2016 Hot Chocolate 5K: Marketing dollars (and chocolate) draw women runners

Yours truly and other runners in Corral F moving up to the starting line

Yours truly and other runners in Corral F moving up to the starting line

After skipping it during its first two years in Seattle, I finally ran the Hot Chocolate 5K last Sunday (March 6), and was surprised by the large turnout.

I had underestimated the power of a well-funded national race promoter to market to the fastest-growing segment of the running population — women. Some 10,345 people ran either 15K or 5K races, of which 7,857 (76 percent) were women.


Rain started as I finished

Yes indeed, it was another race where I felt like a minority. Again, I’m not complaining, as women have fueled the running boom for the past decade and this gender disparity is now old hat. But it is interesting how well women runners are turning out for this event (at least in Seattle), dubbed by the organizer as “America’s sweetest race.”

The Hot Chocolate races are a national series organized by Chicago-based RAM Racing. It calls itself “a premier endurance event producer,” and has ambitions to grow the race series throughout North America. The races help benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and are sponsored by JVC, Wigwam, Nuun, Larabar and others that provide products catering to fitness buffs.

Hot Chocolate races are currently held in 14 U.S. cities. There are plans to expand soon to Portland, Los Angeles and six other cities, including three in Canada.

Nice jackets, decent hot chocolate and more

Finishers' jackets a nice perk

Finishers’ jackets a nice perk

The organizers offer participants some nice swag, such as cool polyester jackets that most marathons and other events would require extra payment for.

Also, after the race, finishers got plastic mugs carrying a cup of tasty hot chocolate, a banana and other goodies. Finishers of the 15K got nifty bronze medals. And every participant got the opportunity to download a free picture or two of them on the course and a short video clip of them crossing the finish line (video clips are on the Results page).

So was the hot chocolate and finishers' mug

So was the hot chocolate and finishers’ mug

Are these items that appealing to women? It appears that way in Seattle. In each of its previous two years here, 77 percent of the Hot Chocolate runners participating were women. The races drew 12,311 total runners in 2015 and 8,460 in 2014, its first year in Seattle, making it one of the area’s biggest racing events.

The Hot Chocolate series began in Chicago in 2008 before expanding in recent years to Philadelphia, St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, San Diego and Atlanta, among other cities.

Assigned to start from Corral F

I got my first sense of how big this race was when I arrived at the starting line near Key Arena and saw some 6,000 5K runners lined up in “corrals.” Based on my anticipated finish time, I got assigned to Corral F, well behind the front of the pack. Corral A had the elite runners, B the next-best, etc., all the way to H or I.

Selfies in the finishers' area

Selfies in the finishers’ area

It took more than 15 minutes after the race actually started for Corral F runners to finally get across the starting line. I’d warmed up fairly well; by the time we finally started running, my bad left ankle had stiffened. And I stepped across the starting line with a pronounced limp. I might have limped across the finish line as well, but I was not in any serious pain. (Long story, but I was unable to take my precious Aleve throughout the weekend.)

As for the run itself, it was a challenging 5K course starting and finishing at Seattle Center. You faced some deceptively tough hills through downtown Seattle, although nothing spectacularly steep.

More 5K finishers

More 5K finishers

You ran a hard downhill down Broad Street to Elliott Avenue in the first mile, then veered south on Elliott and then to First Avenue, which was a slow climb. There was another slow climb getting to and through the Battery Street tunnel in the second mile. Eventually, you reached Mercer Street.

That last stretch up Mercer back to Seattle Center seemed difficult in this race, even though I’ve done it many times in the Seattle Marathon and Half Marathon. The finish line was another gradual uphill on the walkway just to the east of the Space Needle. I tried and tried to kick it in gear for the finish, but felt ever so slow.

Joined by Allytics teammates, but didn’t see them

I finished in 37:33 (12:06 per mile), hardly a great time for me. But good enough for this course. Full results are here. Still looking to come closer to my post ankle-surgery best of 34:29 in the 2014 Mustache Dache 5K, but that will have to happen on a flatter course.

15K finishers' medals

15K finishers’ medals

Overall, runners’ times were slower, and I blame the course. It wasn’t the weather; though it was overcast, a tad windy, and had threatened to rain all morning, the rain actually held off until just as I was finishing.

I was inspired to do this race by my (female) Allytics teammates Sarah Pevey and Hayley Halstead, who also ran the 5K. Great job by those two! Unfortunately, with all the runners there (6,001 finishers in the 5K and 4,344 in the 15K), I did not see them, either before or after the race.

Another pair of (female) Allytics teammates, Jordan Covington and Cassandra Weber, ran the 15K. I’m very impressed with how well they did on limited training. Nice job, you two!

Congrats to all the Allytics runners! Unfortunately, our fastest team member, Jamin King, was under the weather that day and unable to compete in the 5K. He likely would have won the race.

Coming up: Mercer Island Half

Since I ran the Hot Chocolate race, I’ve decided to skip this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Dash 5K for the first time since 2008. It’s always been a fun event, but its downtown Seattle course is now similar to the one I just ran, and I will benefit more from a longer training run.

Enjoying chocolate dip for the banana

Enjoying chocolate dip for the banana

I am running the Mercer Island Half-Marathon on March 20, for the 13th time. Looking forward to it, and just hoping that my Oregon Ducks aren’t playing an NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the same time. If so, I will be listening on my headphones and might be a bit stressed.

After that, the Seahawks 12K Run on April 17 looms large. But I am also debating whether to do the GO LONG SR 520 Floating Bridge Run 10K (across the new 520 floating bridge) on April 2 or the Emerald City Bike Ride on April 3. I likely won’t do both, and am leaning toward the bike ride.

Thanks for reading! Till next time.

About monteenbysk

I am not an elite runner or bicyclist, though I am friends with many. I run, walk, and bike for fun and the health benefits. I can get you to the finish but probably not to the Boston Marathon (and especially not to the Tour de France).
This entry was posted in 10K, 5K, Mercer Island Half-Marathon, Running, Seahawks 12K Run, Seattle Marathon, St. Patrick's Day Dash and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 2016 Hot Chocolate 5K: Marketing dollars (and chocolate) draw women runners

  1. Pingback: 2017 Resolution Run 5K & Polar Bear Dive: Happy to stay dry and watch others take the plunge | Monte's running commentary

  2. Pingback: 2017 Hot Chocolate 15K: Event organizers are doing something right | Monte's running commentary

  3. Pingback: 2019 Hot Chocolate 5K: It’s official — I will run for chocolate | Monte's running commentary

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