On February 15th, Matt and I headed up to Burton (near Flint, MI) for the Hot Chocolate 5k. When chocolate is part of a race’s name, it immediately grabs my attention. I found the race on RunMichigan.com when I was looking for races coming up soon. I’ve been anxious to get out and race, having not done so since October’s marathon. My IT band has been getting better and I’ve reached the point where I know I can at least make it through 5k without it flaring up. I waited until a couple days before the race to register when I was convinced the weather conditions should be reasonable. It has obviously been a rough winter when I consider just above 0 degrees to be “reasonable.” Most importantly, we’d had a day or two since it had last snowed. I was hopeful that footing would be decent enough.
One perk about running this race was a noon start. Even with a 45-minute drive we had plenty of time to sleep in. We lucked out with a nice, sunny day. The sun lifted my spirits, but it was deceiving because it was still plenty cold. I wore two layers each of hats, shirts, mittens/gloves, pants, socks, plus a jacket. Bentley High School was the base for the race, so we were able to use indoor restrooms and hang out in the gym to stay warm beforehand.
We collected our race packets, which included a long sleeve cotton shirt, a few Valentine’s Day candy hearts and mints, and a nice gel ice pack. That was something I haven’t received in a packet before and I’m sure I’ll put it to use. It’s not only large, but it’s also the kind that doesn’t freeze solid, allowing flexibility for spots like shins (the spot I tend to ice the most).
We went for a warm up jog around the parking lot about 15 minutes before the start of the race. I ran just under half a mile before heading to the starting line. We figured we should start pretty close to the front, especially with a gun start. The race started right at noon and we were off.
Pretty early into the race we got to a pedestrian bridge that took us over I-69. The spiral climb up was the only real elevation change throughout the otherwise flat course. Luckily there was a lot of salt on the bridge, leaving no worries about slipping. Certain stretches on the neighborhood roads were a different story though. Some spots were a bit snowy and I had to be cautious, so I was glad I chose to wear trail shoes with a little more traction (Merrell Mix Master Tuff). For the most part, the roads were in good shape. I was fine temperature-wise, but my eyes were watery for a bit and I didn’t really enjoy having tears running down my cheeks when it was so cold.
I felt pretty good for the first half of the race. Since I’ve been building my miles back up slowly as I’ve been coming back from being injured, I knew I wasn’t conditioned enough to attempt running at my 5k PR pace. I figured I would be okay running closer to my 10k pace, and that happened to be the pace I naturally hit for the first couple miles. Halfway through the race I encountered my usual 5k mental challenges. I didn’t want to run so fast anymore, questioned why I put myself through this, calculated what my time would be if I slowed down, etc. My breathing was pretty labored and I’m sure the cold didn’t help. As I approached the bridge over I-69 on the way back, I could see Matt up ahead. He saw me and slowed down enough for me to catch up after I crossed the bridge. He pushed me to finish strong and we crossed the finish line together. My official time was 23:43. When I looked at the results on the race’s site, there were a few pictures of the finish (as well as the one of the start seen above). There was an option to download the pictures for free! I don’t see that very often and really appreciated it. Here are a couple pictures from the finish.
Although my legs didn’t feel wrecked, my breathing was pretty bad and I needed to walk around for several minutes to recover. Once I felt okay, we headed inside. The school’s cafeteria had cups of hot chocolate and bowls of marshmallows we could scoop up into our drinks. They had little trays with a few small pretzels, graham crackers, a big marshmallow on a toothpick, and a bag of apple slices from McDonald’s. Women at the end of the line poured a big scoop of fudge into a spot on our tray. It was a really good post-race treat.
We sat in the cafeteria for a while and wondered when they might mention awards. Nothing was happening in the cafeteria so Matt walked around to see if he could find anything. He finally figured out that awards were at a table in the gym. I was a little frustrated that no one said anything because the gym was down the hall and there was no reason we would have gone back in there. Matt realized we could scan our bibs to see our results and we were both age group winners! We were excited to get cool little medals, then we were able to start the trek home.
We both really enjoyed this race. Neither of us considered ourselves in peak race shape, but it was nice to get back out there and enjoy the race environment again. I saw this race as a way to measure where my current fitness level is coming back from injury. I was really happy with how it went, though it’s clear that I need to work on speed endurance more. I felt good, but I know I have more in me. I’ve just worked my way back up to 20 miles per week again and have slowly reintroduced speedwork the last few weeks. One of the most important things for me was to get through the race pain-free. I’m sure it helped that the course was so flat, and luckily the climbs up and down the pedestrian bridge didn’t seem to bother my IT band. Though I would have told you otherwise halfway through the race, it was nice to get back to racing again.
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