What to Expect at Your First SeaWheeze Half Marathon

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At the VCC looking back on what would eventually be the Finish Line area the next day.

After months of expectation, umpteen weeks of training and how many miles run, it’s almost time for the race that I haven’t shut up about all year long! (To all of my friends: I love you for still liking me despite my yearlong SeaWheeze jabber.)

There’s a small group of LegaSeas who’ve run every race since the event’s inception, a bunch of us who have run a few, but there are always going to be first timers. Given that a Seawheeze weekend is essentially a pilgrimage in the land of lululemon, it may be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. So, I took to the internet to find out what exactly first timers may want to know before walking off that plane in Vancouver!

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A history of exclusive SW Runner Shorts, 2012-2016

Most of the answers are mine, but for the running-specific advice, I turned to my coach, Joanna, who happens to be a LegaSea too. (Side note: she’s badass who ran Boston this spring, so I suppose none of us have a leg to stand on complaining that Vancouver’s going to be 50 degrees and *maybe* wet at race time on Saturday 🙂 )

In this post, we’ll cover training, race day, shopping, staying in Vancouver and the SeaWheeze experience as a whole.

TRAINING

Q: Can you CrossFit & SeaWheeze at the same time?

A: This one is courtesy of one of my goofball CrossFit friends. Yes, you can *sort of* train for CrossFit and SeaWheeze at the same time. In my third year of preparation for this race, I’ve found that if you want to push your limits in endurance training, you may have to temporarily sacrifice achieving some of your strength goals. Accessory work, strength & mobility aren’t to be neglected, but you may have to pick one or the other in order to succeed.

Q: What training app do you use to track your progress?

To collect data, I mainly wear a Garmin Forerunner 235. I use a Garmin Premium HR Monitor for CrossFit workouts when I’ve got wrist wraps on and can’t get an accurate read on HR from the watch.

On Joanna’s recommendation, I use TrainingPeaks to log my data. My first two half marathons with MapMyRun yielded wildly inaccurate readings, so by the time training for last year’s race rolled around, I ponied up for a GPS watch. Garmin Connect enables the watch to sync with multiple apps, and I mainly use TP because I can link my account to Joanna’s, so as soon as I complete a workout she can see ALL my stats.


RACE DAY

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Sunrise on Race Morning, SeaWheeze 2016

Q: How early do you have to line up in your chosen start corral?

A: I usually check my bag around 6:35-6:40a (7am start), and then start the two-block walk to the corrals at 6:45 after some jogging, stretching & mobility at the plaza. There isn’t much space to mill about once you’re lined up, so make sure you’re good & warmed up by the time you head on up.

In the summer months, it hasn’t been an issue with keeping ‘warm’ before lining up in the past, but I can imagine that this year it may be a little later rush to bag check in the cooler temperatures – I can’t imagine anyone willingly running around in a tank top longer than necessary before race time.

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Starting Corrals – SeaWheeze 2017

Q: What do you do if you’re between pace groups?

A: Hey, — Joanna here — Katy can probably answer this one on her own since she knows my advice so well by now, but if you are in-between pace groups I always (always!) recommend starting with the slower group and then chipping down your time later. Virtually every World Record (including the mind-blowing one set in Berlin this past weekend!) at the half- or marathon distance has been set with negative splits. That means you run the first half slower than the second half, and if you’ve been following Katy’s training, you’ll know it’s something I make her practice a bunch in different workouts.

It can be really tough to hold back at the beginning of a race — you’ve trained well, your body is raring to go and has an extra boost of race-day adrenaline, and if you’ve been training on the east coast this summer, the cool comfort of Vancouver’s September weather will make you feel like you have a third lung — starting with the slower pace group will help you rein this in for when you need it most — those final miles along the Seawall!

