My niece and I after the race.

Our finisher's mug wasn't quite this big!

One of my goals for 2013 is to participate in one race a month. For January, that race was the Hot Chocolate 15K in Atlanta. I’ve run 5Ks, 10Ks, and Half Marathons but this was to be my first 15K – or 9.3 miles for those who don’t do metric.

I’d heard about the Hot Chocolate series and was excited to hear they’d be making Atlanta one of their 2013 races. I convinced my niece, Madison, to run it with me. She’s gotten into running in the last year or so as well, and we’ve run a couple of races together, including her first 5K. This was to be her first 15K as well.

Although we’d read some negative comments about race organization in other cities like Chicago and DC, they must have learned their lessons as I had no complaints about the Atlanta race. Well, maybe one – but it’s more of a disappointment than a complaint. For those who don’t know, when you go to pick  up your race packet (which contains your bib and timing chip, etc.), there’s usually an expo with vendors and various goodies. Because of the number of participants for this race (upwards of 20,000) the pickup location was at the Convention Center in Atlanta but there really wasn’t much to the expo besides the official race merchandise and a local running company’s booth. So not much to see or buy – again, a disappointment but nothing major. Besides, instead of the standard tech-shirt, finishers got a cozy hoodie, which is nice because my t-shirt drawer is full-to-overflowing with race shirts!

The race started at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, with the 5K runners going first and then the rest of us doing the 15K route. And in a crowd of 20,000 people, I managed to run into two friends who were also running the 15K. After standing around for an hour or so (again, thankful that it wasn’t a typical cold morning!) we started running, and wound through the surrounding neighborhoods, including Grant Park and Inman Park. Later that day, the Atlanta Falcons were playing a game, so people had already begun tailgating and we ran through neighborhoods to shouts of “Rise Up!” – the Falcons’ rally cry. One of my favorite aspects of running through neighborhoods are the people standing alongside or sitting on their front porches, waving, holding signs and calling out words of encouragement. The people of Atlanta always deliver. Another thing Atlanta delivers on is the hills – you’re pretty much guaranteed to get them in any race, regardless of the route. And this race had them in droves! Finally, after several miles and almost two hours, we saw the Olympic Rings arch at the outskirts of Turner Field  in the distance, which let us know we were close to the finish line. And with that, we were done and ready for chocolate!

The big draw to this race is at the end, you get a finisher’s mug filled with chocolate fondue, goodies for dipping, and a mug of hot chocolate. Yummy! Of course, this just happened to be a weekend when Atlanta was having a warm spell, so by the time we finished the race it was in the high 60s – not all that conducive to a steaming cup of hot chocolate. But it was great not to have to worry about being too cold as we waited for the race to begin, and we got to run in short sleeves in January – who wouldn’t want that? And the chocolate fondue was pure post-race decadence.

This was a fun race and I’ll definitely be doing it again next year.