Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Race Report: SeaWheeze lululemon Half Marathon

Downtown VAN, coming
in for a landing...
I love Vancouver.  That whole part of the world - Seattle, Portland - what Americans know as the Pacific Northwest, and is also the region where Canada's southwesternmost province of British Columbia can get lumped into - is probably one of my most favorite places to visit.  The first (and most recent) time I went to Vancouver was October of 2015, when I was in town for a weekend to run the Rock 'n' Roll Vancouver Cunningham Seawall 10K and Half Marathon.  The opportunity arose for me to return to Vancouver to run the very popular SeaWheeze Half Marathon, put on by Vancouver-based athletic (but mostly yoga) apparel company lululemon.  In its 5th year of existence, this race has quickly become one of the most talked about races in the half marathon world.  According to Runners' World, in an article about "which races sell out the fastest," the SeaWheeze Half Marathon sold out all of its 10,017 available open registration spots in 28 minutes - coming out to an average of 358 registrations per minute.  Not only that, registration opened around nine months prior to the race date.  In 2015.

The Showcase Store!
The race offers some genius perks that make it uniquely different to other half marathons.  Race registration not only includes the entry into the race itself (as well as full support during the race with aid, water and fueling stations), it also includes open-air yoga classes with some of North America’s best teachers; entry to the post-race Sunset Festival, which in the past has featured top bands such as Capital Cities and Chromeo; delicious nicely catered post-race runners' brunch; and instead of the typical tech fabric race tee, runners receive a pair of special-edition SeaWheeze runner shorts.  AND, instead of an expo, there's a package pick-up "party."  Runners, at least this year, got a race-exclusive lululemon mesh duffel bag with an adjustable strap, and got to partake in all the fun happening on Jack Poole Plaza, outside of the Vancouver Convention Centre (and in the area behind the 2010 Winter Olympics torch cauldron, right on the Coal Harbour waterfront) - which included plenty of food trucks, merchandisers giving out sample wares (notably, Saje Natural Wellness, a company who I would see constantly over the course of the weekend, who offered this amazing peppermint roll-on stick, which also helped with sore muscles!), temporary airbrush tattoo applications, a manicure station, and even a men's salon.  AND, there's also the SeaWheeze Showcase store, where special-edition lululemon product is available - an entire line of running gear inspired by the year's SeaWheeze theme.  The store is SO exclusive that runners and lululemon devotees have been known to camp out overnight in lines OUTSIDE of the convention center to be the first to access the store and have their pick of sizes.

Temporary airbrush tattoos!


Shenanigans with mannequins (oooh, I made a rhyme!)
Running into my friend Dave!
I took Friday off of work and flew out Friday morning, arriving in Vancouver at around 11am.  It was quite nice flying into Sea Island during the day, as both times I flew in and out of Vancouver from last year's trip were late at night. I captured some great shots of downtown Vancouver as we landed, and was able to get through security fairly quickly, heading straight to the Canada Line SkyTrain Metro station at the airport to take me directly to downtown Vancouver.  Upon arrival, I was able to meet up with several friends in town for the race (many of them from California, which is an easy flight for them), and even ran into local running friends David (who, as of the end of October, has completed 100 ascents of Grouse Mountain, the crazy 1.5 mile hike up the side of a mountain that I so harebrainedly attempted after running a half marathon!) and Lisa (a lululemon ambassador and also promoter for the Rock 'n' Roll marathon series, who was a "pace beaver" for the race). I grabbed a late lunch at a brewery at the Convention Center, where I met up with my old friend Manoj, who happened to be in town on an extended vacation from NYC, and a couple of his friends!  As the day began to fade, the plaza became a ginormous yoga studio, as runners and yogis of different sizes, statures, and ability levels descended upon the waterfront to pay homage to the beautiful day, as the sun said its goodbyes during sunset yoga.  I then headed up for a group dinner at an Italian restaurant on Robson Street to eat with some new friends. Soon afterward, with my backpack still in tow, I took a cab back to my cousin's townhouse, where I was staying for the two nights I was in town.  He lives in the up and coming neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, just east of downtown Vancouver, about 10-15 minutes away. I turned in, since, as always, it was an early morning with the race being on Saturday.

