Latest reviews by Ian Wong

(2021)
"Virtual Hot Chocolate 15k"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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This was my 4th year running the Hot Chocolate 15k in Seattle. Since this year is virtual, there was no big hill on Aurora on my course :)

The likes - Best. Swag. Ever. For 15k participants you get a tech hoodie jackets, and these jackets seem to get better and better every year. This year's has a no-bounce chest pocket (fits iPhone 12), zippered hand pockets, and a detachable hood. The gear bag also came with hot coco packets, a few pieces of milk chocolates, and the medal and bib. One odd thing was there were no pins for the bib. The gear bag arrived 3 days prior to the race, that was some good logistics management. P.S. You don't have to wait until after the race to drink the hot coco :)

The dislikes - As much as the race organizers spent the effort to host live Facebook sessions throughout race day, it wasn't something I had energy for after racing hard for 9.3 miles. The race result page also did not have any sort of time/distance validation, so it's an honor system and it makes it hard to compare time results with others. Also, this virtual race experience would probably be more enjoyable to run with a friend or two (socially distanced of course).

Overall, I recommend running with Hot Chocolate events for virtual or in-person, they spend good effort to make sure us virtual racers have a genuine, fun, and rewarding experience.

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(2020)
"Last race before COVID hits"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

If you are looking for a good time, a challenging course with good view of Seattle, then add this race to your list. This was my third year running this race and I cannot wait to go back again.

The start line is by Seattle Center near the Space Needle. Parking can be challenging so plan to arrive early. This is a great pre-race area because of its indoor seating so you don’t have to wait in the high-30s low-40s March weather in the Pacific Northwest. There is also actual bathrooms in the Armory building as well as porta-potties in the general area. All participants have preassigned corrals. The 5k-ers start quite a bit earlier than 15k-ers. In my experience the start times are pretty on point.

The first 2 miles have some gentle rollers, not enough to tire your legs out but do hold back for the later climbs. Mile 3-4 are the infamous I-99 bridge climbs, it starts off with a small down then uphill through the bridge, once the bridge ends the course takes you up to a never-ending climb on I-99 (or so it seemed!). Mile 4-5 takes you to Greenlake with a gentle down slope. Then you take a U-turn and climb right back up to the top, make your way through the bridge through mile 6-7. The last 2-ish miles are all downhill, so if you still have gas in the tank now it’s a good time to go full throttle!

Post-race area is a short walk from the finish line. This is where you reward yourself with hot chocolate, marshmallow, banana and various snacks.

P.S. All 15k participants receive a very nice tech jacket

Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/3146067904

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(2019)
"BQ seeker must-run"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Want to run a fast time with other serious runners? CIM is the perfect race. This is a net-downhill course with about 300ft drop (around 700ft climb total). Even though other reviews have warned me that the first 16 miles have many rolling hills, I honestly did not think they were noticeable. Just think of it this way - for every hill you climb, there are 2x downhills to make up time. My goal at the race is to run sub-3hr, which is the BQ for my age group.

I arrived Sacramento 2 days prior to the race and stayed with friends in a suburban neighborhood. On the trip there, it seemed like all the fast runners were on the same flight showing off their Boston gears. The expo was organized, picked up bib and walked around for a bit, lots of shopping opportunities there. Although there didn’t seem to be much swag/free samples.

Come race day morning, the weather was just perfect, about low 40s at start time. My friends dropped me off at one of the shuttle pickup stops in Downtown Sacramento (you must ride the shuttle to start line per protocol). Took me 15 minutes to find the right bus, however. There were buses for special programs by SRA that we weren’t allow to take. Once we got on the right bus, it’s a 30 min ride to Folsom, CA. Even though the driver was blasting feel-good music, the whole bus was filled with nervous energy and quietness, quite eerie. We arrived in Folsom about 1.5 hr prior to start line. YOU ARE ALLOWED to stay on the bus if you wish, so you don’t have to wait in the cold. I got off the bus around 45mins prior to start to stretch/warmup/use the bathroom. Speaking of bathrooms, there were blocks and blocks of porta-potties, I have never seen anything like this. Minutes before the start time, you will find some male runners hop over the fence to relieve themselves then hop back on, quite embarrassing to see but you gotta do what you gotta do *shrug* It’s been almost a year since the race, I can’t give precise picture of the course but I will try my best.

You run on a local highway through a few small towns with some gentle rolling hills. Many locals came out to cheer us, it was quite amazing to see. My goal pace was avg 6:51/mi, I aimed to run conservatively in the start, mostly in the 6:55-58/mi range. Most runners will go fast from the get go to “bank time”, do not go with them, stick to your plan and run your own race. I crossed 13.1 mark at around 1:31, so I needed to pick up the pace to meet my goal. Aid/water station every 2 miles or so, and they provide food/gel at every other station. I brought my own gels but ended up grabbing one from the race in late race for extra calories. Make sure you practice with same brand of drinks and gels during your training, they post what the serve on the website.

From mile 16 on this is where the elevation flattened out. There was a small ramp onto a bridge (maybe mile 20??), otherwise the rest was just flat with few 90 degree turns. You will also see a sea of early fast runners hitting the wall at this point. (My rank went from 1609th at 5k mark to 1050th at finish. I’ll say it again - don’t get too excited at the start by other runners and go out too fast). The last 4 miles were in Downtown Sacramento, straight shot to the capital building. Men and women have separate finish lines so do make sure you take the correct turn. I crossed the finish line at 2:59:43, met my goal to run a sub-3 marathon. I found my spouse in the crowd, we hugged, I cried. Although this time likely won’t get me into the Boston Marathon, I would go back to CIM and try again.

Other runners on IG mentioned the weather got warm in the late AM, so do plan to bring extra clothing with you as needed as start time temperature is cool. It also rained lightly in the early miles.

Of the 3 marathons I’ve run over the years, CIM hands down was the best.

Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/2920356602

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(2019)
"There will be hills"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was the second time I’ve run this race. The expo is an absolute extravaganza, Rock n Roll rented out the ground level exhibition center of a stadium to host the expo. Plenty of swags, samples, and shopping. The course changes from year to year. So by time you run this race, this may or may not apply.

The start staging area is at the Seattle Center, which I am a big fan of. You can find more details about the start area in my other review: https://www.bibrave.com/races/allstate-hot-chocolate-seattle-reviews/14581

In the first 6 miles were through many gentle rolling hills, we went through Belltown and Capitol Hill, hopped on I-5 express way at some point, made our way to University District. Mile 6-10 were on Burke-Gilman Trail, which was flat. After mile 11 marker, we quickly hit a big hill on Queen Anne, I think that was about 300ft gain in less than a mile. My friends came out to cheer on at top of the hill, I yelled “Everything hurts!”, they chuckled. Then the full and half marathoners break off soon after, I saw another friend who just ran a fast 13.1 PR at the split, it was quite uplifting.

Mile 14-18 was a big climb on Aurora I-99 (Details in my other review: https://www.bibrave.com/races/allstate-hot-chocolate-seattle-reviews/14581)

Mile 18-21 took us around Greenlake, which was flat, but my quads were starting to feel heavy from the early hills. Once we entered Woodland park with many squiggly sharp turns, my legs started to cramp. At this point I’ve “hit the wall” and fell behind on goal pace. Mile 24-25 were I-99 in reverse, so mostly downhill with some uphill. Mile 25-26.2 were all downhill. There were many stop and go in the last few miles for me. My goal time was 3:10, ended up running 3:24.

If you plan to run Rock n Roll Seattle, be sure to train for hills.

Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/2437122150

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