2011 Hot Chocolate Run: The Best Race that I Did Not Plan to Run

photo by: Audrey Markarian

I arrived at the 2011 Hot Chocolate Run 5k, in Northampton MA, to support my girlfriend from the sidelines. I had not trained, did not register and also drank a few beers the night before so I had no plans to run.

However, 15 minutes before the race started, one of my friends revealed that he had accidently registered twice and had an extra number.  A race number is a terrible thing to waste and I was wearing my running shoes so I literally borrowed running clothes and got in line just as the race started.
The Hot Chocolate run is a 5K run or 2 mile walk through downtown Northampton that has been held on the first Sunday of December for the past 8 years. Race finishers get a beautiful race mug filled with hot chocolate. The event also raises funds for Safe Passage; an organization that protects women and children from domestic violence. Therefore it is no surprise that the Hot Chocolate run has grown from 400 runners in 2004 to 5,500 in 2011.
I woke up on race day feeling very excited to watch my girlfriend run the race. I felt a little bummed that I had not signed up but watching her run would more than make up for it. I ate a spectator’s breakfast of 2 muffins, orange juice and few cups of coffee and went with my girlfriend to the starting area.

Music was blaring as thousands of runners did last minute warm-ups, stretches or pre-race rituals. The Hot Chocolate Run attracts serious runners and those who like to run in polar bear outfits.  All this excitement sort of made me wish I had registered to run.  The race was about to begin and I could feel the excitement in the air. That is when my friend revealed he had accidentally registered twice and had a number that was going to be wasted. He asked if I wanted it.

At first I said no since I did have my running shoes but no other gear. My friend’s apartment happened to be nearby and he let me borrow a pair of shorts. I don’t typically borrow clothes but I thought the spirit of the moment justified it. So I suited up and made it to the start line just before the gun went off.
The Hot Chocolate Run course meanders through downtown Northampton, the Smith College Campus and back to downtown. It is a scenic and festive route that keeps you smiling during the entire run. The race also attracts many serious and fun loving runners. I encountered runners in costume and one that was carrying and playing a tuba while running. The event and course also felt amazingly well organized. It never felt crowded even though there were 5,000 runners and walkers.
I felt much better than expected as I took on the course. The sunny skies and 40 degree temperatures 
certainly helped with that. Despite my poor nutrition choices that night, and the night before, I felt energized and alert. Somehow I actually ran faster than my typical 5k pace. I crossed the finish line, with a smile on my face, and waited to watch my girlfriend finish. We were presented with the famous mugs at the end of the finish line chute.
The moral of this story is to always be prepared because you could go from a spectator to a runner with a moment’s notice. I will not miss another Hot Chocolate Run and you shouldn’t either.

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