I’d recommend breaking the race into five parts — four 5Ks and a give-it-all-you-got 1.1K finish. The first 5K should be conservative and comfortable, checking in with your body to make sure it feels “easy.” The second 5K is where you get into your groove, and should still feel pretty effortless, but less a sense of holding back as you settle into your “goal” pace — this is where some of the hills and the Burrard St. bridge pop up, so you’ll be working at times. The third 5K is all about STRENGTH: running strong and staying mentally tough during this middle section as you start to chip away at your time and if you haven’t yet broken off from that starting pace group, this is where it should happen.

The final 5K is for focus and speed. If you’ve managed your energy properly, your pace can keep dropping as the miles tick on and you can set your aim on catching the pace group ahead of you. When you get past Lumberman’s Arch (which at this point will seem like a much bigger hill than it is in reality), this is a good time to check in with your body for that upcoming 1.1K push. If you’re feeling good, hit the burners and see what’s left in the tank. If you’ve had better days, commit to enjoying the beauty and the energy of the race, because both are unparalleled.

The best thing about SeaWheeze is that it offers something for everyone. The weather and course typically combine to create ideal PR conditions, but if that’s not what you’re there for, the scenery and atmosphere (oh, and has anyone mentioned the shopping?!?!) make even the slowest 21.1K feel like a great day.

Q: What kind of fuel is on the course?

A: There are hydration stations on the course spaced out every ~3km that supply both water and Nuun electrolytes. Per the SeaWheeze website:

We’re stoked to partner with nuun for all your on-course hydration needs. They’ll be serving up electrolytes at all of our aid stations, as well as providing gels at two select stations on the second half of the course to keep you hustling towards the finish line.

We will also be providing fresh organic fruit from a local organic grocery company at aid stations 3 and 6.

If I have any nutrition on course it’s energy chews, not gels, so I will be bringing my own. I don’t recall what brand they specifically hand out, so if you have a sensitive stomach and prefer a certain brand, it would be safest to BYO to avoid any unexpected bad reactions. The organic fruit = bananas.

Know Before You Go

Literally. If you’re like me, you’re going to need to find a restroom not long before the race starts. There will be a super long line for the restrooms inside the Convention Center near bag check, because you’ve got 10,000 runners who all need to nervous pee. There are lots of portable units outside in the plaza, but the line can still get a few minutes long before the race.

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2018 SeaWheeze Half Marathon Start/Finish Areas

If you start your walk toward the starting line on Hastings, there’s another bank of restrooms on Cordova which usually has next to no wait, so you can wait until 10-15 minutes before race time.

At the Finish Line

The finish line is a bit narrow, and can get clogged with runners clamoring to the first volunteer they see handing out finishers’ medals and water. Once you cross the finish line and catch your breath and legs, there will be volunteers for the next 200m, at least, handing out post race goodies.

Post-Race Priorities

The most popular post-race draws are the brunch and the massages. The first year I ran, the line for brunch was annoyingly long, so Krystle and I got in line and waited at least an hour for massages.

Last year, the brunch line moved much quicker (it was grab & go brunch boxes), but by the time I ate some of my food and went to get into the massage line, they had volunteers stopping people from getting in line after the wait had reached THREE HOURS.

If you don’t NEED a massage immediately after the race and think of it as a luxury, you better run yourself a 1:40 and beeline straight for the convention center before the line gets too out of hand.


SHOPPING

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Showcase Store – SeaWheeze 2017

Q: If you buy lulu while there, do you just SMOOSH it in your carry-on and hope it fits?

It’s not an if, it’s a WHEN you buy lulu. I’m sure they’re out there but I haven’t ever met a person who ran this race and didn’t come home with some sort of new gear. Plus, the exchange rate favors American shoppers so I usually stock up at both the Showcase and Robson Street.

As much as I love my airline, I don’t love the idea of checking a suitcase full of brand new exclusives that haven’t even been detagged, so I pack and leave extra space in my carry-on with the knowledge that I will be stuffing it with goodies.

If you do check your main bag and only have a backpack with you, you can also hand carry your purchases in a shopping tote/new duffel so that you can keep tabs on your new stuff. 2 items per person on the plane. Choose wisely.

