used the ports, said hello to a few friends and got into position, I literally had 15 seconds before starting!! I was a bit frazzled but took off.

Official race on-course race pic. I'm super focused!
As for the actual course, there was a lot of volunteer support at the 4 aid stations. Each had some kind of yummy treat first - chocolate chips, flavored marshmallows, candy hearts and M&Ms - followed by Nuun and Water. There were port-a-potties at the halfway point and a few others throughout the course. A full lane of traffic was closed over the entire course. It wasn't the most scenic run I've done, but to be honest, once you leave the Uptown area of Charlotte, there isn't too much to look at. The course was basically a loop to the Southeast of Center City. It would have been nice to run through more of the Uptown area - the big buildings and stadiums, but it was a typical suburban course - neighborhoods and retail areas. It was pretty darn hilly though so I can't say I was ever bored on course. 

That finish time is a lie, oh well, still a PR
With the conditions being better I convinced myself I should have a faster race this week despite the fact that it had been only 6 days since my last race. I pushed myself pretty hard on the super hilly Charlotte roads and found myself in trouble around mile 7. I knew it was coming too. There was a pretty big hill on mile 6 that I said to myself on that I should have pulled back some and I paid the price. I had a horrible side cramp that I had to slow to a walk to manage. I walked about a quarter mile to get back where I could manage and somehow was able to get myself back in it. I finished not nearly as strong as I started, but still pulled a PR at under my goal of 1:30 with a 1:29:15 finishing time. I had initally thought I had done better as the timing clock was wrong at the finish (it read 1:27 when I crossed) but a PR is still a PR!

Coming into the finish, there was an announcer that called everyone's name as the crossed the finish and kept up some awesome encouragement. Thanks to him, everyone crossed with a smile on their face. After, I was given my awesome candy bar shaped medal with a hornet key chain to represent Charlotte and there were cups of Nuun, full water bottles and Nuun tablets available in the finisher chute. I hung out at the finish cheering on runners until my friends finished up and then we took a walk over to the post-race area to get our goodie bowls. There were lots of cool inflatables for photo ops and of course the finisher mugs full of Hot Chocolate and goodies were amazing. And before I had even left the race, I had received an email with a link to my free race photos. So that's really cool! I will for sure return again for next year's race!

And as for the shoes, I will for sure race in them again! My feet felt 100% better after the Charlotte race than they did for the Atlanta one. While my feet did end up wet (again) being so much lighter and not retaining the water made a HUGE difference. I can't wait to see how they race in perfect conditions. I have a half marathon coming up where I will find out because I will for sure race in my HOVRs for Tobacco Road.

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