This weekend I had an absolute blast running just for fun (and for hot chocolate and fondue) at the San Diego Hot Chocolate 15k. I found the sweet spot where I was able to run a race without caring about time and just enjoy myself.
It started Saturday morning when I had slated myself an 8-10 miler, all completely dependent on how I felt. I ended up settling on 8.5 miles since I woke up a little late and had to meet Asia and a few other fellow bridesmaids at 10:15 to continue our search for the perfect bridesmaid dress for Asia’s wedding. Mike doesn’t run with me often and lately he hasn’t been running a whole lot since he has been more into weight lifting and cross training and isn’t signed up for any running races. I was very happy when he said he wanted to join me on my run that morning. It was a perfect day for running – in the low 60s and gloomy. We had a great time running to Fletcher Cove and back, all along the coast. I felt really good and we picked it up a bit at the end – nothing too hard, just comfortable. My heart rate monitor hasn’t been working lately and instead of focusing on that, I just focused on how I felt. I found running in the high 8s was quite easy so I went with it. I finished the run feeling strong and good. I felt very optimistic about my upcoming half marathon training cycle.
Sunday was supposed to be a rest day since I ran 4 times over the course of the week, with the majority falling at the end (tempo run Thursday, 6 miles Friday, 8.5 Saturday). We planned to go cheer on my Dad and Step Mom Denice at the Hot Chocolate 15k, have breakfast with them and then kill some time before we had to make it to a 1 year old birthday party that afternoon. I didn’t want to try to cram a workout in somewhere in the day so it was deemed a rest day. I had decided NOT to sign up for the Hot Chocolate 15k because I knew that I wouldn’t be fully recovered 3 weeks post marathon and I didn’t really want to pay $70 to run a race “for fun.” However, when a friend told me that her sister and boyfriend couldn’t run the race, I thought it over for a bit and then decided what the heck!? Might as well run one for fun! Even better, Mike could also run with me!
Because I had someone else’s bib (and tore the timing chip off of it), it truly was a FUN RUN. The night before the race we met up with my parents and went to the expo to get our bibs and sweatshirts. We then headed to Little Italy, which is one of my favorite parts of downtown San Diego, and had a beer on a sunny outdoor patio before a delicious Italian dinner at one of the best Italian restaurants in little Italy – Bencotto Italian Kitchen. I had a glass of wine, ordered an entrée I would never normally order the night before a race (pumpkin ravioli in a butter cream sauce…YUM!!!) and enjoyed it all.
We weren’t stressed or rushed getting to the start line Sunday morning. We planned to meet my parents at 7:15 for the 7:45 start and left home around 6:15 to give ourselves time to get coffee, drive down and find street parking. We arrived with plenty of time and it was an easy race morning. We hung out and took some photos before the start and before we knew it, it was time to run! We decided to start with my parents in the 2nd corral to the front. We started at the very back of this corral which was nice because as soon as we started to run, we weren’t getting passed or having to pass anyone – we were running very undisturbed which was nice! The corrals went off with 3 minutes between so it was peaceful. There wasn’t anything much to look at for the first mile so I people watched and chatted with Mike and with my Dad and Denice when possible. We stayed with my parents for about the first mile but then it was a little slower than comfortable for us to run, so we picked it up a little and pressed onward on our own.
Just as I remembered from last year, this course was very hilly and most of the climbing takes place in the first five miles. We kept the effort easy and continued to have fun through the miles. AT the second aid station we stopped and drank water and I used the porto potty during a race for the first and only time since my first ever half marathon in 2009. I usually would try to hold it but I didn’t really care so took a break! I even stopped to drink water before continuing to run. When we crossed the 5k mark I yelled “1/3 of the way there!” and jumped in the air. Let’s make this fun!!
One of the best parts of starting in a slower corral and also not caring about your time, was that even though we were running easy, we passed people the entire time. This not only made me feel fast despite running way below PR pace, it also made the people watching better since we saw a variety of people along the course. There weren’t a ton of costumes but it’s always interesting to get a few sentences of someone’s conversation or check out people’s outfits or read their shirts. I was racing with a whole different lens than usual and it was pretty cool. Around mile 5 they were handing out chocolate and I eagerly slowed to take a photo and grab some. I considered eating it since I hadn’t’ brought any GU with me but it didn’t sound that great so I stuffed it in my belt.
The race really got fun once all the declines started. We continued to pass people and running got easier and easier. Every time we passed a DJ playing loud music we’d dance along to it. I had been telling Mike about that obnoxious “selfie” song but he hadn’t heard it yet and it was blaring over the speakers just before we started going up the final (and steepest) hill of the race around mile 7. It gave us a boost and we danced our way up it. At this point were now running the fastest yet. Once we got to the top of the hill we made our way through a small park and I knew it was all downhill from there.
I was in a great mood heading down the hill toward downtown. There were more spectators out now and there was a row of little kids with their hands out and I went out of my way to slap all of them but they were all so distracted by a girl running in a Hello Kitty outfit behind me that they didn’t even pay attention! I got a little ahead of Mike down the hill and snapped a great photo of him running toward me.
Once we were down the longest final descent there was one last steep hill and then we were officially in the home stretch. The final home stretch of the race somehow ended up on a street where many of the city’s homeless call their home and their tents were lined up on the side and a bunch of them were watching us and cheering us on. Around one last corner we saw the finish line and Mike and finished together. I jumped in the air as I crossed the finish line. Time for chocolate!!
Just as I said last year, the Hot Chocolate Race series is very well organized and I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a fun race with some cool perks. The course itself isn’t a fabulous representation of San Diego and is pretty hilly but if you can get past that and just enjoy yourself, it’s a great race.
Have you ever run without a timing chip?