This was my third year running Hot Chocolate Atlanta as BibRave Pro. I, thankfully, did not run last year during the freezing monsoon so I dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, that also meant I was ineligible for the 3-year legacy award since you had to run consecutive years for that. I would have been nice if they offered legacy awards for number of times run overall, rather than consecutive but it's not big deal, just a thought. In spite of the very inconsistent weather that the Atlanta race seems to experience each year (something that race management obviously cannot control) I've found Hot Chocolate to be a very consistent production with nice touches and definite improvements since the race first started here 7 years ago. General thoughts:
1) Location location: After last year's hiatus start area change due to construction, the start/finish was back at Centennial Park. I love this location for races. It's easily accessible via public transit and has lots of surrounding paid parking garages as well for those traveling from outside the city. I do recommend driving to one of the outer MARTA stations and taking the train instead though since parking at the stations are free and the trip is $2.50 each way. I live within a few miles of the start (the course actually goes through my neighborhood) so I was able to take the bike share to the start.
In addition to access, there's also several public bathroom locations around the park, plus an abundance of port-o-potties. Once again, the number of potties this year was impressive and there were never lines, even as we walked to the start area 15 minutes before start. Honestly, not waiting for the bathroom at the start of a race automatically earns an extra star in my book.
2) Swag: the chocolate bowl and medal were the same/very similar to past years,and the jacket has improved over the years. Jacket options include black/grey or women's cut is purple (you can choose either one), with hood and thumbholes. It's a nice soft material as well, which has been a nice improvement since the early years of the race. My only complaint this year is that the zippers are pretty cheap and mine is already getting stuck. I'm not sure if I just a lemon and maybe I could have traded it out but by time I realized the issue I had already left so hopefully I can fix it. I'm taking a start off of swag for that.
3) Expo: I think the last few years the expo has been in the GWCC (?). IMO it was always too crowded and you have to walk forever to get through all the GWCC buildings. The expo this year was at the Hyatt Regency which I loved for 2 reasons: it's John Portman designed building so it's architecturally awesome, and it's right outside Peachtree Center MARTA station so it's extremely easy to get there. It's not a huge expo which, personally, I prefer, but some people may find the smaller setting to be disappointing. Overall, bib pickup is very easy, you can try on and trade jacket sizes/color if wanted, and they have just enough booths to have all of your general runner needs, i.e. shoes, snacks, extra swag, etc.
Course: It goes without saying due to the Atlanta location but, if you're not familiar with ATL know that this course has HILLS. For me the rolling hills are perfect since it's what I train on all the time but others might find it daunting. Just be prepared for some hill training and remember; for every uphill there will be a nice zoomy downhill. Aid stations come every 2 miles like clockwork and all included Nuun electrolyte drink (a HUGE plus over most races that include overly sweet/sugary Gatorade/Powerade), water, and some sweet snack (dark chocolate bits, marshmallows, candy hearts). As much as the sweets are an appropriate touch for the theme of the race, it would have been nice to have a more traditional runner snack like gu or fruit, maybe around the 6 mile mark. Generally though, fuel isn't that important for 9 miles and the Nuun is really all you need. Just a thought.
Every time I've run this race I end up with a PR which has been a nice measure of my fitness over the last 3+ years. Between the 1st and 2nd year I ran a 4+ minute PR and this year I ran another 7 minute PR over that, so I've improved by more than 10 minutes since my first Hot Chocolate 15k! Woot!
Once again, I'm really happy I had the opportunity to run this race as part of being a BibRave Pro. I guess next year I'll be back and try for sub 1:30 time! :-D