Hot Chocolate Columbus 15K Race Report

Today I ran the Hot Chocolate Columbus 15K. This is a race series put on by Chicago-based RAM Racing, and they have them in different cities around the country. I ran the 2011 Hot Chocolate DC 15K the one and only year they held it. It was just short of a disaster and still has Washingtonians talking about the fiasco years later. But they had a tough venue in DC: the National Harbor, technically in Maryland. I decided to give them another chance when their Columbus race coincided with a cheapo airfare deal to visit family and friends in Ohio for the weekend. And I'm glad I did. This race was a 180º turn from the tragic race in DC. The Columbus race was well-managed with good race-day logistics, a great course, and a jacket I'll actually wear; all of these things were the opposite in DC.

My race experience started when I landed in Columbus on Friday afternoon and drove straight to the race expo. It was a small expo but did  have a few well-selected vendors. There was also Hot Chocolate merchandise for sale; it was pretty nice, if you were in the market for Hot Chocolate merchandise. There were also free samples of small, wrapped chocolates, as well as actual hot chocolate in tiny cups, and fondue with marshmallows. Lara Bar and Food Should Taste Good were also handing out freebies. Not bad for a small expo.

Trying on and swapping jackets: novel!
My bib, jacket, chocolates and bag

I was most impressed with the bib pick-up system. There were several lines to pick up your bib, and you could choose any line, no matter which distance you were running. Bib numbers were assigned at the time of pick-up and each volunteer had a printer that printed out your corral number and first name on a sticker, which they immediately attached to the assigned bib. The 15K bibs were orange and the 5K bibs were blue, so it was easy to tell them apart. After picking up the bib, we moved down the line to pick up our goodie bags: a reusable drawstring bag and a fleece-lined jacket for winter running. Women's jackets were gray with turquoise stitching and a turquoise bag; for men the accent color was orange. The jackets came in the bag and were still wrapped in plastic. We were encouraged not to open them yet, because the next station was a table for trying on sample jackets for size. If your original jacket size wasn't the right fit, you could trade your unopened jacket for a different size. I have done so many races, but had never seen anything like this. Often, you're stuck with what you ordered, even if the sizing runs small or large. I took advantage of this service and traded down. Then I wandered around for a few minutes before leaving.

The samples of hot chocolate and fondue with marshmallows

On Sunday my mom (who was my spectator) and I left a little after 6:00 AM to drive downtown. We got there in plenty of time to get a good garage parking space and for me to visit the port-o-potty. The lines were not long. The entire pre- and post-race festivities took place in the Arena District in McFerson Commons, a small park. This is also where the Columbus Marathon finishes. The tents, potties and everything else were spread out enough so that nothing was too crowded, but they were able to accommodate the thousands of runners and their families. It was so much better than the race in DC already.

Race morning was cold, about 36ºF before the start. I hadn't run in cold weather in a while, so I wore long tights, a warm long-sleeved shirt and my Marine Corps Marathon jacket. I also took gloves. I knew I might shed some items later into the race, but I was happy to be warm at the start. I was in Wave 1 Corral C, so I would be starting not long after gun time at 7:30. There was also a Wave 2 that started at 8:00. I was happy to get started earlier. I said goodbye to my mom and headed to my corral.

The starting line on Long Street

In my corral ready to go

The singer who sang the Star Spangled Banner made some errors with the lyrics, but had a nice voice. Everyone applauded anyway. And then we were off, headed into downtown Columbus and south along the river. This ended up being the course of memories for me. I left columbus at the end of 1999, and though I'm back frequently (at least a couple times a year), I mainly stick to doing things with family and friends, so I don't see all the sights. Today as I ran down the river I looked across at the old Central High School which is the new home of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI). But when I was a kid, COSI was in a different location. The high school was closed, but used for occasional events.

COSI across the river

Selfie with the state house

We soon cut east and then north onto High Street, where we would be running for several miles. We ran past the Ohio State Capitol and other familiar sights, and then into the Arena District, which didn't exist when I lived here, and then the Short North, my old neighborhood. I was struck by how many of the shops and restaurants had changed in 16 years, and also by the odd little places that did still exist. I always liked this neighborhood, but now it's nicer and at a higher price-point than when i lived there.

I used to live a half block down E. Lincoln Street

I also used to live in the Greystone on High Street

At this point in the race I was beginning to experience GI issues of unknown cause. Other runners will understand when I tell them I was in the "never trust a fart" zone. I had to find a port-o-potty. The good news is that there were plenty of them at each aid station and the lines were short. My mile 4 was ridiculously long because of my stop, but it was necessary, and I felt a little better afterward. We continued up High Street past the Ohio State University campus. So many of the buildings on this stretch through campus were different than when I attended the school. The old cruddy bars and other shops are gone and new construction with chain stores are in their place. The Ohio Union is a completely new building which retained none of the character of the original. It was a little sad for me to see all this. I got excited when I occasionally did see something I recognized (Bernies!).

