Pros, Cons & Tips
Overall, the Hot Chocolate 5K / 15K race experience was a surprisingly lovely experience. It was generally very well organized (especially the Expo), but there were parts – like any race or event – that were lacking. This is my personal review of the experience I had as a first-time participant – the good, bad and ugly.
- WHERE: Turner Field, Atlanta, GA
- WHEN: Late January (in 2016, the race was held on Sunday, January 24)
- BENEFICIARY: Ronald McDonald House Charities
The fee seems like “a lot” for a race (about $50ish for the 5K, $10 for parking, another $15 for parking at Packet Pick-Up – see my notes about parking later), but you get a great souvenir jacket as well as a little promotional Hot Chocolate drawstring backpack. The jacket, in fact, is how I found out about the race in the first place. It’s a great awareness piece for the race. I was on a Stone Mountain hike with my sister’s friends from church months ago and one of the ladies was wearing a Hot Chocolate jacket. So cute!! Gave me just the excuse I needed to sign up. Additionally, you get a lovely Finisher’s Bowl that you don’t want to miss at the end!
Tip for next time: go for the extra embroidery on the jacket. Your jacket automatically comes with the embroidered Hot Chocolate logo, but if you get the extra embroidery, you get the city and skyline added on plus the year. That’s kind of nice. Not sure how much extra that was.
- E-mails: Once you register, you’ll get plenty of communications afterwards that I think is outstanding for novice runners like myself. It’s filled with training tips on how to prepare your body for the race – everything from attire to a running program.
- Social Media: Additionally, you can follow their Facebook, Twitter (@HotChocolate15K) and Instagram (@HotChocolate15K) accounts for bonus communication – however, it does include information from other Hot Chocolate races across the country. Just have to filter for the stuff you’re interested in.
- Inclimate weather plan: This year we had “Snowmageddon 2016” to contend with. It ended up being a non-event for Atlanta, luckily, but it’s nice to know that the Hot Chocolate administration was prepared with both e-mail and social media communications on whether or not the event would be cancelled, what back-up plans would be, etc.
WHEN: Two days prior to the race
PROS & TIPS:
- Do GO pick up your packet yourself: A lot of people sent their friends to go get their packet for them but you end up missing out on the experience!
- Bring your driver’s license and cash: I couldn’t find the e-mail where I signed up but as long as you have your driver’s license, you’re good. Also, if you’re picking up packets for other people, make sure you’ve got a photo of their driver’s license on your phone you can show them (although you can probably get away with not having that either). The cash is for goodies you might want (some vendors may not take cards).
- You can sign-up on site: I saw an area where you could do this. Nice.
- Huge expo – that was a pleasant surprise. Plenty of Hot Chocolate gear to purchase on site. Lots of freebies and fun things for kids (if you have them). Bonus vendor: be sure to check out Cris’s Brigs (Gourmet Brazilian Truffles – pictured above) – as the tagline says, there truly is nothing like it! Must try it. Bring some cash: it’s $1.00 a truffle but well worth it! The pistachio was fantastic.
- Good signage – not hard to figure out where to go
- Try on your jacket!!: You can – and should – try on your race jacket. Mine (a medium) was surprisingly too baggy on me. I ended up going for a small and I think I might’ve even been able to do an XS.
- Go the first day of packet pick-up: It’s worth it to go the first day of packet pick-up because they were starting to run out of sizes by the 2nd day when I went. I got the last small they had on the table!!
- BONUS: Fast lines. Hardly any waiting at all (at least on Day 2). I heard via social media that Day 1 had a bit longer lines but that could’ve been also due to the threat of inclimate weather and people worrying that they may not have the capability to pick up their packet the next day.
- Plenty of Photo-Ops: There are tons of larger-than-life size Hot Chocolate race inflatables that you can take a photo with. I would highly suggest getting your photos at the packet pick-up as opposed to at the race. There are lots more people at the actual race and on race-day, people were waiting in lines to get pictures with these inflatables, whereas the packet pick-up had no lines at all. Get your inflatable photos at packet pick-up.
- Parking: Didn’t know they’d charge you. It was $15.00 to park in the garage (and even across the street, I heard). Luckily, they took cards. I felt like the went planners would’ve had the parking validated for us – given that we’ve already paid over $50 to participate in the race (which is significantly higher than other races I’ve been in). Perhaps they’ll think about doing that next year.
- Multiple events in the same space: This wasn’t much of a problem, but there were several other events going on at the World Congress Center that day. Some huge cheerleading competition was going on so there were plenty of little cheerleaders and moms in the crowd. Some spilled over into the Hot Chocolate crowd. I think there was also a Junior Achievement event going on.
- The weather!! Well there’s not much you can do about that. Be sure to bundle up as necessary. I was thankful for every single layer I had on today.
