Last year, I saw a few friends of mine from Arizona had participated in the Hot Chocolate 15/5k Race in Phoenix. It looked like such a cute race because rather than a shirt and a finisher’s medal, participants got a long sleeved tech hoodie and a mug of chocolate fondue with dippables. I looooove chocolate, so that was quite a selling point.
I also thought 15k sounded like a cool distance. So when this race came to Philly, I signed up.
Since I’m currently training for a May or June half marathon, a 15k (9.3 miles) serves as an excellent place to track my progress and see if my pacing goals for the half are realistic. It counts as a long run, and has the added perk of thousands of other people running with me to keep me from getting bored or lonely.
It turned out to be everything I had hoped for. I convinced one of my roommates to run the 5k and I believe a runner was born (YAY), and the race for me was a good one because I feel as though I raced to my potential. I finished in 1:08:57, which averages to a 7:25 pace. I’ll take it!!
As for the actual race experience, let me describe it by saying ultra something stupid: a 15k feels just like a 5k, but three times longer.
Ummmmm…slick observation, right? But what I mean is that in a 5k, the first mile is uncomfortable for me because I feel as if I’m still in the convincing-my-body-to-run phase, and I’m trying to find a pace; the second mile rocks because I’ve found a groove but I’m not terribly tired yet; the third mile sucks because very suddenly, that groove is much harder to maintain and it feels like a mile or so left is an eternity; and the last .1 is a blur of, “OMG PLEASE BE OVER ALREADY I’M TRYING TO KICK BUT THIS HURTS.” I went through the exact same things during the 15k if you replace ‘mile’ with ‘3 miles’ and ‘.1’ with ‘.3’.
I’ll belabor the details a little more for posterity’s sake.
My splits for the first 3 miles looked like this:
I remember looking down at my Garmin around mile 1.5 or 2 and thinking, “I really need to pick this up if this is going to be a pace run.” (I’m aiming for a 7:30 pace in my next half.) So I adjusted, but I had done a bunch of lunges and squats two days earlier and my legs felt stiff and heavy. Forcing myself to speed up ultimately helped me warm up faster, which was what I needed. (I hadn’t warmed up at all due to wanting to see my roommate finish the 5k.)
The third mile was when I finally started feeling a little less like newborn colt, and I decided it was time to stop obsessively checking my Garmin. I looked down and saw that my pace was right around 7:30, then vowed that I wouldn’t check it again for a long time.
The second 3 miles went like this:
As mentioned, in the second 3-mile block I had found a groove so the running part was starting to go better, but even still I remember feeling like this part dragged on. I wasn’t running with music and there weren’t any spectators on the course during this stretch (or 90% of the course, for that matter), so combined with the fact that I wasn’t racing with anyone, I actually felt sort of lonely. (LINA I MISS YOU!!!!)
I remember marveling at the fact that no one else seemed to be going the same pace as me; everyone was either going faster or slower, which meant I was never running near anyone else for very long during this stretch. So much for thousands of other runners keeping me company.
At one point around mile 5, there was a water station that handed out little chocolates in addition to water and Gatorade. Adorable. I took one just because it was there and I liked the premise. I started seeing the front runners on their way back around this point and was happy to know that the turn-around point was close – not because I was tired or hurting yet, but because this part really dragged on for some reason. Somewhere between miles 5 and 6, I made the turn and started to pick up my pace in an effort to speed the whole thing up. I find that I almost always get impatient at some point in any run and start speeding up just to end things quicker, and that’s exactly what happened right after the turn-around.
The last 3.3 looked like this:
This stretch was markedly different mentally from the previous 3-mile blocks because for those, I wasn’t entirely in my own head yet. I was thinking about other people and noticing their clothing and gaits, and especially during miles 4-6 when I had settled into a rhythm, I wasn’t thinking about my own running a whole lot. I had found the right gear, had put myself on auto-pilot, and was letting my mind wander. With these last 3.3 miles, I became hyper focused on my cadence and how I felt. All my thoughts turned to myself and my running.
Sidenote: I absolutely don’t care if this sounds selfish because I’m fairly certain at the end of a race, everyone is only thinking about themselves and how much they hurt/want to push harder. It’s normal, and distance running in an inherently selfish sport. I’ve accepted that.
Anyway, when it gets to this point in a race or a workout when I’m really tired, I’ve found that focusing on my cadence puts me a sort of trance that helps me ignore the pain. (Disclaimer: this is not true in marathons for me.)
Things were also different externally for this last stretch because suddenly, there was a woman who was going my pace…kind of. I settled in behind her at some point during the 7th mile and we ended up playing the “you pass me, I pass you” game up until the last .5 miles. Right before we crossed the 9 mile marker, we evened up and I asked, “Do you want to run in together?”
She said she needed water, so I kept going and took that as a ‘no’. Then, she caught up to me and again I assumed she would just power on ahead since she had to be going faster than me in order to catch me. Instead of passing me, though, she stayed at my side. She explained that she had spent the entire race trying to catch her running buddy who was about a quarter mile ahead of us.
The last .3 miles was up a hill and IT WAS SO HARD, and I don’t know what I would have done without this woman to motivate me to keep going. After we crossed the finish line I thanked her for pushing me and she admitted that she was just trying to stay with me. (Classic!) We were both happy to have had someone there to get us through the last little bit.
I was tired when I finished, but I didn’t have any pain that felt injury-like. Just tired, lactic acid-ridden legs and a somewhat achy back. (Does that happen to anyone else?) I was torn between being excited with breaking 1:10:00 and being excited about getting a mug full of chocolate fondue. Seriously. It was a tie.
My ending thoughts on this race are the following:
1) The Hot Chocolate 15/5k Series is very well run. Everything was well labeled, the swag was excellent (did I mention that I love my tech hoodie??), and the chocolate was actually nice chocolate. I know this because I couldn’t eat all of the fondue on the spot, and the chill from outside solidified it and I’ve been carving out chunks of it to eat on its own for a few days now. It’s the real deal.
2) 15k is a super cool distance. For me, it falls into the same wonderful category as a half marathon in that it feels like an accomplishment/challenge to run, yet it doesn’t leave me injured. I can’t wait to run another one.
3) If I can run 9.3 miles at a 7:25 pace on semi-tired legs, I just might be able to hold a 7:30 pace for a half marathon on well-rested legs. This race is affirmation that what I’ve been doing in training recently is working, and that I should keep it up. This is a big deal because finding a training format that works for me has been a looong road. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten training quite right since I’ve been out of high school (i.e. since I’ve been my own coach), and it’s great to feel like I’m onto something good.