Hot Chocolate 15K

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I ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich, drank a Diet Coke and headed out to Turner Field about 7:30 this morning to run the Hot Chocolate 15K. I was so happy to see it was 32 degrees. A warm snap! For me, 32 is the magic dividing line between a chilly run and a cold run for which you have to take special measures. I threw on my disposable $10 sweatshirt from Walgreens and hit the MARTA station. And I had just missed the Southbound train. And the trains run a longer time apart on weekends. So I had 15 minutes to wait for the next train. And then the same thing happened transferring to the Eastbound train.

By the time I finally got the the Georgia State station, it was getting really close to race time. I ran the mile from MARTA to the stadium and got into my M corral while they were singing the national anthem. Perfect! No time to stand around and get cold! I whipped off my sweatshirt, hung it over the fence and I was ready to go!

It took 10 minutes for our corral to hit the start line after the gun. We crossed the line, started our watches, turned right past the stadium and immediately headed uphill. It occurred to me then that I hadn’t run: a) outside, b) uphill AND c) farther than seven miles (A 15K is 9.3-ish miles.) since Thanksgiving. Oh well. Just keep running.

It was a fun route. We ran past some places I’d never seen before – through Grant Park and Inman Park and Cabbagetown. I really want to get out on my bike and do some exploring through those areas. I’d been through the commercial district of Inman Park before, but never the residential section. The old houses are glorious!

We ran down Decatur Street past the CSX Intermodal Facility where they transfer train cars onto tractor trailers. I always love to watch the trains there! Then we ran up and back around through the Old Fourth Ward and back towards home. (Why must every race pass blocks from my condo and tempt me to just run on home?) I literally ran across the spot on North Avenue where I had my shopping cart accident yesterday, but I managed to stay upright today. Then we turned south onto Courtland Street to head back towards the stadium for the last 2.5 miles.

As we crossed Pine Street, the usual homeless warriors were hanging out on the corner there outside the shelter. The couple running next to me looked at each other and the man said smugly to the woman, “Welcome to Atlanta, huh?” It took all the Jesus I had in me not to punch him in his white, pretentious, suburban eye and scream, “Fuck you, motherfucker! What are you doing to make a difference?” But I just bit the inside of my bottom lip and kept running. I must’ve done the right thing, because when we got behind St. Luke’s Episcopal Church a few seconds later, the bells started ringing out hymns.

We ran on past and around the Capital and then turned down Pollard Blvd. towards The Ted for the final .3 miles. As I got within sight of the finish I heard someone yell out my name and my old ball playing, school friend Kelly Williams was there yelling for me. She’s a super-successful cross country coach now at Chapel Hill High School, so I felt like a real runner having her root for me. She also took a great picture that actually made me LOOK like a runner!

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I crossed the finish line at 1:39:20 on my watch for a 10:33 pace. Not bad for me at all, especially on such a hilly course and with such limited training. We walked on into the finish area where we got bottles of water and lined up to get our Finisher’s Mugs. Now I was picturing a nice, ceramic mug with the race logo on the side with my hot chocolate inside. This is not exactly what we got.

My friend Drew Brantley, who worked with me at summer camp, had an idea I’ve always remembered. He said companies could save millions of dollars by just hiring a guy to walk around all day sipping coffee, looking at stuff in progress, and turning up his nose at the questionable things, while shaking his head and simply saying, “Bad idea.” The folks at RAM Racing need to hire that guy.

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We did NOT get nice ceramic mugs suitable for reuse or display. What we got were these weird, muggishly shaped, cheap plastic bowls with a molded circle in the middle to hold your paper cup of hot chocolate, a molded section that took up about a fifth of the circumference of the outer ring – this held your chocolate fondue, and then the rest of the outer ring had a package of mini pretzels, one large unwrapped marshmallow, a banana, a Rice Krispie treat and a tiny pack of two sugar wafers placed haphazardly inside.

Now don’t get me wrong. I hate people who complain about the race junk. If you’re running the race for the junk, you’re there for the wrong reason. (Although, I MAY have felt somewhat motivated to register for this race because of the FANTASTIC pullovers you get in lieu of a race shirt.) And, to my surprise, drinking that hot chocolate immediately after the race didn’t make me want to hurl, it made me want to hug baby animals. It was that good. It made me FEEL that good. It was like kissing Jesus on the lips.

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My real problem with my “Finisher’s Mug” was its total lack of functionality. I was cold out there and I didn’t want to sit on the asphalt eating all that chocolate fondue. That would’ve made me sick for sure. And I still had to walk a mile back to the MARTA station with my two plastic bottles of water and this “award” full of food and melted chocolate. I thought twenty times about just throwing it in the trash. But even if it was a crappy award, it was MY award! It meant – something….

Thankfully, as I was walking towards the street, I noticed a Customer Service tent where they were giving out plastic bags. I grabbed one and filled it with all my food and water and carried my “fondue pot” in the other hand. I carefully dumped as much of the melted chocolate out as I could in the grass on the side of the road. (I didn’t want to get it all over me. And there is NOTHING in the world I hate more than my hands having something sticky on them! *shivers*) By the time I got to the MARTA station, the cold had hardened the rest of the chocolate. So I managed to get home without getting it all over me. But maybe next year they could just give us a paper cup of hot chocolate and a simple plastic drawstring bag with our snacks inside.

Anyway, chocolate tragedies aside, all in all, a really good first race of 2014. My next one is the Shamrock n’ Roll Road Race 10K on March 6th at Atlantic Station. And what I’m ultimately training for this spring is the Nantahala Hilly Half Marathon on April 5th. Time to print out a real training plan and get after it. I can’t let those fiesty young people embarrass me in North Carolina!

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