As you might have seen from other race reports in the greater DC blogosphere, the 1st annual Run for Hot Chocolate 15k/5k was a total disaster. I was unaware of any problems that Ram Racing had been having leading up to the event, but if you're interested in more than this report please check out Cris's blog here. From the looks of the race's Facebook page, my experience was not unique. It was hands down the worst race experience I have had this year, and probably ever.
The morning started at 5 am, despite a scheduled race start of 8 am. I was staying over at Duyen's house, my training partner from MCM. We were out the door around 5:30 to head over to her sister's house to pick up Lili and her daughter. Why were we up so early? Apparently access to parking would be restricted by 6:30 because of road closures related to the race course. Doesn't seem quite logical, now does it? Strike 1.
We make it to 90% of the way to the race start without incident, until we approach the highway offramp for National Harbor where the race was being held. Total gridlock. No one was moving. I actually fell asleep in the car as we waited to move. Over an hour later, we approached what we thought was the parking area next to the start line that we'd paid an extra $10 to access. No such luck. Apparently that had filled up almost immediately so we were directed to one of several mall garages a mile from the start line. Strike 2.
By the time the car was parked and we were walking to the start line, it was well after 8 am. The clusterfuck of an entrance had not going unnoticed by the race organizers, as they chose to delay the start of both races. The 5k had just started and was coincidentally being run along the bike path bordering the harbor, also known as the only walking route to the start line. It was choked with runners forced to practically stop dead in their tracks because the path was so damn narrow even without hoards of late runners trying to reach the start line. Strike 3.
Once we finally reached the general area of the start line for the 15k we found that it overstuffed with angry runners. We couldn't even reach the street itself, much less our designated corrals, and were forced to stand in the grass behind the metal gates on the side of road. The start line itself wasn't even in site. Was registration capped? No clue, but last I knew the 15k had not sold out, meaning it could have been even worse. The race finally started well after 9 am, over an hour after it was supposed to. Did I mention it was about 30 degrees outside as well? We were all so cold and so frustrated that the idea of bagging the race sounded perfect, were it not for the fact that we couldn't leave because the parking garage was strategically placed on the course.
Once the race began we spent another ten minutes waiting for each corral to clear before they would move the runners stranded on the sidewalks onto the actual road. Unfortunately, my race experience continued to go downhill. The extra time cramped in a car, the cold temperatures, and the uncertainty surrounding the start time meant that I was neither stretched nor warmed up. This was only my fourth run since MCM and despite my 5k performance the week before I was not feeling confident at all. Everything felt stiff and sore. I hoped that taking the first couple of miles easy would help me loosen up but I couldn't have been more wrong.
I kept getting tighter with every step and pain began to set in. The course was clogged with runners to begin with so going at a slow pace was beyond my control. The next disappointment was literally around the corner. As we approached the first mile marker the course continued to move away from the harbor and onto a six lane divided highway. I then spent the next four miles running next to honking cars and inhaling copious amounts of exhaust. The sight of a hill was almost a relief as it the turn onto it meant a turn off of the disgusting highway.
The subsequent miles were unremarkable as the course attempted to make its way back towards the scenic harbor. I was in a fair amount of pain and felt like it was the last six miles of the marathon all over again. After looping us onto a lovely construction site with a giant mound of dirt near the water, the course finally dropped the runners onto the path bordering the harbor. Better late than never, somewhere around mile 8. The pack of runners never seemed to thin out and I was constantly passing and being passed. I never found a comfortable pace. The last bit of the course had us climbing a hill back towards the start line but veering left before reaching the top.
If ever I wanted to walk, it was that moment. I have strong feelings about walking in races and I wasn't about to start then, although the desire to do so was quite strong. From the beginning I just wanted the race to be over. Technically it was a new distance and therefore an automatic PR but I couldn't give a shit. I was already in such a negative mindset before the start that I didn't bother using my watch. I just knew it was going to be a train wreck. I told myself not to check the results once posted either, but caved. As I suspected, it was a huge disappointment. Once we crossed the finish line I wanted nothing more than to go home.
No amount of Ghirardelli hot chocolate or fondue was going to make me feel better. Had I not depended on someone else for a ride home, I would have left. The actual post-race festival was located at the top of the hill near the start line, an additional uphill hike from the finish line and in the opposite direction of the parking. Yes, the hot chocolate was hot and the fondue tasted like fondue. Until the air temperature caused it to harden before I could finish dipping my treats into it. Figures.
I could hardly walk and longed for my bed. Unfortunately I'd already planned out the rest of my day, assuming that I would have been home much earlier and in a completely different mood. A quick shower later, I was back out the door to brave the crowds at the shopping mall and grocery store. The holidays wait for no one. It really was a bad experience from beginning to end. I don't think a better run on the course would have made much of a difference. I could have won the damn thing and the major mistakes made by the organizers still would have outshined anything else. Even if the race were held in another location next year, I doubt I would do it again.
We did receive a jacket/windbreaker as part of the race packet, which I haven't even bothered to take out of the bag. I heard from other runners, however, that the quality leaves much to be desired and the sizing was dreadfully off. I suppose I'll find out for myself soon enough. Not knowing enough about the nuts and bolts of race organization, I am not sure where to assign blame for the multiple failures. I decided not to complain in any official capacity as it appears from the race's Facebook page that hundreds of other runners have that cornered. The only thing I learned from the experience is that I've taken more than my fair share of time off since the marathon and it is time I got back into a regular routine. It was arrogant of me to think I could just go out and throw down 15k after not having run more than 4 miles at a time in over a month. I certainly paid for it, if the pain I still have today is any indication.
Did anyone else race this weekend? I know a lot of you were going to be in Vegas for RnR and I'm so jealous! I would love to meet you all in person. I hope you had a better race experience than I did, and here's to a fresh start this week. I can't let my 2011 racing season end on such a bitter note, so I'm on the hunt for one more before the year ends. Possibly the Fairfax Four, but I'm open to suggestions.