Who would pass up at the chance to have hot chocolate and fondue post a race? The very thought enticed me into signing up for America’s sweetest run-the hot chocolate run. It was a 15k  which made it an ideal distance for a Sunday long run without necessarily having to do the grueling half marathon, which made me wonder why there weren’t more  15k races held.

The event was held at Golden Gate park in San Francisco, one of the most scenic parks in the city with some incorrigible inclines enough to challenge your lungs. I had run here earlier during the San Francisco half marathon in July and recollected huffing and puffing my way up these deadly slopes. Yet that didn’t deter me from aiming for a sub 1:30. I had kept up with my fitness regime even during my Christmas vacation at Hawaii, thanks to a 24-hour gym and a pool at the resort. Besides I made sure to stay away from those sumptuous Christmas goodies ensuring that my waist line remained intact which resorted to me munching on salads much to my husband’s aghast. I felt lighter and fitter as I left for the event on Sunday morning.

It was a 40-minute drive to San Francisco state parking from where the participants were to board the shuttle buses that would take them to the park. Shuttle tickets were to be bought in advance online.  Reaching the park at 6:40 am, I had 90 minutes to kill before my run commenced at 8:10 am. It was a huge area with stalls selling the hot chocolate merchandise. I sat down in one of them suddenly tired from the travel. I had woken up at 4:30 am to catch an uber from my home at Stanford at 5:15  and catch the shuttle at 6:00 am.

I could see a sea of purple streaming across the green grass, some of them being 5 k runners making their way to the start line as their race started at 7:15 am. I sat down observing people around me, a past time that I enjoyed if I wasn’t scrolling down my smart phone scanning for the latest news. Some of them were chatting gaily with their groups while some sat on the benches trying to relax themselves before the run.

It was soon time for my race as I slipped into my designated coral. Doing my warm ups, I braced up to give this run my best.  It was initially an uphill that greeted me followed by a number of downhills as I managed a steady 5:30 pace. I was going strong, passing by a pond with ducks swimming, some tufts of green grass and a windmill.  My watch showed 27 minutes once it touched the 5k mark. Not bad, I thought.

The next 5 km was at a gradual gradient and could not keep up the pace that I wished to. The pace kept flip flopping between 5:40 to 5:50. It was a beautiful route and we passed by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The sun was not out that morning yet so the sea had a silvery appearance to it as it washed its foamy waves on the sandy shores. I turned and stared at the view before I crossed the 10k mark making my watch buzz as it displayed 57 minutes.

I was on track and all I had to do was keep a 6:00 pace for the next 5 km. I was going strong till 11km until fatigue overpowered my legs. To my dismay, it was a continuous uphill from thereon with only one small downhill.  I noticed other runners walking around me and decided to adopt the 10 seconds walk method. It worked and my legs no longer felt like jelly that was being heated to a pulp. Just 2.5 km I told myself, clenching my fists in determination and glancing at my watch fervently like that rabbit in Alice in wonderland which kept saying “I am late I am late’. The pace had slipped to 6:30 making my eyes pop in horror. No! I cried to myself. Not when I am so close to my target.  At that moment, I came across one of the aid stations which were serving marshmallows. I grabbed one greedily, popping it into my mouth and the sudden sugar rush upped the pace to 5:55.

Reaching the 14th km mark, I noticed 1:23 flashing on my watch and the uphill seemed to be never ending. The sub 1:30 was still within my grasp if I kept at a decent pace. The inclines were not going to make it easy but I will show them who is boss, I thought fiercely. After all I needed something to celebrate with that hot chocolate drink post the run. I wasn’t going to race at any more events for a while as the remaining events were trail runs where no person with a reasonably sane mind would want to take nature to task.

My legs were crying in pain reminding me of a similar feeling at the 36k mark during the standard chartered Mumbai marathon in 2013. I ignored them and kept going. It was one thing to run at a good pace on flat courses and another on grueling steady inclines that coiled like a snake, ready to raise its slimy head at any point. Fortunately, it was the caricature of the hot chocolate cup that greeted me as I neared towards the end of my run spotting the familiar arch to the finish line.

Hurrah! It was 1:29:49. Was expecting to finish in 1:27 but considering the terrain, I was thrilled at the outcome. Collecting the spectacular medal which was huge and shaped in the form of dark chocolate, I thought this was an ideal one for that famous runner’s bite post a race. Trudging long the park, I made my way towards the tents which were given out finisher mugs in blue color to the participants. Hot chocolate, fondue, marshmallows and cookies beamed out of the cup as I gulped the drink, saving the rest of the goodies for my 3-year-old daughter.

No doubt it had been a sweet start to the year but the course was far from being sweet. Probably that’s what made me relish the hot chocolate even more without worrying about the calories for once. I was glad of having run a good race as it would be a while before I put those legs of mine to torture.