The 10th Annual Hot Chocolate Run & Walk for Safe Passage, in Northampton MA, combined amazing people, a challenging course and noble cause to create one of the most fun 5Ks that I have ever run. If you missed it then you should mark your calendar for next year.
The Hot Chocolate run is a 5K run or 2 mile walk through downtown Northampton that has been held in early December for the past 10 years. Race finishers get a beautiful race mug filled with hot chocolate. Most importantly; the event also raises funds for Safe Passage; an organization that protects women and children from domestic violence.
The course meanders through downtown Northampton to 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 was no surprise that registration reached its 5,500 limit almost a month before race day.
Early December in New England can be unpredictable; sometimes it snows and sometimes it is over 40 degrees. The day of the 10th Annual Hot Chocolate Run greeted us with cloudy skies and temperatures in the 30s; perfect racing weather. I arrived in Northampton 2 hours before the 10 am start time since I assumed that parking spaces would be in short supply once 5,500 runners converged on the town. This gave me time to see the organizers making final preparations, enjoy some delicious coffee and get thoroughly warmed up.
Before long the crowds began to mass near the start line as the 2K walkers took off at 9:30 am. The runners were then told to take their places in the start chute. The chute was organized by estimated pace time and despite the masses of runners it felt completely organized and not crowded. I looked around, tied and retied my shoes to kill the final minutes until the start and then we were off!
Cheering crowds lined the course as we crossed the start line which provided a much needed motivation boost. The course started up a small incline then headed away from downtown for almost a mile. At the first mile marker I was excited to see I was hitting the exact pace I wanted. From there the course seems to climb a gradual hill through the Smith College campus for almost a mile. I focused on my form and breathing to keep moving up the hill and spectators provided a welcome boost. Finally the course turns back toward the finish in downtown Northampton where bands, cheerleaders and cheering crowds provided enthusiastic encouragement. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face because I beat my target time and because this race is a whole lot of fun!
The Hot Chocolate Run combines a beautiful course, a great cause and the fun times that make running a wonderful sport. If you find yourself in Northampton in early December next year then you should join me at the 11th Annual Hot Chocolate Run.