Sunset yoga.  I'm so not flexible.
Fun with the party signs!
Start arch!
The race began early the next morning, and Lisa was nice enough to pick me up on her way to the convention center.  We parked in the garage at the cavernous Pacific Centre mall, only a few blocks away, and then separated as she headed off to meet with the other pace beavers, and I hung around the convention center with stunning views of the mountains in North Vancouver as the sun continued to rise, as my friends began to trickle in from the hotels nearby.  After a warm-up led by Team Nuun friends Lauren and Angelo, we crowded over to Thurlow Street, where 10,000+ of us self-seeded into the rough wave sections, curving onto Cordova Street for our 13.1 mile jaunt around the city of Vancouver.  It was in the low to mid 60s with no wind, and slightly humid - which signaled it would be a little bit of a warm race.

A group of friends, old and new (and overwhelmingly
Indonesian!) before the race... (Photo by Pretty Soelaiman)

A spin class on the highway!
We had a little bit of a late start, but soon, we took off, underneath the unique start arch on Cordova Street. Similar to the route of the Rock 'n' Roll Vancouver Half, we took off toward the hip and contemporary neighborhood of Gastown, turning right onto Granville Street, then left onto Dunsmuir Street, eventually onto the Dunsmuir Viaduct.  All the while, I had my UE Roll speaker playing my fun running playlist, which was a big hit at the Rock 'n' Roll Dublin Half Marathon the weekend before.  The first few miles were congested, which was not a surprise. As we ran onto the viaduct, we were greeted by a rousing SPIN class, all wearing the same outfit, rocking out on the highway!  We then exited off of the viaduct onto Main Street, then turned onto Keefer Street, and through Vancouver's Chinatown.  I ran into my friend Thao as we made our way underneath the highways along Carrall Street, and then began following the seawall along False Creek.

Running down Dunsmuir Street

Finding Thao in Chinatown!

Making our way toward the False Creek seawall...

We ran along the False Creek seawall for about a mile and a half, before emerging onto Beach Avenue and then onto Pacific Boulevard, where a group of spectators dressed up in black suits and flip flops pretended to be on their in-ear radios.  However, we then went on an out and back that took us into the neighborhood of Kitsilano, colloquially known as "Kits," across the Burrard Street Bridge and onto Cornwall Avenue.  Along this three-mile out-and-back (1.5 out, 1.5 back), we would pass by the Lululemon Athletica headquarters at Cornwall Avenue and Chestnut, and hundreds of people cheering the thousands of us on along the crowded Avenue.  Near the turnaround we were greeted by another spin class, as well as some spectators carrying fun signs, including one I just had to stop and take a picture with!
Running across the Burrard Street Bridge
The out-and-back in Kits.  SOOO many people! (Lululemon's HQ on the left)

Beach near the seawall
We came out of the out-and-back to follow Pacific Boulevard all the way along the coast, where we  would then follow the famed Stanley Park Seawall all the way to the finish.  It was fun playing my music as we made our way around the coast, as I generated my own little pace group from folks who enjoyed my playlist of songs. All along the seawall, I was reminded of the gorgeous beauty of Vancouver, and the miles went by quickly as we came closer to the finish line.  Some spectators were out dressed in various fun costumes, like the group of mermaids and a group of 1920's style partygoers dressed in period wear, seemingly already in a state of inebriation. We cut along Allison Way, passing by the Vancouver Aquarium before coming back to the seawall, and following it along the harbor.  Two hours in, and the sun was definitely out, the humidity in full force.  The heat and humidity seemed to have followed me out west.

Beautiful views along the seawall
En route to the finish, at right around mile 12.75, a group of drag queens were out cheering on the runners.  Now, this was a sheer coincidence, but as I passed them, a song ended, and the next one on shuffle?  "The Realness," by RuPaul, made popular from the most recent season of RuPaul's Drag Race, won by New York City-based queen Bob the Drag Queen!  Of course, I backtracked a tiny bit and spent the next few minutes vogueing and duckwalking with these queens.  Yes, it added to my finish time, but I didn't give a shit - I was having a blast! The song ended, and I bid them adieu before I ran right through to the finish line in Harbour Green Park, a smaller version of the start arches that we had passed through nearly 2 1/2 hours earlier. I crossed the finish in a time of 2:23:01, possibly still feeling effects from the San Francisco Ultramarathon I completed only two weeks earlier. We were handed our medals, which was really nicely designed and made of thick bronze - it could easily double as a coaster!  However, by this point in time, you could see that the heat was starting to take an effect on the finishers, and sadly, the volunteers had begun to run out of immediate post-finish supplies, which included water.  Oops, big no-no.

