Monday, November 4, 2013

Hot Chocolate Race Report and Learning How to Race

This past weekend, I took part in the Hot Chocolate Chicago 15K.  I love this race for a few reasons:

1. I don't often get to do races with very large fields, so I think that it is fun to compete against 30000+ people in a race setting.

2. You get the most delicious hot chocolate and chocolate fondue after the event.
3.  For two years in a row, I have been able to be within 15 feet of Jim Cornelison while he sings tha National Anthem(why was I one of the only ones cheering the entire time?  Just because we are not at a Hawks game doesn't mean that we have to be quiet while he sings.  We are just minutes away from the Madhouse on Madison.  I digress.)

This dude is legit.

Anyways on to the race.  Going into this race, I had very little expectations or goals for time.  For one, after hiring a new coach, I had not run above Zone 2 for about a month which is about 6:20 per mile at the fastest for me.  Most days were actually much slower.  Also, I had biked 30 miles and ran about 6 on Saturday, so I did not know how my legs would respond.


I woke up at 5:00am(with an extra hour of sleep, Daylight Savings Rules!!!).  I ate a Snickers Marathon bar and a Quest Chocolate Brownie bar(if I ever decide to try to get sponsors, this will be the first company I reach out to.  If I bought stock in them, I think I would contribute to about 1/3 of their profits.)

I got to the race at 6:00am, met with my friend who had grabbed my packet for me, and dropped off my gear.  The only criticism about this race that I have is that warming up is all but pointless.  You have to stand still in a Corral for at least 15 minutes leading up to the start.  Still, I got a solid 15 minute warm up with some pickups before entering the Corral that I was in.  Was able to get as close as possible to Hear Jim sing and then saw him on TV later doing the same rendition during the Hawks game.

First 5K

The first mile of any race is always hectic.  I feel that I have always done a decent job of sticking to my own plan and letting the runners that are going to go out too hard do just that.  There are always people in races that just want to win the first mile.  I am not one of those.  I would rather be more comfortable the first few miles and gradually work myself into the pain that is ultimately going to come. 

The first mile was fast and I would love to tell you splits, but we ran under bridges which let my Garmin believe that I actually just disappeared for a half mile before magically reappearing down the road...

I quickly found a group of two other guys who seemed to be running around the same pace I wanted to go and actually heard one of them say his goal pace for the race to the other guy.  They were both built more like cross runners than me and the pace was a bit quicker than I thought my body was capable of after the workouts yesterday and my current perception of my fitness, but I also thought, "If I can keep with these guys, I will be really happy by the end of the race."  I ultimately decided to go with them which led to a 5K split of just over 18:00. 

Second 5K

The middle third of every race is always the worst for me.  This is the part of the race where all the inner demons and questions enter your mind.  My questions typically center around the topics of:

Why am I doing this?

Do I actually like running?

Am I capable of holding this pace?

Why are we still running against the wind?

Am I making up this wind?

Where is a flag or a tree so that I can answer that last question?

Are my legs tired because I am running as fast as I can or because I worked out too much yesterday?

Did we really only just hit mile 4?

Why does my breathing sound so much heavier than those other two guys?

Did either of those other guys have a few beers with their dad last night before getting to bed at a probably too late time?

Why am I still doing this?

Those are just some of the many thoughts that I experience during this part of the race.  However, I have been doing some good reading lately about how to get through these dark times in races.  One of these articles came from Chris McCormack, "Embrace the Suck."  He talks about when these dark times in the race occur for him, how he pushes through.  If it works for a 2 time Ironman World Champ, it may have some merit.  One of the things that he says that I like to do is run through a checklist.

He states that he knows that it is going to come at some point and is ready for it with his checklist, "Rhythm: I concentrate on my breathing. Is that under control? I find starting with breathing is soothing. Next, nutrition: “How do I feel? Is my blood sugar down? Let’s take a gel and boost those levels. Check!” If I am running I will focus then on my stride pattern and my stride frequency. I count my steps and find my run rhythm again. When I feel like I have it, I tell myself such. “That’s great, there it is. Check!” You run down the list, and by the time you get to the end of it, the finish line is a close, encouraging reality."

My checklist differs slightly, but all the same, I got through it and came through the second 5K at about 36:00.  Even splitting so far thanks to my two pacers who have clearly done this before. Nice!

Final 5K

The final third of every race is always gut-check time.  What did you leave in the tank?  Did you pace correctly?  Are you ready to give all you have left?  What does this place/time really mean to you, and what are you willing to put yourself through to get there?

At this point in the race, I was still running with and slightly behind the same two guys that I had started the race with.  Both were still looking fresh, but again looks can be deceiving.  After mile 7, the one guy took off at a pace that I could not keep.  The other racer and I simply let him go.  It was now a battle for 6th place between me and the other runner.  6th may seem insignificant to a lot of people, but for a person who is newer to endurance sports and in a race with 10000 people in it, 6th meant a lot to me.

This is the part of the run where I feel I started to learn to race.  I started to understand what people were talking about when they were able to look at their competitors see a weakness and expose it. 

Two great examples.

Mark Allen v. Dave Scott- Ironman 1989

Lance Armstrong(Yes, I know he doped) v. Jan Ullrich- Tour de France 2001

In both cases, Lance and Mark looked at their opponent saw an opportunity and took it.  When I was running the final miles yesterday, this is what was going through my head.  When can I try to surge, to lock up this spot.  With about a mile to go, I decided that I would try this strategy.  I saw that his breathing was getting deeper and he was starting to look more fatigued.  To gap myself a bit and see if he could stay with me.  I went and surged.  It was tough.  If he would have stay with me, I don't know what would have happened, but he dropped back a bit which gave me some confidence to keep the pace. 

The last mile was fast.  I think we both had to have come in right around 5:40, but I had been able to get the 6th spot and a new 15K PR.  We talked after the race, and he was such a nice guy and great competitor that I was glad to have gotten the chance to run with him.  This was a great day overall and I was able to enjoy my hot chocolate and treats at the post race party.


There were two lessons that I was able to learn from this race.

1.  Learning how to actually race someone and to push past an area in my comfort zone which I had never had to go to before, mainly because I had never been that close to the front of a race.

2.  Trusting the process and training that my new coach is putting me through.  In the past few weeks, I have not run at a hard pace at all.  Frankly, I was worried that I was beginning to lose my running fitness with this new swim and bike focus(which I desperately need BTW).  However, even with the lack of hard run training, I am still improving.  Whether this is due to less stress on the body or fitness gained from the other two disciplines, I do not know.  What I do know is that something is working and I am excited to see where this next season is going to take me!


  1. Great report.. love your questions during the second 5k.. i ask myself many of those as well! thanks for commenting on the triblogger site.. that is awesome you found your coach through it! made me day when i read that
    nic @
    and my personal blog

    1. What strategies do you use to get past those rough times/questions?