Disclaimer: I received a registration to the Allstate Hot Chocolate Virtual 5K - Houston as part of being a Bibrave Pro. Learn more about becoming a Bibrave Pro (ambassador), check out Bibrave.com to review, find, and write race reviews.
Sometimes, though, a virtual race can have all the feels (or most of them) as an in-person event. Like, for example, when a runner rallies back from her first-ever stress fracture...Granted, I'd had a couple of virtual half marathons, back in the fall. These were races that I'd long-since registered for, only to have them get postponed, and then eventually go virtual. With the stress fracture already in place (since mid-August), my only option for those half marathons was to do them via my bike. Certainly not an ideal scenario, but since I already had the event swag, it was a better option than taking a DNS.
After nearly three months of recovery, and a gradual re-building of my running base, a late-January race was ideal timing. There had not been any speedwork on the roster, but there had been consistent easy-paced running since late October. Why not test the waters and attempt a 5K "race" experience? So what if it had to be a virtual race? I was game!
Enter: the (virtual) Allstate Hot Chocolate 5K. Problem solved.
Let me set the scene...
The Allstate Hot Chocolate series hosts races in numerous locations, but I was registered for the Houston venue. Houston's race day was Saturday, January 30th. The morning's weather wasn't ideal (cold and windy), and there was an impending winter storm due to arrive (later that afternoon). Don't forget, I ran this on the streets of my hometown, in Iowa (though it probably was a tad bit warmer in Houston).
|the temps when I finished
Having done 12 weeks of 5K time trials (spring of 2020), I had a perfect race course for this Hot Chocolate 5K endeavor. Our local college's central campus is bordered by sidewalk (that's almost always cleared of debris) and has no through streets. Also, running this in the early hours, on a Saturday morning (starting at 6:45) ensured there would not be much, if any, pedestrian traffic. And, the perimeter is a mile in distance. It's an approximate 1/2-mile run to this spot from my house. Combining the jaunt to get there, with 2.5 loops around the central campus, would net me a 5K distance. Boom!
My plan was to run the 5K, then meet up with a friend for a few extra miles afterwards. I texted Barb, and told her I was leaving and would see her in about 30 minutes (at our meet-up spot), and I was out the door by 6:45.
The first 1/4-mile, from my driveway, was all uphill. After that, the rest of the route was pretty flat. Already, I could feel the fierce, cold wind as I headed due south towards the college. The unfortunate thing about a SE wind is that one feels it every time they're facing south OR east. Oh well, that also meant there was a hefty tailwind every time I went north or west (glass half full).
Anyways, right outta the gate, I ran several blocks south, then several more east, and a couple more south before my route finally headed west. By then, I was just under the 1-mile mark. Despite the wind, my pace felt strong and things were going well.
I'm not much of a Garmin stalker when I'm running or racing. Sure, I glance at my wrist periodically while in motion, but that's more to gauge the distance. That said, I was hoping to run this 5K somewhat fast. I wanted to run it on my own (without the crutch of a pacer), and I wanted to simply run it by feel. Just coming back from injury, I knew a PR wasn't even a remote possibility, so there was no reason to overdo it.
The time seemed to go pretty quickly, maybe because I was constantly changing directions every 2-4 blocks as I made my way around the campus. As I finished my second loop (approximately at the 2.5-mile mark), I could tell my hamstrings were starting to burn. I didn't have the energy to do a full-on sprint to the finish, but I was able to up my pace a bit. As I crossed the makeshift finish line (railroad tracks LOL), I felt a huge sense of relief to be done.
My "benchmark" 5K time is usually around 27 minutes. Given the fact that I had to fight the wind on a cold morning, and had not done any speed training, my 28:49 finish time was more than satisfactory. Even though it felt like I'd run steady and strong, my splits reflected a progressive slight slow-down (9:10, 9:19, 9:26), so there's that. Oh well. I'm still happy with how the race played out considering there weren't any other runners or crowd support to draw on for mojo.
The Allstate Hot Chocolate medal was just too cute! Check it out...it opens up, and it came with a surprise chocolate inside. My only misgiving, and it's a very small one, is that it would have been a nice touch for the ribbon to have the specific city's name on it. But, given the fact that I didn't actually run this race on the streets of Houston, I can easily let that go.
And, the jacket! Can I just say how refreshing it is to not get another ill-fitting tech shirt or 1/4-zip? This jacket has a removable hood, full-zip front, and three zip pockets. I also love the deep charcoal color (I already have too many black swag items from other events).
In addition to the requisite medal and jacket, the swag also included a drawstring bag with hot chocolate packets, more chocolate candies, and a personalized race bib. Other items, from event sponsors, included a Nuun tab, a Honey Stinger waffle, and a sample of Sacred CBD-infused balm. Nice haul!
So, although this was another virtual race, it felt like a lot more to me. Rallying back from injury is no walk in the park (quite literally when it's a stress fracture LOL). Although it was not the same as starting over, I did have to act much like a new runner with gradual distance increments and very short, easy paced runs over the course of (almost) three months. This race felt like the grand finale of my recovery. Even though I ran it alone, it felt like quite a victory. I'm totally good with that.
Have you ever treated a virtual race as a rally-back race? Ever done a Hot Chocolate-themed race?