Driving (the LONG way) out to run the inaugural Rockin’ Chocolate Half Marathon race was my first time in Wisconsin. I’ve crossed so many new states off my list since moving to Iowa! This was first of a double-header half weekend over Labor Day with my friend Chelsea (Pittsburgh City Girl) – who is on a 50-states quest. My intent was to have fun and spend time catching up and running with her.
For this recap, I’m going to start with the experience. Overall, we were a little disappointed as there was neither a whole lot of chocolate or a whole lot of rocking (I did enjoy greatly the guitar solo national anthem, however). Like, I get what the race was trying to accomplish – the idea of commingling the popular rock n’ roll and hot chocolate events – but I do not believe it was successfully executed. Our expectations were that there would be music and chocolate along the course (there was not) and a sinful amount of chocolate at the finish (there was not). I did respond to the post-race survey, so hopefully they take some of that feedback into account for future races (the 2018 date has already been announced). That said, they also messed up sending the surveys, so those of us who received survey links in email got error messages that we had already taken it. They did not resend the email, yet posted a corrected link on Facebook, which… not the same thing.
Cost and Registration: A Cyber Monday deal last year prompted us to register for this race – it was only $25! An excellent deal for a half marathon. HOWEVER, registration for the 2018 race right now is already $60, and goes up to $65 after January 1st. The race did sell out this year, so something to consider in planning your sign-up.
Expo and Packet Pick-up: The only reason why I took a half day’s PTO to drive to Madison on Friday was because of the promise of chocolate-filled goodie bags with early bib pick-up. Well, it was a package of toffee, which is quite possibly the WORST (and far as I’m concerned, NOT chocolate). And well, that set the tone for the race. The expo was super tiny, held in a community room at the Monona city building, and took all of 5 minutes to grab everything I needed.
Parking: Our hotel was about 20 minutes from the start. Despite getting to the race early, parking was already a little challenging, as we were not sure which streets were OK to park on – or on which side – and we were a couple miles out and seeing a lot of people walking in. People looked to be parking in bike lines, of which I am NOT AT ALL a proponent. There was parking information and maps provided by the race organizers via email, but street signs were confusing and/or conflicting and side street parking filled up quickly. Despite that, we parked on a main road about 3/4 mi. (or so) from the start line.
Start Line: I found another Pittsburgh friend wearing the SAME Pittsburgh Marathon shirt (who no longer lives in Pittsburgh either lol)! We were fast friends, of course, and reminisced on the city we missed.
I brought my own coffee.
A solo guitarist started us off with the national anthem, which was an awesome way to begin the race. Rock on! Also a bonus: the race started on time (you never know what to expect with a new or small race).
Weather: Race day was the first cool morning of a season of never-ending humidity. OMG, the weather was beautiful! I eventually had to shed my long-sleeve shirt when we left the shaded neighborhoods, but it still was a really lovely, sunny day.
Course: The course had a beautiful backdrop in downtown Madison and Lake Monona. We left the start area on the paved trails and ran throughout the surrounding Lake Monona neighborhoods near the shore, looped around the lake into downtown and back into Monona. The neighborhoods were GORGEOUS – and all the buildings and houses (even the park bathrooms!) felt Frank Lloyd Wright inspired. Outside of the Niagara Falls Marathon, this might have been my favorite course scenery.
I mean, even the Little Library drops were adorable!
I should also note that despite the music-forward implication, there was only one solo musician set up on the course. This was disappointing, particularly as there was zero crowd support on the course. Know that this will be a lonely race if you are doing it alone. The course elevation is not that challenging; there were a few climbs early in the race, but mostly just a bunch of rolling little bumps.
Finish Line: The finish line welcomed us with chocolate milk (yay!) and some kind of chocolate-covered strawberry local beer (I couldn’t have it, obvs) – which you needed your ticket to redeem (not attached to the bib as it is in other races). A tent was set up where the beer was served, with a live band playing, and there were a couple food trucks set up near the park. I believe there were also massage therapists on-site.
There were also a bunch of vendors SELLING sweets and goodies (yes, some were providing samples). Again, not much in the way of chocolate; which was not only irritating for its lack of playing to the theme of the race, but also for its money-grab on the participants. I’m more than happy to support local establishments (and I did); however, if you are going to call yourself a chocolate race THEN YOU BETTER HAVE CHOCOLATE.
The only chocolate on the course was chocolate milk (and chocolate animal crackers) at the finish line.
Swag and Medals: I love the race-branded t-shirt that came with registration (super soft!), even though it was unisex sizing; and the medal – while “rockin” in theme – was a little small and cheap compared to what the race appeared to be advertising through its social channels. This is the 3rd guitar-shaped medal in my collection, which is cool. I don’t really run for the medals anymore (though I do love to display them), so it’s not the biggest deal for me – but it might be for others.
After Party: Since this was a double-header weekend, we needed to get back to the hotel and check out – and also find somewhere to find some cheese (like you do in Wisconsin, right?). Which is randomly how we found the gluten-free awesomeness of Alt Brew. Not only did they have AMAZING beers (holy moly, the Kolsch was incredible!!! Yes, I brought some home with me), they had an awesome local cheese board. It was the first in a LONG time that I was able to have a flight of beers somewhere.
YAY, Madison! The great (gluten-free) beer redeemer!
The Great: I loved the course – total visual overload looking at all the mid-century modern homes and views of the lake. *swoon*
The Good: The race photographer took a BUNCH of great shots on the course, and I was excited to get a Black Friday discount code to download all my pictures.
The Bad: A race capitalizing on the popularity of two other races… and not executing it well at all.
The Ugly: Gross, toffee. Not worth 4 hours of PTO. Also, misspelling “marthon” in its emails. LORDY.