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Posted on Dec 4, 2011 in Races, Working Out | 42 comments

Hot Chocolate 15K

Cue the fanfare!

I'm alive!

Ring the bell!


Let it be known to the world: I ran a 15K and survived!

Take a Bow!

Now, some of you may have already heard about how the Hot Chocolate 15 & 5K may go down in infamy as DC’s most horrible race (just check out the comments being left on their Facebook page if you need proof!) It was a logistical clusterf***, and I agree with a lot of what is being said about it. That said, I don’t feel it wasn’t the life-ruining event that some people are making it out to be. Not to say it wasn’t truly awful. Soooo, I may just be saying that because I’m so psyched that I can say I (mostly) ran 9.3 miles and lived to tell the tale. Here’s how it all went down for yours truly. BEHOLD!

Hot Chocolate 15K

I woke up bright dark and early Saturday morning, around 5:45 AM. Took care of the doggies, rinsed my face, got dressed, and tried to quell the growing ball of fear and regret in my stomach before heading to my parents’ house to meet my sister and her hubs, and Steve, Lara, and Janie who were running it as well.


Oh, it should also be noted that it was frickin’ FREEZING. Of course after a straight week of unseasonably warm weather, the day that Mother Nature seems to recognize that it’s, uh, December is the day of the race. Womp. I tried to get excited anyway…

Try being the operative word, of course.

The six of us crammed into a car and left my parents’ house in Falls Church around 6:45 AM (the race was set to start at 8 AM) and headed toward National Harbor, a normal half-hour trip. All runners had to choose a parking option way in advance — some were at the race site but you had to pay to park there, and some were free but further away so you had to take a shuttle. Since we are cheapos, we obviously chose the free option and figured we’d just deal with the shuttle drop-off (which on the website was quoted as being up to 20 minutes away.) Well, as it turns out, this was probably the best thing that we could have possibly done. Traffic and parking ended up being a HUGE issue for this race, with people being stuck on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge trying to get into National Harbor for up to two hours. And these are for the people who PAID for the closer parking. We, however, barely hit any traffic on the way there, since we went up and around National Harbor to reach our parking site. The shuttles to-and-from our satellite lot (Rosecroft Raceway) were plentiful and the trip barely took 10 minutes from site to site. We arrived at the starting area around 7:40.

This is where things started to turn a little sour for me. Despite us getting there pretty much right on time, we ended up having to wait around in the cold for the next hour and a half before the race actually began. (Thank goodness I ended up wearing an old sweatshirt that I ditched on the course. I might have literally frozen to death if I hadn’t.) I should have known something was up when the 5K (which was scheduled to begin at 7:30) hadn’t started when we got to the race site. I do understand them delaying the race start for those who were stuck in traffic, but with very little communication being given as to when the race would be starting or why it was being delayed it was very frustrating to just have to… wait. As I understand it now, the 5K’s start was delayed because the layout of where the parking lots in National Harbor were, were on the opposite side of the 5K route. So the path for parkers to get to the 15K start was ON the 5K path. Therefore, they had to clear pedestrians from the route before it could begin… which is extremely poor planning, IMO. And the 5K delay contributed to the 15K delay as well, of course, so there were not many happy campers in the lineup, to say the least.

I know how you feel, bottom-left-corner lady. I know you feel.

After my feet and legs had the opportunity to go thoroughly numb, the horn for the start of the 15K finally went off at around 9:10 (in case you had forgotten, that’s an hour and 10 minutes after the original start time). 20 minutes and some 8,000 runners later, I made it through the starting gate and was off! From here on out, my race experience actually wasn’t too bad. The first 5 miles of the race were a down-and-out on Indian Head Highway, which still had one open lane of traffic, and a lot of people had issues with that. I didn’t really enjoy running with a huge mob PLUS an open (though crawling) lane of cars, but it wasn’t terrifying or anything since the cars were going slower than we were, haha. And despite my freakout over the race elevation (which was indeed terrible), the first part wasn’t too hilly. After about 2 miles, I regained feeling back in my tootsies (though I did get that annoying itchy-toe feeling from the blood rushing into them, which wasn’t pleasant) and the numbness probably helped contribute to my speedy start — we did the first mile at a sub-10 minute pace! Yes, me, the champion of the 12-minute mile. It was insane.

