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For anyone seeking the best way to take a break from Law School finals I have found the secret. Just take a quick trip out of town to an enjoyable race to get your mind off the stress of finals. When I saw that the Hot Chocolate series was coming to St. Louis on the weekend between my two weeks of finals I thought that it would be a great release from the strain of constant studying and pressure that was bound to occur during those two weeks.
There has been an exponential growth in themed races in America. Just in the few years that I have been running there has been an explosion of race series that have themes surrounded by parties, celebrations and excitement beyond the thrill of finishing. There are races now that promote glowing paint, mud (lots of mud!), inflatables and color powder just to name a few. One of the best tasting themes of any of these races is the Hot Chocolate series that has quickly expanded to multiple races throughout America. The races start in November and run through the winter and into the early spring in cities throughout America including a very big race in Chicago each year.
This is the third year for the STL race and the previous two years the Hot Chocolate was well deserved at the end due to the weather. This year the temperature at step off was in the fifties and they announced that combining the previous two years temperature at step off would still be 20 degrees below this year's temperature.
Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race. Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.
Race Organization: 17/20
I have ran some of the best ran races in America and I love to see different approaches to putting on races. Hot Chocolate, obviously, has plenty of experience putting on races and they have perfected what is needed to run a successful race. They sent out multiple e-mails with training plans that list out what a typical training plan would include in the upcoming weeks to help runners prepare. They provided plenty of guidance on the locations of the expo, the start line, the finish celebrations. There will obviously be a difference between this race and the large marathons and it would not work well for races like this to mirror the Chicago or NYC Marathon with their promotions with the participants. Instead Hot Chocolate has developed its own unique approach that worked great for the STL race.
The expo for the Hot Chocolate race took place in the historic Union Station. Union Station is in the heart of St. Louis and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. So often people look to the Arch as the extent of the St. Louis iconic architecture without realizing that there are buildings like Union Station that should be ranked up with the Arch when people look at St. Louis.
The expo was a small expo but it served the purpose. I was able to quickly walk in, get my registration packet and look around without having to fight the crushing crowds seen at some expos. One of the best features was after picking up my packet I was able to try on the long sleeve jacket to confirm that it fit, while being able to switch it out if I need to, before leaving the expo with it. Many of the sponsors were local companies that have roots in the STL area that provide a great regional feel to the expo. This feel was a great experience since most of the runners were inevitably from the St. Louis area so advertising local companies and races would have the biggest impact.
Course/Race Experience: 16/20
The course started on Market street downtown and went towards the St. Louis University Campus before turning back towards downtown where the 5K/15K split occurred. The course then ventures past Busch Stadium before heading south towards the Budweiser Brewery before the turnaround. Around mile 7.5 or so there was a turn that began a long hill that culminated almost a mile later. The race completed with a small hill, that felt much bigger on tired legs before a gradual downhill into the finish line. The first mile was almost all uphill and the final 2 miles was a majority uphill as well completing what was a tough 15K race.
On the course there was only four water stations, at each there was water, Gatorade and a snack relating to the chocolate theme. I did not partake in the snacks, not wanting to chance my body not appreciating them, but other runners said the treats (including chocolate chips, as well as strawberry and chocolate marshmallows) were great. I understand that when the temperatures are cooler fewer runners will take water but with the temperatures as they were on race day I felt that an extra water station would have gone a long way to making the race more enjoyable. Two miles between water stations is further than what is found in other races.
Post Race: 12/20
Although the warmer temperatures created a more enjoyable pre-race environment, that same weather created a less enjoyable post-race environment. The whole theme of the race revolved around having a warm cup of hot chocolate waiting for you at the finish line to warm you up after being out on the cold course for the race. To add to the warmth it drizzled throughout the race creating a very uncomfortable setting for the post race celebration.
The hot chocolate was great and the cup shaped serving dish that held all the post race treats including more marshmallows, a banana along with dipping chocolate and the cup of hot chocolate was a great way to quickly serve all the runners allowing there to be virtually no line to get the food. Overall the post race experience would have been must better if the weather would have cooperated to optimize the experience.
The Hot Chocolate series tries to make itself stand out with the extras that it provides to runners. Beyond the post race hot chocolate the series gives every runner a nice long sleeve zip up jacket as well as a distinctive medal that features a candy bar with a bite out of it with a unique picture representing the city that the race takes place in. These are some of the best extras that are provided for free from any race that I have ran in. The jacket is something that I will wear regularly in the future. The medal features the arch and city skyline and is one of the most unique medals I have earned.
MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 76/100
This was a fun race that I would definitely look to do again in the future. In fact I will look to do some of the larger Hot Chocolate races to see how they compare. Specifically I would love to do the Chicago race that I have heard from friends is one of the most fun race in the second city. I would recommend this race, and the series to every runner that I know!