Race Recap: Columbus Hot Chocolate 15k/5k

On November 20, about 13,000 other runners and I braved 40 mph Columbus, OH winds for the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k. This was my first 15k, and aside from the weather (which is out of the race’s control, anyway), I’d say I picked a great one. If I had to describe the race in one sentence: “Come for the flat USATF certified course; stay for the chocolate.”

The Hot Chocolate 15k/5k included elite runners as well as first-time amateur runners. This is a rarity in novelty races, and I surely consider the Hot Chocolate tour a novelty race. I mean…there’s chocolate everywhere! Chocolate a the expo, chocolate along the course, chocolate after the race…

In addition, the race benefits the Ronald McDonald house.

Here are some details. A few of my readers are on the fence about registering, so I hope this helps!

THE EXPO

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The expo was impressive! This isn’t a marathon, but the expo rivaled that of some smaller marathons or half marathons. Vendors included Nuun Hydration, The Tube, Bondi Band, Second Sole, and more. It was a little bit scattered (most larger expos have a walking path), but it was awesome to see so many vendors at a race of this size.

Packet pickup was at the start, and bags included both the bib and the participant shirt. There was not keepsake drawstring bag, and I was happy about that – I have too many to count, and I didn’t really want one.

The expo parking was convenient. The expo was held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, so it was easy to find. There were parking decks that were six dollars, and for Columbus, I think that’s pretty good.

POINT OF IMPROVEMENT: I got back to my Airbnb, and there were no safety pins in the packet! Runners expect that safety pins will be placed in the bag, or at least that expo volunteers make it a point to say “safety pins are right here” or something.

OVERALL EXPO RATING: 8/10

THE PARKING – RACE DAY MORNING

Parking on race day morning can be so disorganized and hectic. ParkMobile offered pre-paid parking for a discounted rate (it was ten dollars at the booth; eight dollars pre-pay). I prepaid mine, and I found the McConnel Garage without an issue. A lot of people pre-paid, so the lines moved quickly. My Airbnb was about 13 minutes way from the deck. Between the drive there and walking to the start, I was parked and at the start within thirty minutes. The parking attendants scanned the QR code from my phone, so there was no need to print anything and display it on the dash. Getting out was no problem.

OVERALL RACE DAY PARKING RATING: 10/10

THE START

Runners were told to get into their corrals a half hour before the start, which we did. Each corral included at least four corral marshals. All preferred corrals had pacers in them. However, the way the pacing was organized was confusing: 9:30 pacer and 9:00 pacer stood parallel. Any race I have been to with professional pacers was stacked vertically, not horizontally. It made it a little confusing and messy, but at least there were pacers.

The race began exactly at 7:30 am, and each corral in Wave 1 took off every three minutes. I was in corral B, so I cannot vouch for the time and organization beyond that – but what I saw was pretty organized. The announcer knew this stuff and helped everyone get into place.

POINT OF IMPROVEMENT: Invest in heat lamps. If you plan to come to Ohio in November, it’s necessary. Gale force winds definitely caused some people to walk away from the start line. Avoid that by either 1) getting city permission for a bonfire; or 2) lining some heat lamps along the start.

OVERALL RACE START RATING: 9/10

THE COURSE

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The course was totally flat. It’s a great course to PR on (at least the 15k is – I don’t know what the last .7 miles of the 5k look like). There were three water stops along the 15k course, and each included Nuun Hydration (yes please – so much better than gatorade) as well as water, and…of course…CHOCOLATE. While there were kids helping out, it was still organized. Every volunteer cheered!

There were plenty of law enforcement officers, and none of them seemed angry about being there.

Mile markers were placed at every mile as well as mats for splits at 5k and 10k.

POINTS OF IMPROVEMENT: It may have been the weather, but there were hardly any spectators other than volunteers at the hydration stops. It was also awkward to have one side of the street closed. I understand that it can be a hassle to block both sides of the street, but it seemed a bit dangerous only to block one side.

OVERALL COURSE RATING: 9/10

THE FINISH

The finish line was great – music, medals, and hydration. The finisher tent was not far at all, and we got an amazing finisher mug with hot chocolate, dipping chocolate, a banana, marshmallows, Rice Krispie treats, and a bag of pretzels. The race truly shined  here.

There were also professional photographers at the finish line, and they photos came out great – so they knew what they were doing.

OVERALL FINISH RATING: 10/10

THE SWAG

The race isn’t cheap. It was over 80 dollars for a 15k, but the quality of the race matches the price. We received the following:

  • Fleece zip-up hoody (it’s amazing) that actually FITS. It’s not often that races carry XS, but this one did, so I was happy.
  • The finisher mug (above)
  • The biggest medal I have ever received at the race, customized for the city
  • Free photo
  • Free finisher video

OVERALL SWAG RATING: 10/10

NAVIGATING/ACTIVITIES – COLUMBUS OHIO

One of the most important things to me is making sure there is enough to do in the area and that it’s not a total cluster as far as driving around. Columbus is a essentially a grid; it’s easy to drive in the city although it’s a HUGE city.

There were also a lot of things to do for my family. Usually, I bring my husband, two year old daughter, and six year old stepson to races. There has to be at least a few things to do! We were close to Easton for shopping, COSI which is apparently a gigantic kids museum (although we didn’t end up going), and a lot of restaurants.

Pro-tip: If you’re going to Columbus, bring a lot of money. Our lunch was 72 dollars.

OVERALL CITY LIFE & DRIVING RATING: 10/10

THE BOTTOM LINE

The race and expo were fun and well-organized. We had a great time in Columbus staying in our Airbnb (highly recommended over hotels). Sometimes, novelty races can be a little “off,” as in not properly timed or a short course. This one is USATF certified, and it’s definitely timed professionally (thanks, Chronotrack!) with live runner updates.

In other words, if this race is coming anywhere near you – DO IT!

OVERALL EXPERIENCE/RACE RATING: 9/10

 

 

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