Another issue with the race, however, was that the 5K timing mats were on the wrong side of the road, so we clocked our “5K” split in at around 2.5 miles instead of 3.1. Womp womp. Therefore, my unofficial 5K time (according to my RunKeeping app) was 36 minutes and a few seconds — a PR based on my past 5Ks! Also unofficially, I beat my 5 mile time by almost 7 minutes! (1:03:0-something vs. 1:09:53 from the Navy 5 Miler!)

Mile 8
The harbor was beautiful, though the clock isn’t accurate for me, since I went through the gate 20 minutes after the gun.

After the first 5 miles, the race headed down into the actual National Harbor area. We did a huge loop around the harbor, and there was finally something pretty to look at, though this was the part of the race that really was incredibly hilly. In some ways, it worked to my advantage, because I was literally flying down some of the downhill slopes. However, the sadists who planned the course route also had the race end on an uphill stretch. WHO DOES THAT?! So I kind of died at the end. Also, there were a few parts of the race that were on rocky gravel and shells, which was kind of crummy. I walked most of those parts, but if I had been running fast, I can envision me biting it pretty bad on a stray rock, haha. You should all be proud of me though — all together, I’d say that I ran about 75% of this race, which is crazy since I didn’t think I’d be able to run even half of it!

At the last .3 miles, Jenny came back and forced me to run the end, something for which I simultaneously cursed her and thanked her for. As is always my goal, I managed to sprint the very last stretch, finishing strong with a time of 2:01:48! And I didn’t even puke!


I ended up with an average pace of 13:05, which is actually much better than I anticipated given my frequent walking breaks. After forcing Jenny to take many pictures of my sweaty self, we crawled over to the tents housing the chocolate fondue and hot chocolate. Here is where I will give the race organizers props again. Even though the tents were cruelly far away from the finish line, we didn’t have to wait in a single line for our chocolate, and they looked like they really did have enough for everyone (I mean, let’s face it, I definitely finished on the tail-end of the race, and there was still plenty of chocolate.)

Will Run for Chocolate

Plus, it was DELICIOUS. It kind of messed with my stomach a little, since the last thing I had eaten was a slice of apple spice bread at 6 AM, but the pretzel stick dipped in melted Ghirardelli? OMFG. Amazing.

With a face this red, I deserved my chocolate.

So yes, there were plenty of problems with the race from a logistical standpoint, but other than the huge delay, I wasn’t really that affected by them. I just feel so bad for those that got to the race site earlier than we did. The race communications originally had told us to be on a shuttle from the parking site no later than 6:45 AM. We value sleeping too much to actually listen, but if we had then we would have been waiting for ANOTHER hour. My honest opinion is simply that RAM Racing oversold the race. It really should have been capped at half the amount of runners. National Harbor just isn’t made for having so many people trying to get in all at once — there’s really only one way to drive there, and it isn’t metro accessible. That said, I am really proud of myself, so in spite of all the issues, I’m definitely glad I did it. I mean, I finished 9.3 miles. NINE MILES!! AHHHH!

Okay, and just so every single photo in this post isn’t of me being gross and sweaty, here are some pictures of me hamming it up before my company’s holiday party last night. (Hooray for vanity!) Not sure where I got the energy to go considering what I had accomplished only hours earlier, but I guess that’s what they call rallying, eh?

ANTM Work Hard, Play Hard

The party was at the Air & Space Museum in Chantilly! You know, because one grown-up event at a museum this week simply wasn’t enough, hehe.

Survivor Heels

I think I deserve extra credit for being able to put on heels after the race! Of course, the soreness didn’t really hit me until this morning. As in, it has never been more painful to go from my bed to the bathroom and back. ‘Cause that’s about all I’ve managed so far.

Worth it.


  1. I LOVE that dress! Congrats on finishing a 15K, racing is so addictive,isn’t it? 🙂 Are you gonna run the Rock and Roll half marathon in DC on March 17? I think the Rock and Roll series are especially good for first timers 🙂

    • I won’t be doing that one (er, so I say right now, hahaha) but I did enter the lottery for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler! So clearly I’ve still got the bug, haha. I think I need to step back to a couple of 5Ks now though… make it something that I won’t spend 2 straight weeks freaking out about beforehand! 😛

      • OMG great dress!!! you look amazing!!! Now where can i get it?

