Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15K Race Recap 2016

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For the second year in a row, I ran the Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15K in early April. Like last year, a strong wind blows, but this year adds the pleasant addition of on and off rain, shifting from drizzle to a light pour periodically throughout the morning. Our friends John and Becca now live right down the street from the start line, but in our infinite wisdom, we decide to drive down the morning of the race. This means waking up at 4:00am and a two hour drive down to Philly in the dark and drizzle. I don’t get a great night’s sleep when our new neighbors decide to blast NPR from their jacuzzi at 10:00. Luckily Hershey’s snoring largely drowns it out. Still, 4:00am arrives early.

Hanging Out

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The drive down is not terrible thanks to pretty much no other cars on the road and a liberal use of cruise control. It’s a good thing I don’t have a Tesla yet because with the autopilot I would likely fall asleep while driving. A big coffee and breakfast sandwich from a Quick Check on the way down help wake me up. The sun begins to rise just as we arrive onto the beautiful overpass surveying the city. Thankfully with the rain and wind, the temperature itself has not plummeted and it remains in the high 50s through the drive in. As the sun comes up, it even increases, just hitting 60.

Beside pretty exceptional organization for a small race, the Hot Chocolate run excels on race day atmosphere and swag. Rather than a shirt, participants receive a pretty nice fleece with the race logo. This year because we signed up early, we even get a customized embroidered skyline of Philadelphia on ours. As a “chocolate” run, there is of course also chocolate, both along the route at the water stops and at the end.

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The race includes both a 5k and 15k, a fairly odd distance for races, but one I really enjoy. I find the 9.3 miles just long enough to get a good rhythm going, but short enough to power through without holding a reserve. The 5k begins first and Gen and John head off for it. We even get to see them after turning the first corner and heading down onto the river side road that seems to be involved in every race Philadelphia offers.

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It is not an incredibly competitive race, being aimed more at the fun crowd than others, so my estimated pace of 8:30 / mile puts me in the first coral. Yikes. It’s a little too much pressure, though I do appreciate the lack of a crowd to fight through at the beginning, so I move back a coral to start with Becca. After the anthem and a failed air horn signal, we head off under a chocolate colored arch with inflatable marshmallows. Yes, it is that kind of race. Oddly very few participants are in costume.

Down the Street

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I end up fighting through a bit of a crowd for the first mile, but far less than any other races recently. I seem to be getting quite easily irritated by this lately, so do my best to shrug it off. All things considered there isn’t much jostling. The first mile heads downtown into the city similar to the marathon course, but turns back before reaching most of the sites. Instead, we head back toward the museum and its steps of Rocky fame. After what feels like the 20th race past here, it still inspires a bit as one runs toward it. Less inspiring is the river road that I am beginning to memorize every step of. Thankfully I don’t get any marathon flashbacks as the other side was the site of my mile 20 breakdown. Thanks to the perfect temperature, wind that has died down to a nice breeze, and a cooling mist of drizzle, I am flying without any issue. I get a little hungry later in the race, but suffer no ill effects.

I reach the 5k mark and feel great, so add a little speed. As I pass the historic stables and cottage along the river, I think about the inspirational Ben Franklin, and then realize he was a tubby fatty who never ran a day in his life. He may have brokered an alliance with France and built the first public fire department, but he never got a finisher’s medal from a marathon. Take that Ben! At least George Washington and Thomas Jefferson brewed beer.

The Same Old Thing

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At mile four I encounter the first strawberry marshmallows at a water stop. I am tempted, but the idea of trying to run, breathe, and chew a marshmallow at the same time seems like some sort of contrived test, and I decide not to attempt it. The idea always seems nicer before the running starts. Later on I encounter chocolate chips, but don’t take one because they aren’t dark chocolate. My hipster transformation is nearly complete. Next year I will turn them down because they aren’t fair trade certified.

After mile five and several overpasses that provide a little reprieve from the intensifying rain, the course turns around back to finish where it all began. It’s always cool to see the front runners coming running back toward you and I realize I’m not terribly far from the front. Granted these guys are running about twice as fast as me, but I’ll take the position. Running back, I see the last runner on the course just managing to keep a pace in front of the trucks which are cleaning up the course. I find this motivating and shout that they are way ahead of everyone who didn’t start and get a smile. Maybe I’m becoming friendly in my old age. Then I yell at someone for spitting without looking behind them. So maybe not.

Coming back to the waterfront and what appears to be the Acropolis of Athens below the museum on the water but is really just an expensive restaurant, I ponder the enormous birds perched on logs in the river and imagine they are pterodactyls. When one scoops up Fred Flintstone, I realize I am asleep on my feet and increase the pace to wake up. The course of course has to end with an uphill climb up a ramp in front of the museum. I do my best tape-bursting lean in at the finish line and realize the tape is missing. I just manage to hang on without falling. My sub 8:00 / mile time is good enough for a 15k PR and is my second fastest race pace after the Newark 5k where I ran like a greased pig.

We Did Last Week

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At the finish, I am rewarded with an exceptionally large medal and my chocolate bowl. Though it isn’t actually a bowl made of chocolate, it does contain a nice steaming cup of hot chocolate which is perfect to warm up on this dreary day. There’s also a nice pouring of melted chocolate fondue and marshmallow, banana, pretzels, and rice crispy treat to dunk in it. Due to the wind I end up wearing half of it, but due to the rain and chilly air, it’s freezes into a nice chunk which peels right off and into my mouth. Perfection!

Not a Thing To Do

The after party at John and Becca’s involves giving a cat a shower (not a euphemism) then watching Fixer Upper on HGTV while assembling new furniture. As a result of my IKEA prowess, we assemble a coffee table, wine rack, end table, and bookshelf in under an hour. I assume each is still standing.

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But Talk To You

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On the way home, we pass Yard’s Brewing and decide to stop in for some corporate espionage in preparation for my brewery. We enjoy the saisson which they have as samples when coming in (pretty generous samples) as well as the small batch flight and the revolutionary flight which has beers inspired by the recipes of Washington and Jefferson (no Franklin of course). We then take the tour where I correct the guide on several pedantic issues now that I’m a brewmaster, and are treated to two additional samples of the beer. The only price for all of this is having to watch the Flyers win a game and likely make the playoffs, but all the beer almost makes it worthwhile.

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Filled with chocolate and ales of days gone by, we head home. Hershey is upset that we bring no chocolate for him. If only he’d run, perhaps he could have some. Otherwise it goes straight to his hips. Like Ben Franklin.