Last Thanksgiving, I had seen an offer for a $25.00 half marathon posted in one of my running groups. It just so happened that this race, the Rockin’ Chocolate Half Marathon, happened to be in Madison, Wisconsin, which was a state that I needed for my 50 state quest. I pulled the trigger and signed up for this race and thought even if I didn’t make it, I’d be losing the cost of a dinner. For $25, I figured it was just a no brainer to sign up. This was its inaugural year, so I had nothing to even go on on how this race would be. The idea though seemed pretty simple. There would be music and there would be chocolate. I just kept thinking to myself it’s probably the offspring if a Rock ‘n’ Roll race had a one night stand with the Hot Chocolate Race Series.
Since this was over Labor Day weekend, I ended up making it a double with the New Bo Half Marathon in Cedar Rapids, IA, on Sunday. Even better is that I talked Mel into driving up from Des Moines to join me in on the fun! I knew it would be a fun weekend checking off two new states and adding 2 more half marathons to my count.
The weekend started for me by flying into Milwaukee. I rented a car and drove over to Madison and finally arrived at the hotel just after 11pm. Mel was already there so I tried to sneak in as best as possible. We had a race start at 7:30am, so we planned on getting up around 5:50am or so. The nice think about the race is that even though there was a small expo for bib pick up, if we didn’t make it then, we could have picked up our bibs on race morning. On race morning, we probably left the hotel around 6:40am to make it over to the race site. The race started in a local park and there was plenty of on street parking with a short walk away. After hanging out, we all of a sudden heard the National Anthem coming out on an electric guitar and it was time to start the race.
Since this was still early in my marathon training and I had the double weekend, I knew I would stay strict on my run/walk. I asked Mel before the race what she planned to do and she surprised me to say whatever I was planning to run. I was a little relived as I was looking more looking forward to the miles then. We lined up toward the back of the starting corral and were off in minutes.
The course was pretty much a loop around Lake Monona. It’s no secret that I love to run around any body of water, so I was excited about this course. From the start, we turned right into a neighborhood. For the first mile and a half, we were running along an open road. There were some random cones out and I think they were to try and keep us to one side, but it just wasn’t enough. A few runners almost took a tumble because of the random cones. If anything, I would think they’d be able to close this section of the road for maybe 30 minutes to let us out before we turned onto a small path.
These first 4 miles were so nice. I mean just beautiful. The area around this lake was amazing. The houses were picturesque and certainly made for fun conversation. If I could snatch one up, I would in a heart beat. There were a lot of mid-century modern homes and in fact in some of the little park ares, even the bath houses were mid-century modern. Certainly some of the nicest looking bath houses I’d ever seen.
Just around mile 2, we saw a runner go down. I think she rolled her ankle and so I stopped and made sure she was okay. She definitely wasn’t but pulled out her phone to call someone. This is where another improvement could be made on the course. Mel and I looked for other stations or EMTs riding around on the course, but we didn’t see anything for another 3 miles or so. Another runner did stay with her and so I felt better and hope she was okay!Just after this point, we had an amazing view of the capital. I really couldn’t say enough about the actual course. There were some gentle rollers, but overall a flatter course. During these early miles, I was still feeling pretty good. In fact, my 4th mile came in at 11:01. Whoops! A little too fast, but everything was feeling okay still.
At this point we were really starting to get on the other side of the lake and now headed into downtown Madison. We were running on the sidewalk mainly at this point, but it was never crowded. It seemed to be a small enough race that space wasn’t an issue. Now, I always take my water, but at the water stop just after mile 6, we passed through and the volunteers told us they didn’t have any water but would soon. I think they had Gatorade, but what got me is that they specifically told us they would have water soon. Did they expect us to sit and wait?
Just as we came up to mile 7, I really started to feel the miles. I knew I was going too fast and had to slow down if I was not just going to make it through this race, but the next day’s race. I finally spoke up to Mel and really needed to slow down on my runs and even on my walks. I just to just relax and enjoy the rest of the race. Somewhere at the end of mile 9, I had an intense sensation for a beer. I let everyone around me know. In the middle of the road, I literally just yelled for someone to get me a damn beer. There were a few other runners around and everyone just started laughing. I mean we all know I don’t run to win races, so basically I just run to be able to drink good beer and I really wanted one right then.
By the time we got to mile 10, we were already back on the original side of the lake and back into some neighborhoods again. I was pretty ready to be done with this race. I was starting to get hungry as well. It’s in these miles that we didn’t fully run around the lake either. Just after mile 11, we took a turn away from the lake until mile 12. We then weaved a bit around a neighborhood and then all of a sudden took the most random out and back on a road before you hit the park for the finish. Literally you could see the path going into the park, but you had to run this out and back before you hit the path. I guess a lot of people had already complained about it after the race and they said they needed the mileage, but I would welcome them to find it somewhere else. It really was not much, so I would be shocked if they couldn’t maybe back up the start/finish line up or find it somewhere else. It really was pointless and a little daunting.
As we came into the park, we had runners who had already finished pass us by. Everyone we passed cheered us on. We rounded the back side of the pool and then came out right by the finish line. As we got closer, they announced our named and just like that, our first race of the weekend was over. We were handed our medals and Mel immediately searched out the chocolate milk. I thought she might lose it if they didn’t have any, but luckily they did!
We walked over to the finisher’s party. We were given a coupon for a free beer or soda. I opted for the beer to just try it. It wasn’t terrible and as I sipped it, it grew on me. It was certainly nice to have a local beer versus something like a Michelob Ultra. There was a band playing under the tent and that was truly the only music we saw and heard on the course. There were some vendors, where again, we thought there would be chocolate, but again we were fooled. While they were yummy products, there was not a single chocolate vendor. Things had chocolate in them, but no straight up chocolate. Certainly bizarre for a race that touted themselves to be a Rockin’ Chocolate race.
Overall, I was pretty happy with how I did. In fact, I was a little surprised. I thought I would be much slower and so I was certainly worried how I would feel for Sunday’s race. I was happy with sticking to the run/walk for the most part. The main deviations were just through water stops. As for the race, they have some improvements to do. For an inaugural race, they did a pretty good job, but they definitely could step it up in areas. For starters, they need to get with their theme and name of the race and bring in more rock and more chocolate. Maybe offer chocolate at the water stops or even at the end! Or maybe even with our bib pick up! We were told we’d get chocolate then but we were given toffee. One is just not the other.
The other big item that could use some improvement is the size of the medal. The design itself was pretty cool, but it was so lightweight and small. It could just use a little more pizzaz! For what I paid and probably what most people paid though, we got a good race. They didn’t miss any major things for a first year race, so I have to give them that! Since it looks like this race will be over a holiday weekend, I think that could certainly draw a good amount of runners. I think overall there were about 100 between their offered races. I would say if you’re looking to maybe do this race in 2018, wait to see how they might change some things. From what I could see already is that they wanted the feedback from runners and were willing to see how they could improve. That’s promising!
Official Finish Time:
85/107 Female 25-34