This race was the first event of 2014 for us. We at first heard about the hot chocolate series while living in Atlanta and heard lots of good things about this series from our friends. This series is mostly a fun run type of event, incorporating live music, hot chocolate finisher mug at the finish, warm sweat shirts instead of t-shirts and comfortable race distances. Additionally, for us what makes participating in this event enticing was a combination of factors. The event falls early in enough in the year that it would help motivate us to stay in shape over the holidays. The 15K distance is just the right length to train for that doesn’t require the heavy volumes of a triathlon or half marathon. Also, the swag is not half bad.
Because we planned way ahead of time, we got the race entry fee, sweats shirt, and extra travel mug for about $65 each. For the quality of the sweatshirt you get and the race distance of 15K, I feel the price was fair. The sweatshirt really is a great quality fleece hooded sweatshirt with a thumb holes in the sleeves and a back pocket for keys or miscellaneous items. Also, the race is in San Francisco and chip timed so you really are getting your money’s worth.
I have to say, the expo was a bit of a let down. For two reasons, one it was at the Sports Basement in the Presidio. About as far away from our house as you can get for a pre-race expo without requiring an over night stay. I wish they had offered packet pick up locations in both the North and South bay areas. I am sure many of the runners came from all areas of NorCal to race in this event. The other let down was that the Sports Basement location was cluttered enough as it is, trying to stage a packet pick up and expo in those tight quarts made it a little uncomfortable.
Other than those two points, the packet pick up itself was pretty quick and easy. Ram Racing used a QR code system for looking up your race entry, which made the process smooth and fast. You simply showed the QR code that was emailed to you after the registration and the staff could scan that to help them find your race packet. They also offered hot chocolate and smores for everyone at the expo. The exhibitors were your usual fare of accessory merchants, commemorative products, sports nutrition, future races, etc. Not a lot of free swag but decent.
The lead up to the race was so so. The disappointing element was that it was much a much colder start than I imagined it would be. I spent too much time shivering and trying to stay warm to enjoy the pre-race. I think a lot of the other runners were in the same boat. Since it was cold, we stayed in the car as long as possible until the start to avoid standing around outside. My usual warm up routine was condensed and I didn’t participate in the pre-race celebrations that may have taken place. Despite all that, everyone seemed pretty friendly and were there primarily for the fun of the race and not hyper competitive. Also, the sky was clear which gave us great views all around in Golden Gate Park.
The course is pretty fast. Especially at the beginning. Above is a picture of the of elevation profile and map of the route. Running through Golden Gate Park is absolutely awesome. From the windmills, to the bison in the park, to the stretch along the coast; this was one of the most scenic races I have ever participated in. The spectators along the route were not a lot but where there were they were very supportive. The aid stations were also well stocked and well positioned. The only down side of the course is that it was an up hill finish and one that caught a lot of runners off guard as the first 7 miles are such smooth sailing. I think the finish kept many from setting PR’s but no one really hated it.
This was not the overall time and result I have trained for over the past couple of months but it was a new PR for me by about almost 3 minutes. I had trained for a sub 1 hour time but my training was derailed by a snowboarding back injury and the flu in the latter part of the year. That being said, I am pleased with my performance and think that this performance was a great way to start the year.
I set a solid two-mile pace of 12 minutes and 38 seconds at the start which I am especially proud of. I also finished 7th in my age group, 41st among all men and 49th overall. So this effort was an all around solid one. I also got to run a full race in my New Balance Minimus V20’s that I have tested out and will be posting a review for next week. The biggest thing I can work on from Sunday is my overall endurance. I faded a lot after the 10K mark and just need to use the next couple of months to get in some long runs before my next race in March.
The After Party:
Well, this party wasn’t quite what we got with the San Jose Rock n’ Roll after party. I think it was a combination of not having a live band and the weather being cold. I think a lot of people were ready to get inside after this run. The park itself did make a great venue to decompress and chat with other runners. Moreover, we went around San Francisco exploring on our own, so all in all it wasn’t a bad after race experience. I didn’t try the hot chocolate after the race but was told it was too sweet. I was glad that they had tons of water and snacks after the race. I also didn’t test out the shuttle serve that was offered up to and from the race but it looked like it was running smoothly.
All in all the race was good not great; to be fair, this was the first year the event was held in San Francisco. The course is the highlight of the event. Especially the run along the coast. Clear skies, ocean waves and open roads. If you are runner and cannot run in those conditions, you may not really like running. While I won’t make this race a must for me to participate in next year, I do recommend everyone run it at least once.
We might consider running the race itself in one of their other locations like LA or San Diego. I do hope the organizers try bringing in space heaters for the after race area and offer two separate pick up locations for the south and north bay areas. I do appreciate how quickly race results were posted and smooth corral start waves. As further incentive, below is an image of what the view running back up the coast was like on Sunday.