If you weren't one of the 40 thousand runners who took place in the Hot Chocolate 15/5k, then you missed out on the unveiling of the new and improved RAM Racing event.
There has been plenty of criticisms of the race that has grown from 3500 to 40,000 runners in just four short years, from over crowding on the course, to jammed packed expo. This year the RAM Racing team stepped up to the challenge with an event that showcased why Chicago is a world class city with a world class endurance community.
The expo. was moved to Union Station packed with an army of volunteers dressed in orange all ready to help anyone who would let them. " I ran in the first Hot Chocolate with my sisters 5 years ago, it was my first race ever, this year I am hurt, so they are running and I am volunteering, to be a part, it's our new family tradition," said Stephanie, as she guided runners through the jacket swap. The jacket swap was new this year in response to some people not having the right fitting jacket in their goodie bag, no questions asked, if you didn't like the way your jacket fit, you were given a new size, right on the spot.
It's no secret that I have been working with RAM. I have participated in races, covered plenty of races, hung out at races and even volunteered, but I have never actually been one of "those people" scurrying about with a walkie talkie, until Saturday, the experience opened my eyes to what it takes to make an event happen.
It's a lot more than stringing up a finish line and saying "go." I have been fortunate enough to see the behind the scenes planning that race director Brandon Presern and his team of operations super ninjas put into place for race day. It's months of meticulous planning, working with the city, vendors, doctors, lighting guys, music guys, food guys, face painting guys, guys who over see the guys! All making sure that they are ready for everything on race day from rain to lost kids. When a semi- truck got stuck under a bridge on the course, minutes before the start of the race, what could have been a day ruining event, was handled with a skill and calm that makes Presern the top notch race director that he is.
As a "race day virgin," when the news of the stuck truck crackled over the walkie talkies, my first instinct was "run for the hills, were dun for!" Luckily I was in charge of the VIP tent and not the race!
Presern and his team calmly and immediately came up with an alternate course, that delayed the start by only 15 minutes and kept his 40,000 guests safe and running through the streets of Chicago.
The new 5k course was actually 3.25 miles, and I have been told by RAM race officials that the new correct course distance and adjusted pace per mile will be available as soon as possible.
Running is something that you can do for free, just about any place, running through the streets of Chicago on a Saturday afternoon, that is something that takes the work of an army, working for months on end, 24 hours a day. When you are handed your Gatorade and Gu, you normally don't think how it got there, how the flavors were picked, how many were ordered, why there is a person handing them to you and where they got their special volunteer t-shirt. Race directors do, over and over and over again.
Standing at the starting line when the gun went off and watching 40,000 runners take off was something that made my heart fill with pride and a tear of joy roll down my face, and again, I was in charge of the VIP tent!
As the day went on, my job got easier, I watched the mayors kids chow down in the VIP tent and talked to local media about the course. Presern and his team were working on what streets to close when, where the winners are supposed to get their awards, what stations need more water, a runner twisted his ankle and a thousand other details. By the time the race was officially over, Grant Park was almost empty, I was chowing down on a BBQ turkey leg with a camera crew in the VIP, Presern was still on the walkie talkie, voice horse, up for over 48 hours, "we need to have a meeting in OPS, all team leaders report to OPS."
Do we "need" a 40,000 person chocolate themed race, nope. We also don't "need" an Elvis themed race, a race that finishes in Soldier Field, but I'm glad that we do.
If you want to see the entire three days boiled down to 80 seconds, check out the time lapse video their director of photography Britt Williams put together of the entire event.