The Hot Chocolate 5K/15K

Where do I begin to recap this race? It’s been over a month since I ran it on December 3rd, 2011 and by now most people in the D .C. area have heard it being called an ‘epic fail’ and a ‘disastrous’ race. It was by far the most poorly organized and executed race I have ever participated in, but there were good and bad parts to my experience.

Let me back up a little bit. I signed up to run this race with some people from my school. I was hesitant to at first because it was expensive ($45 for the 5K, $65 for the 15K) but I went ahead and did it because I wanted to run with my friends and because of the promise of chocolate at the finish line. I registered for the 5K along with 4 of my friends and another friend registered for the 15K. Originally I wanted to do the 15K, but ended up choosing the shorter distance because I told a friend I would run her first 5K with her.

The night before the race I went to the expo with my friends to pick up our race packets. At the last minute, the friend I was going to run with decided not to do it, so I asked to switch over to the longer distance while we were there and they let me after I paid the additional $20. This surprised me because I had heard the race was sold out at all distances and that nobody was allowed to switch to a different distance. This was my first clue that the organization of this race was a little bit off, and that they were hungry to make as much money as they could.

The race expo was small but pretty well organized. We got our things quickly, looked around, and got our parking pass. We chose to park at another location that was offered and take a free shuttle bus in, because parking at National Harbor cost $10 and they said it was sold out. On our way in and out of National Harbor, I thought to myself that it was going to be difficult to get 22,000 people to the race the next day. But I figured they had it well organized with parking and shuttles, so we wouldn’t have much to worry about. If I only knew what was coming!

We woke up before the sunrise to leave for the race. It was cold out but I wasn’t too worried, because I thought by the time we got there it wouldn’t be too long before the race started. We had been warned to arrive early and to carpool to avoid traffic, so my friend Hani met us at our apartment and we left around 6 a.m to make the 30 minute drive to National Harbor.

The ride was easy until just before the exit to National Harbor where traffic was at a standstill. We were supposed to catch our shuttle at 6:30 and we knew we would be late, so instead we decided that Kevin (who was spectating) would drop Hani and I off, then go park and take the shuttle in. We got into National Harbor after about 15 minutes and Hani and I began walking to the start (once we figured out where to go thanks to these teeny tiny signs).

It was around 7:00 a.m. at this point and the sunrise was beautiful over National Harbor. We walked about a mile (!) to the start where our other friends were waiting. We thought we were right on time for the 5K to start at 7:30 and the 15K to start at 8:00.

Kevin called me and told me that he had found parking at National Harbor and that he was on his way. He said he went into a garage and it was free, nobody was checking parking passes at all. This was another clue that the race organization was not right! On his way to the start he saw even more traffic, and people were jumping out of cars to run down the highway to get to the race. Not safe.

Eventually Kevin got there and we all huddled up and waited for the 5K to start… and waited… and waited… and waited.

I’ve been to many races that have been delayed a little bit. 5, 10, 15 minutes… that’s normal. But after 30 minutes of waiting we were starting to get really cold and annoyed. The 15K was supposed to start at 8:00- it was already past 8 and we were still waiting for the 5K! The announcer kept coming over the loudspeaker telling us that it would only be a few more minutes, and that they were trying to get more cars into National Harbor so that everyone could get to the race. He mentioned something about an accident that was causing delays. I heard later on that there wasn’t an accident and that was just an excuse for why it was taking so long to start, but I’m not sure if that was true or not.

Cold, but still smiling at this point!

Eventually the 5K started around 8:20ish (I think), but I heard from my friends that it was so crowded on the course that they had to walk for quite a bit until there was enough space to run. This is because they were tunneling all the runners onto a 6 foot wide path. How frustrating! Finally they were able to run their race and had a good time with it.

The crazy thing was that by the time they were finished, the 15K still hadn’t even started yet! The announcer said that they needed to wait for the 5K runners to clear the way before our race started, because the 15K looped into the 5K at some point and it wasn’t safe. I have no idea why they didn’t realize that some people walk the 5K and it would take them at LEAST 45 minutes to finish. So while our friends were enjoying their well deserved chocolate fondue and hot chocolate…

My friend Amanda and I were still waiting!

That's my "It's cold, let's get this race started" face...

But at least we had entertainment in the form of creepy costumes and juggling!

