Latest reviews by Ryan Day

(2021)
"Even from home this race is a BLAST!"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

I LOVE the Hot Chocolate race series, and the virtual races are no different. I know it's been tough for races to pivot to a virtual experience, but Hot Chocolate does a phenomenal job trying to recreate as much of the race experience as they can for their virtual runners.

First, the swag. I think the HC series easily has some of the best swag around. Regardless of where I'm running the race, I look forward to snagging the new HC hoodie every year!

Second, the community. Even though we can't run the race in person, Hot Chocolate creates a great pre-race community through the regular newsletters and facebook group.

Third, the goodies! I love that HC sends you all the snacks and goodies to put together your very own post-race celebration. I love mixing up a big batch of the hot chocolate before I go out for my run so it's hot and ready for me as soon as I finish.

It's been a challenge to stay motivated over the last year but the Hot Chocolate series puts on a great event for runners to look forward to, AND there are so many more opportunities to participate in their other race locations via the virtual option. Find the best one for you!

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(2020)
"Running Together... Apart"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

It's been tough to stay motivated to train while in-person training is on hold so I've been so thankful for the virtual races that have popped up to keep me going. I had been chasing a 5k PR since last October and after a failed attempt earlier in the summer, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give it another shot at the America Runs 5k.

Although nothing quite beats the adrenaline rush of the start-line of any race, I really appreciated the mission of this 5k to connect runners from across the country. Especially for virtual racing, I think it's essential to have a "common goal" or mission to help motivate you. Not only was the overall messaging of the race a great motivator, but I loved that a portion of the proceeds were also being donated to Covid relief efforts.

On top of that, you've also got some sweet swag to run for. Not just the traditional race shirt and medal but I'm a HUGE fan of the hat that came with the race packet as well. Really, the only thing that could have gone better would have been if I put a little more effort into planning out my course but otherwise it was a GREAT race.

It gave me something to run for and I snagged a new 5k PR! Can't wait for the next one.

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(2019)
"The Nitty Gritty"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

What an incredible race! If you're unfamiliar with Gritty, he's got quite a personality and the race organizers did a great job capturing that personality at the event. Whether it was the pre-race ceremonies or the various obstacles and gimmicks on-course, Gritty was certainly out in full force for the 5k.

The course itself had only slight elevation at a few points but is mostly flat and you have a nice downhill push at the finish line. Great for nailing your PR (unless you get distracted by the hot dog buffet at the 3-mile mark). The course is loaded with "Gritty's distractions" as a ploy to help him win the race. Whether it be silly string gauntlets, orange fog machines, or the last-second hot dogs, runners have plenty of entertainment on course.

This being the inaugural year of the race, it was incredibly well run. The expo was just a simple packet pickup and I was in and out in under 10 minutes. The only hiccup on race day was that the race was a lot more popular I think then they were anticipating. The traffic started to back up on the road leading to the course and they had to delay the start by 30-minutes to get everyone into the parking lots.

Other than that, the race ran incredibly smoothly and it was AMAZING seeing how seriously participants took the costume challenge. The variety of homemade Gritty tributes was truly impressive.

If you're looking for a fall 5k I would highly recommend the Gritty 5k in the future. There's plenty of fun and activities for the whole family.

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(2019)
"ALL of the Chocolate!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

What an awesome race! This was my first race with the Hot Chocolate series and also my first ever 15k so it was great going in knowing I'd be snagging an automatic PR! So let's get into the details!

Pre-race, the communication from Hot Chocolate was great and they even offer you a code to share with friends to give them a discount on registration. You're also rewarded for each person you refer who ends up registering for the race which was a feature I'd never seen from other races. I'd been registered since the fall so I got plenty of updates over the last few months with tips for the race.

Travel/Expo:
This is really the main area that I think could use a little improvement as far as the race is concerned. The expo is only open until 6 pm the day before the race and for people like me who are working and traveling from out of town, that doesn't leave much of a window. Hot Chocolate does offer an option to have your race packet mailed to you but I also enjoy going to the expos in person to check out the vendors. I was able to make it and was actually really impressed with how efficiently and quickly the packet pickup process was run, but I was definitely sweating a bit trying to rush down from NY as traffic started to build. The packet came with your bib, some energy beans, and the AWESOME sweatshirts you get for participating in the race.

Race Morning:
We should have done some investigating the day before to find parking but it wasn't too much of an issue. We were staying across the river from the starting line so we just got as close to the water as we could and walked across the bridge to the start. The starting line also went a lot more smoothly than I'm used to. There were no lines at gear check and what I was even more shocked by, you only had to wait in a 2-3 person line for the porta-potties! I was also happy they staggered the starts of the 5k and 15k because I was able to see all my friends start the 5k before heading off on my warmup for the 15k.

The Course:
I love running in Philly and have learned that many of the courses include the same out-and-back loop along the boathouse row on the river. Unfortunately, this may not offer the best scenery but it's beautifully flat! Starting the race, I was towards the back of my corral so I had to navigate through the typical congestion you find on race day but nothing too crazy. I was able to find a decent pace within the first half mile or so and the crowd thinned out a lot close to a mile in. There were also plenty of aid stations on course for runners but I do wish there was a bit more clarity on what was offered. They had posted online that they would have Nuun, water, and snacks but it was a bit hard to tell until you were up close which cups had what. There was one aid station where all of the cups were Nuun cups but when I grabbed one I realized it was actually just water. I just think that separating the tables a bit and adding some additional signage would make it easier for runners passing through quickly to grab what they need and go. It was a short enough race that it wasn't really a concern but worth mentioning. Otherwise the organization couldn't have been better.