PROS & TIPS:
- The 15K’ers get a really nice medallion! It’s a chocolate bar with a bite in it. Really cute. I saw lots of photos being taken with people pretending to take a bite out of their bar. Makes me want to try the 15K next time!
- Five Stars for the Finisher’s Bowl: on your bib, you have a little tear-off to get a finisher’s mug / bowl. The line was quick and efficient – you could jump in any line. The bowl was a nice dipper bowl with hot dippable fondu-like chocolate with plenty of dipping items: a mini-rice krispy treat, a mini pack of pretzels, one big marshmallow and a fresh banana. The banana was definitely lovely to dip!! Great touch. Plus, in the center, you got a nice hot cup of cocoa that was actually delicious. I completely expected it to be sub-par cocoa given the multitude of people they had to serve, but it was delicious (maybe because I was so hungry?? – who knows) plus it stayed hot the entire time (I ate all my fondu items first, and I am not a fast eater). Full marks on the finisher’s bowl.
- All the Hot Chocolate inflatables are there to take a photo with: …and they are really cute. You’re going to want a nice pic with at least one of them. However, I really recommend taking those photos at the Packet Pick-Up as opposed to after the race. As I said before, the lines for these photo ops were quite extensive on race day. No lines at all at Packet Pick-Up.
- Dancing Stage: there’s a stage at the end where people were leading plenty of line dances – The Cupid Shuffle, Biker’s Shuffle, The Cha-Cha Slide, etc. Not too many people really participated in that though until The Cupid Shuffle finally came on. Still, it was nice that there was actually a stage just for an extra entertainment factor.
CONS & TIPS:
- No way-finding signage to show you where the go. At least none that I noticed. You just end up following people walking towards Turner Field and follow the noise.
- I heard a lot of complaints about the corrals: Corrals are the groups they put you into. I think they’re based off of the times / pace information you give at registration. Your corral “letter” is on your bib. This year it was on a green sticker on your bib. I was in corral “I” wave “2.” Sound confusing already? It kind of was.
- People felt like animals. The term “corrals” made people feel a bit like they were in a herd. Certainly with that many people there, you did feel a bit “herded” around.
- Lots of time in between corral kickoffs. One lady ended up going with a corral that wasn’t hers just because she’d been waiting so long. Someone dropped her off early in the morning and then she was waiting over 1.5 hours outside in the freezing cold (28 F, felt like 15 F). She kept saying she felt that was quite dangerous given how cold it was outside.
- Some people were confused about the corrals. They didn’t realize that they needed to even be aware of what corral to go to. One friend of mine just ended up going with any corral.
- 5K vs 15K runners: Because of the weather, the 15K’s were mixed in with the 5K’s. I’m not sure if that’s normal practice or not, but it’s probably not.
- Lack of control: The volunteers – though they tried – really didn’t have control over what corrals people went into. Some people ended up accidentally running with different corrals. They had to literally tie off a rope between corrals to hold other corrals back and keep the corrals from mixing with each other. Not the best process.
- Treats along the race – don’t bother. The communications said there would be lots of “treats” along the way. It being a hot chocolate race, I was expecting chocolates or truffles of some sort – kind of like the truffles available at the Packet Pick-up Expo. However, it actually was only a pink marshmallow somewhere after mile 1. Mmm…..I’m not a plain marshmallow fan like that. Kind of unimpressive. There were also, perhaps consequently, lots of smashed marshmallows along the race path.
- Pointless to pay $10 for parking?: The volunteers were not really checking for parking passes. You could’ve easily parked without paying the $10 parking fee and I don’t think anyone would’ve ever cared. Some people were voluntarily showing their parking pass when driving into the lot but most people didn’t and they were allowed through anyway.
- Arrival time not on point: We were told to arrive by 6:30am in order to ensure you were able to park. People were able to park in the lot I was in (blue) right up until race time. So basically I ended up waking up at 5am just to get there before 6am and using 1.5 hours of gas sitting in my car to keep warm when I could’ve slept longer and saved more gas.
Post-race photos, videos, results
- Videos & Results are immediate: big bonus. You get it right online asap. That was a pleasant touch.
- Photos take some time: understandably. We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes to get those. TIP: be sure you wear your race bib on the outside of your clothing the entire time. I read somewhere online that that’s how you’re tagged in photos later. Some people were hiding their bibs underneath their outer jackets and their plan was to shed their jacket at the end. However, I think you’ll miss out on being captured in other photo opportunities elsewhere in the race if the photographers can’t see your bib.
The Hot Chocolate Run was a refreshing experience at the end of the day. I would definitely do it again and hope that I can train up to the 15K for next time! That medal is just too adorable – plus you can’t really argue against a race that greets you with good hot chocolate at the end. #irunforchocolate
What tips do you have about the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K? What did you like / not like?