Race Review: Hot Chocolate 15k/5k (Chicago)

Race Review: Hot Chocolate 15k/5k (Chicago)

I ran the Hot Chocolate 15k in Chicago last Sunday. It was awesome! There was also a 5k and between both events there were over 32,000 finishers making it one of Chicago’s biggest races. Sponsored by Allstate, Hot Chocolate has become one of those kind of iconic races that everyone does. With Shamrock Shuffle which opens the Chicago race season in March, it serves as as a bookend to the season in November.

Hot Chocolate Chicago is part of the bigger Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k brand that is billed as “America’s Sweetest Race.” It involves 24 races across the U.S.

This was my first year running the Chicago event (I have not done any of the others) and I will certainly be back. Aside from some logistical issues getting into our B corral it was a well run event. The congestion getting to the corral from bag check honestly could have been avoided if we had gotten there earlier. It was a 7am start though, and with temps hovering around freezing, we just didn’t want to be waiting around longer that we had to, nor did we want to get up any earlier. Our bad.

The start and finish were on Columbus Drive similar to Shamrock Shuffle and the Marathon. The course then made a left staying on Lower Wacker until the 1 mile mark when we surfaced at Garvey Street. It wound around Lake, Clark and Van Buren and onto Michigan Avenue heading south. The 5k runners split off making the left on Roosevelt heading to the finish back on Columbus. 15k runners stayed straight basically picking up the blue line and following the Marathon course in the opposite direction until 31st Street where it stayed straight to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and south to 35th Street.

It should be noted that in addition to water and Nuun, aid stations along the course also had chocolate. I passed on it in an effort to stay on pace, also knowing there was more of that – much more – expected at the finish. Some additional perks included a quality race-branded zip-up hoodie and free race photos.

Free race photos are great! I wish more races did it. This particular photo was a real keeper. I’m sure there will be never-ending creative captions for this one. Bring them on!

The course highlight for me was going over Lake Shore Drive via the bridge at W. 35th Street to the Lakefront Trail – first for me. From here the course was mostly Lakefront Trail. We stayed on the lake side of McCormick Place (I hate the service road/tunnel!), did a fly-by of Soldier Field and passed back under Lake Shore Drive at mile 9, just past the Museum Campus, heading back to the finish on Columbus. The 15k course might be the best mix of city streets and lakefront of any of the Chicago races I’ve done.



The real fun began at the finish line. There were finishers medals for both the 5k and 15k, with the 15k’s being a large replica of a chocolate bar. The post race party included, of course, hot chocolate, as well as some chocolate fondu and an assortment of fruit, pretzels and marshmallows for dipping. It was delicious! I really have to applaud the organizers for not going cheap here. The hot chocolate was really rich, not the watered down kind often served at events.

Yum! Photo Credit @flglchicago

The Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k is organized by RAM Racing and the Chicago race was included as one of their “Run this Town” series events. In addition to our finishers medal for the day, we also received another medal for completing four races in the series. The other races we did for that achievement included Cinco de Miler (early May), Soldier Field 10 (Memorial Day weekend), and the Bucktown 5k (October).

The final race in the “Run this Town” series is the North Shore Turkey Trot. We’ll be doing that one too (no additional medal for being an overachiever) and then our 2019 racing season in Chicago really comes to a close.

Do mark your calendar for next year’s Hot Chocolate – November 8, 2020. Registration is open now! Click here. You can also feel good about supporting charity partner, Make-A-Wish.

Post-race party with Giant Marshmallow Man. Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois. November 2019.
“After the Marathon” signals the end of summer

“After the Marathon” signals the end of summer

“After the marathon” became our plan for almost everything at an increasing degree over the last several weeks. We really need to stop eating out so much…after the marathon. We need to clean the house…after the marathon. I need to get back to my job search…after the marathon.

So it’s now, “after the marathon” and we’re still struggling to switch our focus to the other important things in our lives. For week one post-marathon it’s still about the marathon…recovery. That’s perfectly acceptable, but there’s no more denying that summer is over.

Monday was a holiday. I think that’s one of the things I love about the timing of the Chicago Marathon. While Memorial Day (3 weeks before the real start of summer) is an unofficial kick-off to the season, Columbus Day (3 weeks after the real end to summer) is a nice conclusion.

To be clear, I am not a fan at all of “Columbus Day” and recognize all issues in celebrating Christopher Columbus in this way, but I AM a big fan of having a holiday the 2nd Monday in October. It’s great timing for a long weekend and final hurrah down the shore, by the lake, or wherever one spends the long, warm days of summer.

If you’ve ever spent the second weekend of October at the beach, you know that’s when everything starts closing up for the winter, not Labor Day. For adults anyway, there’s still some warm days to enjoy a more quite vacation time after the kids have returned to school. I tend to hold onto summer for as long as I can.