The Finish:
I've run this finish before and it's a little tough pushing up one final hill but it's great passing under the final underpass and coming out on the other side seeing the ornate art museum steps crowded with cheering runners. It's exactly what I needed to get through that final push. I was thrilled to cross the finish line and get my AWESOME chocolate bar medal and a few cups of Nuun to refuel.

Finisher's Festival:
I had built up a lot of anticipation for the finish line and I was not disappointed. The mug that every runner receives at the finish was packed with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, rice krispie treats, pretzels, banana, Honey Stinger Waffle, and marshmallow! It was a great way to refuel post-run. The weather was beautiful after the race so we took our time at the finish line enjoying the music, the photo ops, and of course, running up the famous Rocky Steps.

Results/Photos:
Within minutes of crossing the finish line, I checked my email to find my official results posted. In my first 15k I finished in 1:08:02 and snagged 18th in my age group, 105 overall out of more than 5,000! Another awesome perk is that the Hot Chocolate series offers free race photos. By the time we were back at our Airbnb I had an email with a link to all of my photos and this is one of the few races where the photos actually came out pretty good!

I would highly recommend a Hot Chocolate race to anyone who is interested, I'll definitely be looking to sign up for more in the future!

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(2019)
"Never Underestimate the Hills!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Expo:
Unfortunately, weren't able to see much of the expo because we were in a bit of a rush. The tough part about coordinating travel with a group of ten is scheduling everyone's arrival/transportation. Then once you add snow and flight delays to the mix, any pre-existing plans go out the window.

We finally made it to the expo around 5 pm but with long security lines, we didn't make it inside until around 5:30. This was the first Rock 'n' Roll race I've been to that had a security checkpoint and it didn't seem like they had quite prepared for the volume of runners. I think the snow delays also, unfortunately, caused a much larger rush later in the day.

Strategy:
I prefer to aim for negative splits when I race but I honestly wasn't sure how I was going to be feeling by the end of the race. That being said, here's a brief breakdown of my initial pacing strategy:

Miles 1-3: 9:08 pace
Miles 4-6: Work towards 9:00
Miles 7-13: 8:55 pace
Miles 14-23: 8:53 pace
Miles 24-26.2: As fast as possible

Miles 1-3:
So now that you know what my plan was, you'll see that went out the window relatively quickly. I kept an eye on my pace but I was more focussed on heart-rate and how I was feeling. Still, through the first 3 miles, I hovered around a 9:01 pace. There were so many more people running this race as opposed to my first marathon so I was content just to take in the sites and enjoy these early miles.

Miles 4-6:
I was feeling really good at this point but I knew I had a long way to go. Still, I couldn't shake the feeling of seeing what pace I might be able to accomplish if I pushed just a little harder. I noticed myself speeding up a few times but overall maintained an average of an 8:55 pace. Mile 6 also brought the first serious hill which was a bit of a reality check.

I knew there were still two more hills coming, one just past the halfway point and one around mile 22. I wanted to make sure I still had gas in the tank, especially for that final push.

Miles 7-13:
After the burning in my quads subsided from the first hill, I was still feeling really good and I thought I'd take the opportunity to put some extra time in the bank in case I slowed down later on. It helped that overall the course had a slight downhill trajectory for this chunk of the race. I was holding onto an 8:45 average pace as we passed by the finish line marking our halfway point.

Miles 14-22:
The back half of the course was one long out and back so I started preparing my mind for the dark periods ahead. The second hill was brutal but I was still able to recover quickly on the downhill. There wasn't nearly as much scenery and watching runners pass by headed towards the finish I couldn't help but focus on how long I still had left to get there.

I had expected this and had timed my playlist accordingly as my music transitioned from my "relaxing" first-half jams to something a little louder. I started to feel the soreness creep into my legs but was still able to maintain a solid pace with a little more effort.

Miles 20-22 were definitely the darkest part of my race with a lot of long straightaways and far-off turnarounds. Although the miles seemed to flow by somewhat quickly, I was conscious of every stiff step I took. I was so zoned in on moving forward, I forgot to lap my watch at mile 20 but averaged 8:47 over this chunk of the course.

Miles 23-26
The final hill almost killed me and took a long time to recover from. I'm glad I had banked a bit of extra time early. I just kept visualizing the finish line in my head and putting one foot in front of the other. Despite how my legs were feeling, I focussed on my form and maintaining control. The mile markers were passing by more quickly and I knew I was close. My pace slowed to around 8:50.

The Finish:
Coming around the final turn, I summoned everything I could to shave off any seconds I could. I knew I'd crushed my previous PR and couldn't wait to see my official time. With 30 or so yards to go, I heard my friends and family call out giving me the last burst of energy I needed to cross the finish line in 3:53:08.

There was a lot of emotion crossing the finish line but I was also immediately struck by how much better my legs were feeling compared to my last marathon. I basically fell over after my first marathon but was walking comfortably through the finish festival in DC.

I've wanted to run a Rock 'n' Roll marathon since I first ran one of their events in 2015 and Rock 'n' Roll DC did not disappoint. They had a separate "Marathon Finisher Zone" with plenty of snacks, a heated tent to get changed, massages, and BEER! I spent plenty of time their refueling and warming up while waiting for a much-needed massage.

Overall:
I'm so happy I finally crossed a Rock 'n' Roll full marathon off my list, I'll definitely be back for another. I'm not sure I'd do DC again if only because of the elevation but I've got my eye on New Orleans in 2020. I'm a huge fan of the Rock 'n' Roll series because they tend to be very well organized, they offer awesome swag, and the finish line celebrations are the BEST!

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