Virtually Perfect: The Philadelphia Allstate Hot Chocolate 5k

Disclaimer: I received free entry to the virtual Philadelphia Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k race by RAM Racing as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!

Picture it: New Jersey, March 2020. I was sitting on the couch, stuffing my face with an assortment of cakes and drinking wine as I received emails about the spring races I signed up for going virtual due to a virus called COVID-19.

Last year one of my first races to go virtual was the Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15k/5k. It feels like a lifetime ago! We were so early in the pandemic, I wasn’t sure if running outside was “safe”. (Does anyone else remember those times?)

I ran the distance on my treadmill and that, as they say, was that. Even though we live less than a half hour away, I never felt further from Philly. Looking back I realize that I didn’t write a blog about it because what was there to say?

I took a picture with the medal so that’s something!

The past year has brought many virtual races and speaking with other runners I know that there’s an overall feeling of virtual race fatigue. I feel it too.

Some smaller races are back in person, but many of the larger races are still only safely able to function virtually. 2021 is my 5th straight year participating in the Allstate Hot Chocolate series and you know I couldn’t give up that legacy streak so I opted in through BibRave to run the virtual event.

Hope to see you next year, friends!

Leading up to race weekend, the communication from RAM Racing was a quiet, which surprised me. In past years, the series sent out a weekly training plan email so I thought that they might incorporate that into their planned virtual event. Alas, other than a few sporadic emails, there was nothing noteworthy. A missed opportunity!

Rather than relegating myself to another treadmill run, I felt comfortable and safe taking my run to a favorite running locale of mine, the Ben Franklin Bridge. It stretches between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with the base directly in the city of Philadelphia.

In December, when I registered, my training was going well and I confidently signed up for the 15k distance. A lot can change in a short amount of time and this past weekend, I knew that I wasn’t prepared for that distance. Thankfully, there’s a 5k distance option and the path that goes over the bridge and back again is exactly that mileage.

Along with my kid runner, Lucas, we drove twenty minutes to the base of the bridge in Camden, NJ. The view of the Philly skyline is impressive and always makes me happy.

We took our time, took a ton of pictures, and enjoyed the beautiful day. We haven’t run the Ben since early March 2020, so this was welcome change for the both of us.

Back to NJ

Due to a manufacturing delay, I have not yet received my race packet in the mail – I know that this was an issue for some of my local friends who signed up for the race as well.

It stinks not to have the swag now that I’ve run the distance… after all we live in a world of instant gratification! However, I know that the swag is 100% worth the wait and I’m looking forward to it arriving soon.

My next race isn’t until June and that feels so weird to say! I’m focusing on returning to running, listening to my body, and getting through the continuation of this crazy time. Be safe and be well!

How to (Happily) Run a 25k Distance For the Very First Time

First, get yourself a small, comfortable group of running friends. If it’s during COVID times, like now, make sure they’re staying home as much as possible, wearing masks when they do go places, and are willing to put up with your early morning shenanigans.

August 2020 running – Amy, Keri, and me

October 2020 running – me, Keri, Amy

Next, you’re going to want to have a training plan. Or, if your friends have a plan and you can insert yourself into their plan, better yet. That’s what I did.

We signed up for the Dirty German 25k virtual race. Our running group is know as the Turtles (I’ll give you exactly one guess why) so we called it the Dirty Turtle. The base rules are listed above; the 15 week plan was one that Keri set in place. Anyone who knows me know that I love a good plan that this one was solid and not overly aggressive.

The longest training run was 10 miles, which I did twice about a month apart. We floated the idea of making the second one a half marathon (13.1 miles) distance but landed on keeping with the 10 miles instead.

November 2020

Which brings me to my next point: have a backup plan for training. I realized that I wouldn’t be available to run on our scheduled day with Keri and Amy so I invited my son, Lucas, along for the 10 miles. We ran on the same trail that Keri, Amy, and I planned to do the 25k and I was able to familiarize myself with every section of the path.

After conquering our 15 week training plan, it was finally go time! We landed on the date because it was Keri’s birthday. What better way to spend a birthday morning than waking up super early and running all the miles, right?

The weather forecast looked incredible – low 40s to start and ending in the low 60s. We went into the morning stocked with gels, hydration, hand sanitizer, Buffs for when we came across other people, and a solid plan of what we were going to do. Knowing exactly what to expect = comforting.

We parked at the trailhead, which always has a clean portapotty there – something we took into consideration when planning. Our cars served as aid stations so we made sure to throw things in there that we might potentially need.

Once upon a time, the trail we chose to run on was part of the Pennsylvania-Reading Railroad line, so it’s wide and flat. Some sections are a bit gravel-y, others are covered in leaves at this time of year, but generally speaking, it’s considered an easy trail.

The run was broken down into three sections. Two 3 mile out and backs (so that we could swing by our car/aid stations if necessary) and a final couple of loops in the park before returning to the trail for our last mile and change. While training we stuck with 1:1 intervals and we figured that’s what we’d do until someone said differently.

The first 6 miles were pretty amazing, as expected. Not expected was when I fell around 5.5 miles in, although perhaps I should have expected it, knowing my proclivity for such things. One moment we were talking about Dawson’s Creek and Pacey versus Dawson, the next moment, I was on the ground!

For a moment I thought my 15.5 mile journey might be reduced by 10 but thankfully after I made sure my ankles were okay, I was back in the “get it done” mindset. And, since we were close to the car 6 mile mark, I was able to stop and clean myself up before we set out again for miles 6-12.

Our dear friend, Emily, joined us for this portion and it really helped us mentally break up the run. We hit our halfway mark during this section, and as is our way, we did our halfway dance. To Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer.

But you know, copyright and all that. Just sing the chorus.

Once we reached 12 miles, we were all feeling the distance and needed a new game plan for the final 3.5 (which seemed longer than the first two parts, honestly). We decided to switch our intervals to 1 minute of running, 2 minutes walking and to get off the trail for awhile and swing through the paved park a few times.

Officially past 13.1 = our longest distance EVER!

We got a (very) brief second wind at the point we past the half marathon mark. Keri and Amy’s family members arrived to cheer for us so we said hello before making our way BACK to the trail for the final time. My family was at my son’s karate black belt test, but my husband did come out to cheer for us earlier in the morning and I was getting text messages throughout with updates.

After some quick mental math distance calculations which is usually NOT my forte, I figured out just how far we needed to go on the trail (and back) to hit the 15.5 mile mark.

The last two miles were rough. Wait, no, I take that back. The first 1.5 miles of the last two miles were rough. The final half mile we decided to listen to Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now and We Are the Champions. I think we might have been slightly delirious and I know we were singing very, very loudly in this beautiful, tranquil place (thankfully there weren’t too many people around).

Keri and Amy’s family were both there as we crossed the “finish” line. In our cars we had snacks, cake for Keri’s birthday, mimosa makings, the works.

And we celebrated because that’s what you do when you run a 25k for the very first time.

Love, put your medals on!

It’s been a few days since we ran and I’m still on a high from running this distance, still so happy with what we accomplished. I think that says a lot. For all the crap that 2020 has thrown our way, I’m a tiny bit surprised that I feel this happy about doing a virtual 25k. But I am, and it’s a great feeling.

Be well and stay healthy, friends.