For those of us who trained all summer, the Chicago Marathon was a celebration of all that we accomplished to get to the starting line. Monday we showed off our medals and began our recovery. Kurt and I got out for a walk Tuesday at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and last night we put in a few easy run/walk miles with our crew in Logan Square, while I began to think about the training plan for the Surf City Marathon in February.

Slowing down to enjoy the fall foliage. Chicago Botanic Gardens. Glencoe, Illinois. October 2019.

“After the marathon” means getting serious about life goals again and letting go of care-free summer days, switching out all the summer gear for winter gear. Getting caught up on laundry and housekeeping, preparing more meals at home, and for me, finding a full-time job so I can continue to pay college tuition and race entry fees, and find fulfillment beyond running.

Until that happens, I’m going to enjoy this “after the marathon” peace, the beautiful fall foliage, and use the self-esteem boost to carry me to my next achievement…in running and life.

2019 in Chicago running. The Shamrock Shuffle to Chicago Marathon. Photo credits: Micaela Bernal and Mike Calabro.
Medal Monday: Gratitude for the 2019 Chicago Marathon experience

Medal Monday: Gratitude for the 2019 Chicago Marathon experience

Well-earned. 2019 Chicago Marathon Finisher’s Medal.

Yesterday, a memory from 2015 popped into my Facebook feed: my reflection on that year’s Chicago Marathon. There were some parallels…

Then I reported that I had completed 5 marathons. 2 faster and 2 slower.  Now I’ve run 9 marathons, 4 faster and 4 slower.  My last Chicago was my first since turning 50. This was my 5th. Using age-graded calculations (like this one from Runner’s World), this could be considered my fastest (3:33:40 vs. 3:34:26 for my actual marathon PR set in New Jersey at age 48). This proves that qualifying for Boston actually gets harder as we age, not easier, as so many younger runners seem to believe. But that’s an analysis I’ll save for another day.

In the 2015 post, I also reported on the results of my fundraising effort.  This year I mobilized 36 people to raised $2,004 for Gilda’s Club Chicago. A huge thank you to everyone who gave and/or shared the link!!!

Four years ago, from back in New Jersey I declared “I love Chicago! Can guarantee it won’t take me so long to get back there (although maybe not to run another marathon).” You all know how that turned out! 

With friends from my New Jersey Club De Novo Harriers in for the Marathon at the 3Run2 Post-Marathon Dance Party. Logan Square, Chicago, Illinois. October 2019.

I also said, “I’m very happy to have shared this experience with friends, from those that shared the training miles, were running other major races this past weekend to those at dinner Saturday night, on the course with me, those I saw along the course cheering and yelling my name, and all of you in FB land that wished me well! Thank you!” The same holds true today x10. Read my other blogs from the past two weeks for more on that (What a difference a year makes and Three reasons this year’s Chicago Marathon is extra special). I don’t think I have ever been more supported on a marathon course, had more people tracking me, had such a celebratory marathon weekend overall, or had such a fun training cycle!

The major difference this year and my last Chicago Marathon is that I didn’t fall short of my goal. I didn’t really have a time goal per se once I was realistic about my readiness to BQ. I was thinking that maybe I could manage a 4:09 finish. I probably started out a little too fast, but kept my heart rate in check all of the way (except a huge spike close to my max as I passed through the 3Run2 Cheer Zone at mile 20). I did manage to reach my goals of running strong throughout and never hitting ‘the wall.” I finished in 4:15:44. 

Passing through the 3Run2 Cheer Zone at Mile 20. Chicago, Illinois. October 2019. Photo Credit: Micaela Bernal


Today I feel really good. I’m tempted to start planning for the next one, but for now I’m going to focus on gratitude. I am grateful for all of the people that supported me this past weekend and in the past weeks and months. I am especially grateful that I am simply able do this. I am grateful to be part of a sport where a women can beat the World Record and 54 year old empty-nesting mom like me can run the same course and cross the same finish line a mere 2 hours and 40 seconds later.  

I also feel pretty fortunate that I can share everything about this wonderful sport with someone I love so much. Thank you, Kurt, for being a big part of all of this!

The Gratitude Wall at the Chicago Endurance Sports Race Day Resort (perk of being a Charity Runner). Roosevelt University. Chicago, Illinois. October 2019.


Why I love my lowest paying job

Why I love my lowest paying job

Celebrating Labor Day last weekend included a lot of social media posts about jobs – the best, the worst, and the most interesting.  For my parents’ generation (they were both born in the 1920s), jobs were a necessary evil to afford a desired lifestyle, you were rewarded for hard work, and maybe only had one job for your entire full-time career. And actually liking the work you were doing wasn’t always a top prerequisite. Read more