  2. So proud of you! You rocked that course! And look super fab in that red dress!

  3. You are my hero!

  4. I definitely understand that you would be annoyed about standing in the cold but I personally cannot tell you how glad I was to hear they extended the start time for us. I had been training for the 5k for weeks and chose this one as my first race. We left our house at 5:45, which would have had us there over an hour before start time. We got to the WW bridge at 6:15 and didn’t reach the other side until 8:25. After all of my perparation, I was thisclose to tears the entire 2 hours because I thought I was going to miss my race. When we got there, I didn’t even get to run the whole course so it was a huge dissapountment for me. I thought the fondue was good but not nearly good enough to have gone through all of that trauma for it. Congrats on the 15k though!!

    • Oh yeah, I didn’t even get to talk about how bad I felt for the people that were stuck in traffic!! I’m so sorry you didn’t get to run the whole course. It was such poor planning from the organizers. I just wish that they had done some sort of compromise. Like, let the people who were there start so they didn’t freeze to death, but kept the race start open for like, an hour so that everyone who was stuck in traffic could still start and finish the course. 🙁 Don’t let it discourage you from running another 5K though! This is SO not the norm.

  5. A huge congrats on the 15K!! That’s one distance I haven’t run in a race yet – the Cleveland area seems to prefer the 10 miler as I’ve never seen a 15K around here.

    I was watching the drama unfold on the Hot Chocolate 15K Facebook page yesterday morning. As a former event planner, I can’t help but cringe when stuff like that goes down. Sounds like a lot of lessons were learned!

  6. I’m enjoying reading the race recaps because no matter how much getting to the start sucked, crossing that finish line still felt great! Congratulations! It’s interesting that you had no problem getting to Rosecroft and then to the Harbor that late. If RAM had communnicated that via its Facebook Page or Twitter account, we could have gotten out of the going-nowhere exit lane on the Wilson Bridge (which we were stuck in as of 6:15), sailed over to Rosecroft and handed over our $10 parking pass for a free shuttle ride. We just assumed that traffic must have been just as bad from the other direction.

    That’s a great picture at mile 8!

    • Yeah as we saw it coming through Alexandria, it was the difference between taking the local exits on 295 (staying to the right) and going around on 495/95 (staying to the left.) Luckily, we did stay to the left and got to go around with minimal issues (there was a little traffic but it was always moving), but I couldn’t believe how bad the traffic was for you all. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that!

  7. Well done!! Very impressive…AND making it to the party that night, too!

  8. Ahhh Gretchen I’m so proud of you! Congratulations!!!!!!!!!! What a major accomplishment! And heels the night after that race? You do indeed get extra credit for that.

    After hearing about all the logistical nightmares, I was SO happy I decided not to go! I was going to go spectate because I knew several people running, but after checking out the transportation options I decided it would be too much of a nightmare. AND, the main girl I was going to watch didn’t end up getting there on time so ran her own unofficial 5k, which was her first race ever. I felt so bad!

  9. Gretchen I’m so excited and proud of you!! Congratulations on a new PDR! I definitely think you should train for the RNR DC Half in March! You’re so close to the 13.1 mile distance, you can definitely do it!

    Who makes that dress? I love it!!

    • It’s Calvin Klein 🙂 Got it for $50 wheee!

  10. Congrats on the 15K … that’s awesome! Also, I LOVE that dress … where did you get it?

    • I got it at Loehmann’s! I had never been there before but my sister introduced me to it. AMAZING deals on designer stuff!!

  11. Way to go on your race! Enjoy your stay on cloud 9… at least that’s where usually am after a race and the next day or two! Ice all the painful parts… 20 minutes every hour for quite a few hours.. also, if you have a foam roller… get to rolling! I’m so sorry for others that the planning was so terrible at that race… that is a total bummer… but I’m super happy that it all worked out for you!

  12. Congratulations!! Way to rock the 15k! And I totally agree – amazing dress for a fun night to celebrate your great accomplishment!

