- 3 miles/5K, 6 miles/10K, 9 miles/15K, Virtual Race
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First off, I've run the Hot Chocolate 15k twice before in Phoenix/Scottsdale, so I'm familiar with the Hot Chocolate Brand. While it is a theme race, I don't truly feel like it's super themed. There were 2 girls dressed as Umpa Lumpa's but I didn't see anyone else in costume.
Race Entry - I received my entry through Bibrave so I didn't have to pay for it but it is an expensive race. The price for the 15k starts at $54 and then goes up to $74. They don't do any discounts that I could find, but they do give out an extra something if you use a code. This year the code was for a Hot Chocolate head wrap. I'm not sure why but I didn't get one in my packet, I was a little disappointed. Another year I got a tech hat.
Goodie Bag - One of the things that Hot Chocolate is know for is there awesome goodie bag. The first year I ran this race, I got a nice light jacket, then super nice zippered hoodie that I actually where a lot. This year we got nice and relatively thick zip up sweat shirts. The women's version had a light blue accent color and the men's an orange accent. Since I registered early enough, I was able to get mine with the location embroidered on. Unfortunately the zipper is broken so it doesn't close properly but it is a really nice jacket. I got a medium because I know they tend to run short in arms. I could probably do a small for the body but because I have long arms, I'd rather have a slightly bigger size. They also give you a nice reusable drawstring backpack gear bag. This year it was blue to match the jacket, but I've also got them in pick & purple.
Expo: Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the expo because I flew back into town on Friay and it closed at 6pm. And I was running a 50k on Saturday and didn't get back to town in time to get there. They did have an option to have your packet mailed to you, I believe it was $20, but I missed it because we received the times for the expo after the mailing cut-off. Fortunately one of the other BibRave Pros was able to pick it up for me.
Parking: Race Day parking in Downtown San Diego is always a little bit stressful. Since the race was near Petco Park, they had a few lots available for runners to park in. They did have on website that it would cost $15 cash so fortunately I saw that. My husband ended up parking on Harbor Drive and had a short walk over. There was barely any traffic over there.
Traffic: While this isn't a huge race, it is run downtown which means it is going to take a bit to navigate. The police were doing a great job but I'd recommend leaving a little extra time.
Starting area: The start/finish are essentially in the same spot - separated by one street. There were plenty of port-a-potties and the bag check was well manned. There was a merchandise tent, sponsor booths and the post race chocolate was in a separate spot so there was no confusion.
Corrals: Hot Chocolate has a corral system, which I agree with. I think though that they might have had some issues with putting people in the correct corrals. When I originally got my corral letter I was in Corral I, but somehow I was moved up to Corral H (the first corral) I stayed in my original corral just because I wasn't sure how my legs were going to like these hills after the 50k. But in looking at the website, it looks like the preferred (front) corrals were given to those who have run 11:30 avg pace or under in a previous RAM racing event. And since I ran a 1:24 in 2014 last time that put me up higher in the corrals I guess.
Sweet Stations: Hot Chocolate has unique sweet stations along the course. These are places were you can get a little sweet boost of semi sweet chocolate chips, strawberry marshmallows, M&Ms or chocolate marshmallows.
Aid Stations: There were 4 aid stations on the 15k course. They all had Nuun and water and were very well staffed and stocked. All the volunteers were great, cheering everyone on.
Pacers: Beast Pacing did the pacing for this race. I'm a little confused as to how the pacers were set up because I saw everything from 9:00min miles to 11:30min miles in my corral. During the race around mile 6 a guy with a 9min mile stick ran past me and at mile 7 I ran past a girl with a 11:00min mile stick. I ran a 10:17 avg pace so I should have been significantly behind the 9 min guy and quite a bit in front of the 11 min girl.
If you want to run with a pacer, I'd definitely look into it at the expo to make sure you are in the right place.
Course: The course itself is very hilly and definitely challenging. It went through downtown, near Balboa Park and on some of the same roads as the Rock n Roll Half Marathon. I've run a good portion of the course before so while I wasn't excited about the hills, I was familiar with them. I actually really liked the course, I didn't feel like there were any moments where I was disappointed. The finish was nice because it was pretty much all down hill from mile 8 on.
Finish line: Nothing spectacular but there were a few photographers out there. I did a little leap over the finish line, but there were a few people ahead of me so I don't know if they got it or not.
Photos: One of the things that Hot Chocolate does is offer free race photos. However I didn't see any photographers until the last 1/2 mile of the race so I would have been a lot more disappointed if my husband hadn't been running around getting photos of me.
Medals: The Hot Chocolate Medals are very nice. The first year I ran this race they didn't have a medal which I think was really disappointing considering the cost. They now do a unique medal for each city and this year for San Diego our chocolate bar was covered in roses with the Kissing Solider statue on it. I like it.
Finish line food: Hot Chocolate is known for it's sweet treats at the end of the race. They gave us Blue bowls this year with a cup of hot chocolate, a small rice krispie treat, pirouline cookies, pretzels and a banana with chocolate dipping sauce. It's yummy but not a ton of food. We also got a bottle of water and they had cups of Nuun at the finish.
All in all it was a surprisingly fun race. I actually like the course a lot better than the Phoenix/Scottsdale version and I'd definitely recommend it although I would also recommend signing up early.
You can see my personal recap of this race on my blog at http://runny-legs.com/2016/03/race-recap-hot-chocolate-15k-san-diego/. And my review of the 2014 Phoenix/Scottsdale version here. http://runny-legs.com/2014/12/race-recap-hot-chocolate-15k5k-phoenix/