I'll be completely honest, I'm not a huge fan of for-profit "gimmicky" races. The few that I've done in the past have felt overpriced and underwhelming. I knew a lot of people running Hot Chocolate this year so I went in with an open mind and was happily surprised. Overall, this is a very well managed event (Ram Racing does a great job) and they did a great job supporting all types of runners, in spite of some weather related difficulties this year. I will definitely run this race again.
- Communication: As soon as I registered I received about 1 email a week with very clear, helpful information such as training plans (nice bonus!), how to apply for priority waves, race day travel info, etc. As the event got closer the frequency of emails increased but it never felt like spam. Also, when weather created difficulties with the expo and changes on race morning, we received very timely communication regarding these changes.
-Swag: of course the Hot Chocolate jacket is a favorite every year. I really liked the material and color this year. Also, in the past I've heard sizing was an issue but this year everything was true to size. Also, at the expo they had a swag try on/swap area where you could try on different sizes before opening your swag bag. My only complaint is that I wish the jacket had thumbholes.
-Aid Stations: really nice volunteers who were out in the below freezing temps. I was impressed that they kept the aid stations pretty clear without ice buildup. I was extremely impressed that they had Nuun on the course instead of the typical sugary sports drink. I consider this very classy. They also had M&M's and marshmallows at the aid stations of course, but I saved those for closer to the end. Most races of this length don't have snacks on course (it's really not necessary) but considering the theme of the event I thought this was a nice tough.
-Course: I love running through different ATL neighborhoods
-Medal: I don't race for medals but if you do then you'll definitely like this medal (only for the 15k). It's shaped like chocolate bar and is city specific. I did enjoy getting something a little different from the norm.
-Chocolate bowl: It was freezing but my hot chocolate was still hot. #Win
-FREE RACE PHOTOS! No more $20 for a crappy digital photo.
-Expo: I'll say this is more of a disappointment then a con. Due to impending weather A LOT of people tried to go to expo early on Friday. There was an around-the-block line just to get in the expo hall. However, this was to mitigate the crowd inside the expo hall and I felt it was very well managed and a good plan given the situation. My disappointment stems from the fact that the expo was surprisingly small considering the size of the event; less than a dozen vendors. However, it was well organized and all the volunteers were very patient and helpful.
-Parking/access: Again, this is less of a con and more of a "plan accordingly." I did not buy a parking pass because I planned to take MARTA. When it was clear that race morning was going to be below freezing I had second thoughts on standing outside for an hour and tried to get a parking pass. It was not clear how to buy one online though after you already registered, and even once buying online you had to pick it up at the expo. The line to buy/pickup parking passes at the expo was very long and I had already waited on line to get inside the expo in the first place. Luckily my friend dropped me off at the start line about 30 minutes prior to start and I took MARTA back to my car after the race. I did hear that parking race morning was backed up, they re-directed a lot of people, and they weren't even checking parking passes. There should be a way to buy and print your parking pass online to avoid expo lines.
-Course: I actually really liked the course, as stated above, but beware that it's a very hilly course. Train accordingly and love those hills!