  13. Congrats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Congratulations! You are deservedly proud — what an awesome accomplishment! Hope you got the chance to rest today and just have a lazy Sunday since you clearly kicked butt yesterday. 🙂

  15. Congrats on your race, you did awesome! Also, that dress is gorgeous on you 🙂 Hope you had fun at your holiday party!

  16. So happy for you!! Congratulations on the achievement.

  17. Congratulations, Gretchen!! Savor that post-race feeling for as long as you can- it’s the BEST! I was wondering about the chocolate at the end… how it would impact the stomach. I’m thinking it would make me puke. 🙂
    I had a group of friend that I teach with at the gym that did the race, and they were telling me horrible things about the poor organization and late start time… and that they spent 2 hours to move 4 miles in the car…
    but hopefully all of the bad stuff was outweighed by the feeling of accomplishment at the end!
    Thanks for sharing all of the details!!

  18. Congratulations! That was one heck of a course. The uphill finish was horrible, but I did appreciate the downhill portion going in to National Harbor. We parked at Rosecroft Raceway also and had no problems; a few of my friends who paid to park at NH were stuck in traffic forever. The worst part was waiting in the freezing temps; it took 3.5 miles for my feet to thaw out. Even though I love chocolate, I do not like it after a race, so I passed on the fondue, but I did eat the banana and pretzel rod.

    Congrats again on a great race!

  19. Mazel tov on your race! i heard all about the horror stories. I’m glad your experience wasn’t too bad though. Where did you get that dress? I love it!

    • I got it at Loehmann’s — it’s CK. 🙂

  20. Go Gretchen! You’re such an inspiration!

  21. good job, And lady in bottom left corner… her face is priceless! hahahahahaha

  22. Congratulations, Gretchen!! That is a huge accomplishment! I had a similar toes-going-numb experience last month during the Richmond Half Marathon (which, by the way, is an AWESOME event… you know, if you feel like traveling south… they also have an 8k!) I literally could not feel my feet for the first two miles of the race, and I was running way faster than I’d planned while having this mental debate of, “I feel good… but I only feel good because I can’t feel anything!” And then when my feet did start thawing out, and that lovely tingling feeling set in, I started freaking out that it was my sock bunched up under my foot. Should I stop and check/fix it? Should I keep going and hope it’s just my foot regaining feeling? What if I don’t check and get a blister!? Thankfully, I kept going, and by mile 5 all had been resolved 🙂

  23. Congrats, Gretch! You crushed it! YOU are so inspiring to me girl! I need to channel some of your mojo!

  24. Congrats on finishing the race so strong (even though you always look at me with murder eyes when i make you run!) i’m so proud of you- and that you were able to wear heels that evening! 🙂 love that dress.

  25. Congrats on the race!!! Super cute dress for your party!

  26. Congrats on finishing your first 15K Gretchen! I thought about you when I was standing around waiting to start!

  27. Okay, first things first: CONGRATS on your PDR! 9 miles is awesome! And it’s great that you are able to see the good things that happened on Saturday, amidst all the awful that was going on. After I finished the 5k, I looked up on the hill to see all the 15k-ers still standing there freezing and I felt so bad for them (you)! But, way to go for powering through the race!

  28. I loved your picture! I enjoyed my day for the most part (got the jacket, ran (missed most of the crowding issues because the crowd thins out at my slow pace 14mpm), finished, got chocolate), but like you, I thought it was grossly oversold. And although the chocolate totally was delicious, it messed up my stomach a teensy bit as well! Sugar shock!

    Good for you for dolling up after the race- GREAT outfit from the smile to the shoes! (I was in jammy pants and PJs by 1:30pm and spent the rest of the day resting with my feet up against a wall!) Congratulations!

    I don’t think I could EVER run a 15k. You’re just too amazing, motivated, and fabulous. You’ve accomplished so much and this is just another to jot down on a long list.

  30. Congrats! One of my friends also ran the Hot Chocolate 15K and had very similar sentiments about it. I can’t wait to run a 5K in the spring – I think the Break the Silence Ovarian Cancer @ the Reston Town Center. It was my first (and only) 5k in 2010 and was a nice starter race!


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