Medal and beer.
And then, we were herded like cattle on a semi-steep hillup toward Jack Poole Plaza.  We got even more goodies!  A bag to put all of the swag in (HUGE props for this, because it's so difficult to carry armloads of food and bottles of water and gatorade after a race), KIND bars, Nuun tablets, a cold damp washcloth, an aromatherapy kit from Saje, and a cool lululemon hat!  Then finally, the piece de resistance... BRUNCH.  Which we found out, was the hold up for the line.  Catered by a Barefoot Bistro, a world famous restaurant north of Vancouver in Whistler, brunch included a warm breakfast sandwich consisting of red pepper, spinach frittata, swiss cheese, bacon, and sundried tomato spread (with a vegetarian option available, sans bacon), fresh grapes, and a delicious sour cherry tart with butter streusel. The warming of the sandwiches was what was making the lines a bit long. I found some shade and ate my brunch as I cooled down from the hot weather.

Noon at Nuun. YAS and YAS.
A little later, I joined several runners participating in the race who were members of Team Nuun at Steamworks Brewery, in nearby Gastown.  A few were Nuun employees themselves, including Nuun CEO Kevin Rutherford - so many of them because Nuun's headquarters are nearby in Seattle. It was great meeting all these folks, many local or from the Pacific Northwest, some who I had only known from online.  Later that day, I left with friends to head to the Sunset Festival in Stanley Park, a huge party that began with more yoga, and then a concert featuring bands Youngblood, Dear Rouge, and Chromeo. There was also opportunity to purchase more lululemon clothing (I did not), and also several artisans showing off their wares and food vendors offering different types of food - from burgers, to Thai, to tacos, pizza, and Canadian staple poutine.  Runners also got to try the special Stanley Park Brewing Company Courageous Blonde Ale, brewed specifically for the SeaWheeze Half Marathon weekend.  They also had a nice lounge area with waterproof furniture, where I spent a decent amount of time at while the concert and yoga was going on; while I was there, met some folks from Miami who ran a running store and turned out they were friends with some of my new friends I had made that weekend!  As I was pretty tired, I peaced out of the Sunset Festival a little early and headed back into town.  I rested a little bit at my friend's hotel, before we went out for a proper dinner downtown on busy Granville Street.  I headed back to my cousin's place before long, as we were planning on a busy day the next day, on my last outing before heading back home.

Victory Headstand with the waterfront
Yoga at the Sunset Festival
What a view!
Sunday morning, my cousin Rommel and I headed north with the intention to drive out to Deep Cove and do a short hike out in Quarry Rock, a scenic area northeast of Vancouver proper.  But upon arrival, there were so many cars parked in the area, that we abandoned that plan and decided to drive up to Squamish, so I could check out something a little different than what I had done the last time.  We took the iconic Sea to Sky Highway northward up toward Squamish and then boarded the Sea to Sky Gondola to get a magical view of the Howe Sound, the valley below, and the area's famous mountain, the Stawamus Chief.  We got to do a little hiking in the area as well, crossing some suspension bridges (notably, Rommel is a bit acrophobic, but he still did it!), and seeing views of the gorgeous British Columbian mountains.  We came back down from the gondola and then headed to Squamish to have a bite to eat and to check out a couple breweries in the area before heading back down to Vancouver for my redeye flight back home.

Rommel and I at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola
Suspension Bridges at the top of the mountain!

More beautiful views of Howe Sound

Cross that bridge!
I absolutely love Vancouver and definitely want to come back, perhaps for a marathon next time around? All in all, 8,271 people finished the SeaWheeze Half marathon - overwhelmingly women, as less than 17% or 1,374 runners were men.  I would highly recommend the race, primarily for its value - considering all the swag that runners got, and only for the price of $128 CAD, approximately $95 US. It was totally worthwhile, especially since the US Dollar is strong compared to the Canadian Dollar at the moment.  Great weekend, and great race... would love to do this again - if I get the chance!

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