By Robin Monsky
Start with Three C’s: Chocolate, Charity & Course
When a race more than doubles in size from one year to the next, as the Columbus Hot Chocolate 15k/5k did from 2015 to 2016, it’s clearly making its runners happy! Last season’s edition of the race drew an event record of 13,699 registrants – more than double the previous year’s participation. Both the 5k and 15k distances also saw more finishers than any other races at those distances in the state of Ohio. An impressive result for an event that was just in its fifth year as a tradition in the market.
So what is driving the popularity of this race?
Start with chocolate, charity and course. Add in the best swag bags in all of running. Mix in the most efficiently organized race production in the country and loads of other runner benefits like free race photography, and you’ll see the recipe for success. Given that Columbus is the third stop on a 19-city Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Series, it’s a recipe that clearly has wide-spread appeal and is worth savoring whether you’re a recreational or serious runner.
The Hot Chocolate races are known as “The Sweetest Races In Town” because the pre-race, post-race and in-race treats go beyond the traditional bagel and banana into the land of luxurious chocolate. Chocolate is built into the experience from start to finish with samples of the race’s rich dark chocolate squares even welcoming you at the expo when you pick up your bib. The race’s founder, RAM Racing’s CEO Steve Ginsburg, chose Hot Chocolate as a theme when he created his first race because he downs the liquid confection on a daily basis like others drink coffee. A health nut himself, he wanted to provide only the best version of hot chocolate so he created his own private label signature blend made with high-grade non-confectioners chocolate (73% cacao).
After the first few Hot Chocolate races proved so successful, one mass-market pre-packaged hot chocolate manufacturer approached Ginsburg about coming in as a sponsor. He turned them down because he wanted to maintain the high quality of his product. Finishers are rewarded with a mug loaded with fondue, pretzels, Rice Krispie Treats, cookie straws and bananas in addition to the scrumptious hot chocolate. There are even “sweet stations” on the course that provide delicious mid-race snacks. More than 4,000 pounds of melted chocolate are prepared for each race. As part of this year’s 10th Anniversary celebration of the inaugural Hot Chocolate race, RAM Racing will be selling its proprietary blends of hot chocolate mix and fondue chocolate to fans at the race’s Expo and online.
The Hot Chocolate Race benefits Make-A-Wish®, a national charity that creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Last season the Hot Chocolate Series drew a quarter of a million chocolate-loving runners and generated over $200,000 collectively for its non-profit partner. The series has generated over $1 million for charity in 10 years and hopes to magnify that amount this season with the expanded roster of 19 cities.
“The running community is notoriously generous,” noted Ginsburg. “Our goal is to get to a point where we are raising a million dollars a year so Make-A-Wish can expand their amazing wish-fulfillment programs.” Runners can show their magnanimity through voluntary donations upon sign-up for each Hot Chocolate Race, by seeking sponsorship pledges for their runs or through special race-day activations.
The USATF-certified race course is the only 5k or 15k that is run on Columbus’ city streets. Thanks to great cooperation from the city, the police, the convention center and the park district, runners are treated to a beautiful traffic-free course. Front and center on the tour of the town are the riverfront, the famous Ohio State University campus, High Street and finally the post-race party held at Arch Park in the Arena District.
The clearly marked course is easy to follow. It’s stocked with plenty of accessible aid-stations serving water, NUUN and marshmallows. Photographers and timing clocks are scattered through the course to make sure you can track your progress and will get high-resolution pictures of yourself on your journey. The Hot Chocolate Series is one of the few events that provides FREE race-day pictures to its participants. It also has its own system for tagging runners and sharing the pics immediately for social media distribution.
More than 25% of runners who sign up for a Hot Chocolate race are alumni – that’s higher than the industry average. One of the reasons they keep returning and bringing their friends and family with them are the top-of-the-line goodie bags they pick up at the expo. A jewel tone quarter-zip long sleeve technical jacket (purple for women, aqua for men) is this year’s highlighted item. Year after year, Hot Chocolate’s goodie bags get top honors on industry lists of best give-away items.
And as if that’s not enough, after crossing the finish line, runners will receive a city specific medal, shaped like a chocolate bar with a gold wrapper around it, and a Buckeye-shaped key chain to commemorate their experience.
This year RAM Racing unveiled The Legacy Experience to acknowledge all of Hot Chocolate’s loyal runners. The new program offers a tiered list of extra keepsakes for returning athletes. If this year will be your 3rd or 5th consecutive year participating in a Hot Chocolate race, you’ll earn free gifts ranging from a commemorative photo frame to a legacy beanie, novelty race bib and special legacy medal.
If you haven’t started a streak yet at the Hot Chocolate, why not start now so you can enjoy the chocolate, contribute to charity and enjoy the course – all in Columbus!
The Hot Chocolate 15K/5K