At one point I regretted switching over to the 15K. I was so cold that I couldn’t stop shaking. But I was glad to be there for Amanda at least. This was her first race longer than a 10K, and the farthest she had run previously was 7 miles. She wanted support, which is why I switched to the 15K in the first place, and I planned to run with her the whole way. We both said that if we had been waiting alone for the race to start that we would have just left. It was now 9:00 a.m. We’d been waiting in the cold for over 2 hours.

FINALLY, shortly after 9:00 the announcer said the race was starting. Pretty soon we were off!

Just kidding, those were the fast runners! After shuffling forward slowly for 20 minutes, we finally began running at 9:20 a.m., 1 hour and 20 minutes after the scheduled start time.

The first mile felt like death. I was frozen solid and my hips, knees, and everything else hurt and felt stiff. It felt like my legs were rocks and I was dragging them along. After about 2 miles they started to warm up and I started to feel like myself again. By this point we were running on a highway. They had closed ONE lane of the highway and all the runners were supposed to run 2 miles out and then 2 miles back in this one lane. Right. And the police support vehicles were few and far between. I was honestly scared for my life. On the way back there were times when runners were VERY close to the speeding cars and trucks. It was very scary!

We passed the start again around the 10K point, and Kevin was there to find us. He ran with us for a minute and took some pictures. He’s the best race photographer!

After we left Kevin we entered National Harbor to do a big loop and then head to the finish. I felt much better when we were back on the safe sidewalks, but they were still pretty crowded. At one narrow point, a girl cut right in front of me and I tripped over her and almost wiped out. Then she screamed at me to get out of her way and I told her not to cut people off. It was obvious that a LOT of people were on edge and wanted to be done. Another irritating part of the race was that there weren’t volunteers at some of the water stops. This meant that we had to pour our own water. I’ve never seen that at a race before!

Despite all of these things, I was enjoying running by Amanda’s side. We were chatting about anything and everything and trying to make the best of it.

After the 7 mile point I knew it was the farthest Amanda had run to date. I kept telling her that every step was one more step she had never run before, and that she was looking great and strong. She fought through wanting to walk up a big hill and kept running with a smile on her face. She asked me to keep talking to her so I did. I was so proud of her determination. I remember how hard it is to do a new distance for the first time. She pushed hard and headed towards the finish with a smile on her face.

We finished in 1:41:30, an average pace of 10:54 per mile! We found our friends and Kevin right away.

Then we all went up to the refreshment tent for our chocolate. They had Ghirardelli chocolate fondue with bananas, apples, marshmallows, and pretzel sticks to dip in it. They also had delicious hot chocolate! I can’t say I have ever refueled after a race with chocolate… and I probably never will again. It gave me a  belly ache 😦

With full bellies we walked the mile and a half back to where Kevin parked and then waited in traffic to leave National Harbor. We ended up getting home around 1:00 p.m., much later than we had originally thought we would.

After the race I heard that many people were never able to make it into National Harbor, and some turned around and went home after sitting in traffic for over an hour. Trying to get 22,000 runners in National Harbor to run two different race distances was a recipe for disaster. It was clearly too many people for the location and the race course. It was almost like they wanted to get as many people as possible to make as much money as they could. This caused a lot of people to be angry and their safety was compromised in many different ways (crowded race path, waiting in freezing temperatures, running on a busy highway).  I also felt bad for everyone who couldn’t make it after paying so much money. Not to mention all the time they wasted that morning.

The next day, the owner of RAM Racing issued an apology on its Facebook page ands well as an attempted explanation of what went wrong and why. I’m not sure if they are going to attempt to come back to DC next year, but if they do I am not sure I would do this race again. A lot of people have given RAM Racing constructive criticism and suggestions for how to improve so maybe it will be better – if there is a next time. Even though it was kind of a hot mess, I still had fun with my friends and enjoyed cheering Amanda on throughout her first 15K. And the chocolate was good too 🙂

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13 responses to “The Hot Chocolate 5K/15K

  1. That’s why I avoid crowded races… I like having breathing room… We don’t have that issue up here in N.S

    Cheers

  2. Glad you got to take part in the BEST.RACE.EVER … hahah not! I froze my ass off too but somehow still had an ok time at the race since I had some friends there.

  3. Wow, I would’ve been really annoyed! Epic fail. Glad you kept a positive mindset.

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