I ran the popular Hot Chocolate 15k Race on Sunday, Dec 10th and let me say, I had apprehension about this one. Honestly not with the distance, but with the whole experience/organization of it all.

I ran it back in 2015 and it was just less than stellar. The expo was small, hard to navigate at Union Station. The course was difficult and you just never know what December weather in St. Louis will look like. Could be 60 degrees, could be icy, could be freezing.

I ran this year because my mom offered to pay for the ridiculously priced entry fee, plus it was going to be my longest race/run in about a year and a half.

So I signed up and already was annoyed because they moved the course to Forrest Park (NBD) but I’m not super familiar with that area and would be traveling to the race solo so they offered a Shuttle service. I kid you not, I probably got 15 emails about this shuttle. But really nowhere to ask questions because this race isn’t local.

So fast forward to packet picket. Again at Union Station. Such a cluster. We parked in the Union Station lot and since we did that instead of the designated hot chocolate lot, there were zero signs showing us where to go. We aimlessly walked around the whole hotel looking for any sign of the expo. Finally ran into a stranger with a bag who directed us, mind you, nowhere was wheelchair (or stroller) accessible so we were carrying the stroller up and down flights of stairs.

I pick my packet up and had to ask for info about the shuttle (because I paid $5 to take it but had no other info). He directed me across the room to 1 lady standing there handing out wrist bands for race day morning shuttle. She then tells me I should pay to park in their lot across from the shuttle parking for an additional $5….um, no. We left pretty much after that and we drove around downtown to see if there was any street parking for race morning. We found some good spots for me to check out and I just prayed I found one not too far away on Sunday.

Okay, now it’s race day morning and Micah vomited on Saturday morning so I didn’t even know if I’d be able to go but thankfully, he got a little better and my mom came down. I got gone later than I wanted from the house and then forgot my hairtie so had to double back (SMH).

I pull off the Interstate and there is a mile long line backed up to get into this “paid shuttle lot”.  Soooo glad I didn’t pay for that!  I quickly made a left, found some on street parking and BOOM, done!   Plus, no fee on the weekend so that was cool!

I hopped across the street, got in line to ride the school bus (nice shuttle right?) and we rode the 20 min to the start line. Everything you remember about terrible bus rides from grade school came flooding back.

Get off the bus, it’s ridiculously cold. I start to walk to the Forrest Park welcome center to get warm but that was like the Walking Dead apocalypse. Nobody could move in there! All I wanted was a spot to put on my race bib. Forget that. Walked to the porta-potty line and started putting on my bib. For some reason, my line had 7 people in it and was soooo slow. I think I got in it at 7:11 and didn’t finish until 7:23.

I quickly walked back to my corral and met up with my friend and VA, Kristin for a quick pic. But again, we’re freezing so we took a pic and went back to warming our hands!  

I didn’t have time to find my sister in law because it was nearly race time so I entered my corral and waited to start.

I had no idea what to expect in this race because I’d never done a race in Forrest Park, which is known for being hilly, and it was literally 20 degrees at start time, I hadn’t trained, and this was my longest post partum race yet.

I started at a good clip but didn’t know my pace because my watch was covered inside my arm sleeves and gloves, which I think was a good thing so I could stay focused on running based on how I felt. I naturally know when to push and when to back off.

I found some people to follow at decent paces for a few miles, then they would either slow down or speed away, so I’d find someone else to follow along.

***Racing Tip***

Follow someone who has good form and is just ahead of you. My theory is that if they have bad form, they will eventually tire out and you will pass them. Find someone who looks like they’re in it for the long haul.

The miles past quickly and I was pretty sure I was around an 8:30/8:45 pace (my goal was a 9 min/mile pace). I found that around mile 6 or 7, I was planning on walking some just to make sure I could run the last 2 miles when I started running alongside a lady who was randomly chatty at times. I asked her how long she’d been running and I told her I hadn’t done many races in a year because I had a baby. She told me she had 14…um what?!

It was so humbling talking with her. I realized that running will have its’ seasons and everyone has a hardship they are facing as a runner. To get miles in, to train, to stay injury free. It has been so hard for me this past year to get back into the swing of things. From post partum depression, to my pelvic floor issues which made it impossible to run. I KNEW that I would get back into it eventually, that wasn’t the hard part.

The hard part was knowing how much running is part of who I am mentally, physically, and emotionally and then one day, it was just gone. And I didn’t feel like myself. Like a part of me was missing.

Runners are the biggest badasses I know. Everything we do physically flows over into other areas of our lives. We are so damn hard on ourselves and our bodies. We’re pushers, we’re doers.  And not having that weekly push mentally or physically took a toll on me as a person.

This race taught me so much about what I can do and who I am. I’ve overcome a lot this year and am definitely looking onward to 2018. This race gave me the confidence to train for my 17th half in the spring of next year and to know I may not be where I want to be but it’s the journey and what racing/running does for me that means so much.

Oh, and my buddy I told you about (see above)….we crossed the finish line, I asked her name and she goes, “Kelli.”  Spelled the exact same as me…this race was everything it was supposed to be for me. Don’t stop friends and keep looking for that push coming in the most mysterious of ways!