Every college campus needs an ugly sweater store

On the north border of campus we turned west onto Lane Avenue and ran to Olentangy River Road. This took us past other campus landmarks, new and old, including the Jesse Owens building, the new-fangled buildings that used to be student parking lots (where my Geo Metro spent much time), past the French Field House and  St. John Arena. And then I saw another parking lot where I used to park, and it was still there!

I used to frequent this parking lot back in the day, but not on Thursdays(?) which was ROTC drill day when the lot was closed
 Next we crossed the Olentangy River and turned south onto Olentangy River Road. There was an aid station with a great view of Ohio Stadium, and I got a pic even though the light wasn't great.

The aid stations told you what goodies were coming up; and Schottenstein Center  on the right

Ohio Stadium from the side

We kept running south to 5th Avenue, where we entered Victorian Village. This was closer to the area where I had lived, so I was familiar with many of the beautiful old homes. It was quite a nice scenic part of the course to run south on Neil Avenue. I also knew that we were getting close to the finish by this point. I had to make another port-o-potty stop though. That was so unusual for me. I've run entire marathons without needing to stop. At this 15K (9.3 miles), I had to stop twice. I paid for it in lost time, and the whole situation with my gut slowed me down. If I'd set any time goals, I would not have met them. But that was OK. I was running this course to see the scenery.

A house I like on 5th Avenue

A house I like across from Goodale Park

We made a half loop around Goodale Park, very close to the finish now. It's a beautiful park in a beautiful neighborhood, and it was a place I could walk to when I lived in this area. Heading down Park Street, we were almost there. Then we turned onto Nationwide Boulevard and I saw my mom, and the finish line about a tenth of a mile away, downhill. I didn't have a fast race, but I finished strong in the end.

Immediately after crossing, I was given a cup of Gatorade and a bottle of water. And a very nice chocolate bar medal. When I ran the DC race in 2011 there was no medal. Now the 15K finishers get one. I'm sure it won't be too long before they start offering a smaller medal to 5K finishers, as medals seem to be a thing for shorter and shorter distance races these days.

I found my mom and then I headed to the food area. The race is known for having hot chocolate at the finish, of course, and also chocolate fondue with things to dip in it. Everyone got a crazy looking plastic "mug" with compartments for the hot chocolate, the fondue and the dipping items. There was a banana, a marshmallow, a pack of mini pretzels, a cookie and a Rice Krispy Treat. I gave away my marshmallow and Krispy Treat since I wouldn't eat them (because they contain gelatin). I sat in the sun with my mom while I drank my cocoa and had some of the fondue with pretzels. The mini pretzels were difficult to dip without getting my fingers in the chocolate. They should have had larger pretzels because of this. I tried the cookie but decided to save most of it for later. I didn't really need a lot of sweets, considering what I'd had on the course. Each aid station had a different sweet treat. The first one had chocolate chips (the big ones about the size of a nickel), the second one had strawberry flavored marshmallows (I passed), the third had M&M's (yes, please), the fourth had chocolate flavored marshmallows (I passed, of course). What I was really in the mood for was some real food, and that would wait until we got home.

Me with my silly "mug" full of stuff

Aerial view of the stuff

McFerson Commons is the home to an archway that was part of the old Union Station, built in the late 1800s. The arch was saved when that train station was destroyed, and in recent years relocated to this park. There's a definite front and a back to the archway. Because of the direction of the sun, my finish photo was taken in view of the less decorative back side.

Finish photo with medal on the ugly side of the Union Station arch, where the sun was best

This race was well done and I had a good experience. I'm glad I didn't let the DC race prevent me from giving this series another chance. They really did screw up in DC, in more ways than one, but the organization seems to have grown and matured since then. In DC, the biggest strike against the race was the venue. In Columbus, the venue and the course were awesome. It was a nice tour of some key parts of the city. The course was relatively flat with just a few hills (both up and down), and there was always something interesting to look at. The aid stations were well-stocked with water and Gatorade and goodies. I didn't take my water bottle, and I didn't miss it. The jacket was nice and is something I'll wear. It's probably the same jacket that they order for all the races in a given season, but it was nice. The medal was the one element specific to Columbus. Well done, RAM Racing. I'll do another one of your races if it's convenient for me.


  1. I'm not sure I can ever go back to any other place, after an experience like this. This place is appropriate in a space that lends so much gravitas to events. The design of venue Houston is sharp and environment is unbelievably good.


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