Anything Else?

As of this writing, the exchange rate is 77 US cents to $1 CAD. If you’re an American SeaWheeze participant, your total at the Showcase store thankfully won’t put as much of a dent in your wallet. If there are any lululemon basics you’ve been thinking of picking up, it may be worth your while to walk on over to the Robson Street location and pick those up at a discounted price.

Also, each of the two races I’ve run so far, the store has been laid out differently. In 2016, all items of a single size were all concentrated in the same area. This encouraged hoarding. Even though there’s an item limit, you are going to see TONS of people who will grab EVERYTHING they can in their size, and then head to the perimeter of the room with armfuls of clothing, creating their Yes and No piles.

In 2017, the different style capsules were spread out, but people still do the “grab now think later”, it’s just a bit more difficult when everything’s spread out. I hope they spread the inventory out again this year.

I adopted a little bit of that strategy in year 2. If you see something you like that’s flown off the rack in your size, DO NOT give up immediately, and check every size tag you see of an item you’ve jonesing for. Do a few laps, sometimes racks are replenished, sometimes people who are your size may not share your same personal style, and something in their ‘No’ pile may be the exact thing you’ve been coveting. It’s an adrenaline rush, for sure. Godspeed, ladies.


STAYING

Q: Where do you like to stay?

A: For my first two years, I’ve used Airbnb. This year I managed to book at a SeaWheeze hotel (the Four Seasons) way back in January. Vancouver as a whole is not too keen on the AirBnb thing, so after two years of being told by different AirBnb hosts to keep it on the DL and just say I’m staying with friends if approached by any fellow residents or building staff, I opted to stay somewhere this year where I wouldn’t feel like I was sneaking around.


THE EXPERIENCE

Q: What’s your favorite part of Seawheeze?

A: This may sound cheesy, but the scenery and atmosphere are my favorite parts of the weekend. I don’t get to the PNW very often, and it’s just so beautiful. If you’re running the race trying to PR, it’s a bit of a shame, because you really shouldn’t stop to take any photos along the Seawall. Do it the day before on your shakeout run 🙂

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I ran a garbage race in 2016. So, I stopped to take pictures.

SeaWheeze also strikes this perfect balance of a destination race that caters to serious runners and casual/newbies alike. The Pace Beavers keep the more goal-oriented runners on pace, while the cheering sections all over the place still give the entire race a lighthearted feel. Even though on mile 9 and you’re starting to doubt your decision run this distance (again), there are SO. MANY. positive vibes all over that you can’t help but take it all in.

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In 2017, Pace Beavers handed out wristbands at the PreWheeze Festival that listed the mile splits you’d need to hit in order to reach your goal. These were available in both miles and kilometers!

My other favorite part? Meeting you ladies! I’m sure we all have a few friends who understand the athleisure obsession, but have far more who think we’re off our rockers. Each of the two SeaWheezes I’ve run so far, I’ve been able to meet AthletiKaty readers in person, and it makes my day when someone comes up just to say hi and that they like my blog.

I’ve got a bit of RBF naturally, and each year inevitably someone will message me to say that they saw me from across the room/plaza, but they didn’t want to interrupt me because I was either in the zone or chatterboxing away. Unless it’s Saturday morning and I’m actually RUNNING THE RACE… come on up and say hi. I promise I don’t bite, and I’d love to meet you!

Q: Why do you keep coming back?

I read once that looking forward to a vacation far off in the future is just as satisfying as taking the actual vacation. Because SeaWheeze sells out so quickly and so far in advance, I feel like when you score a bib to this one, it feels a bit more special, like you found one of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

Despite the ‘hurry up & wait’ of the Showcase Store and some of the other more popular draws, Lululemon does a great job with the event with their efforts to create an atmosphere full of fun for all participants. They are open to (and heed) feedback from participants each year, and are constantly trying to make it a better experience for all.

Some ideas become new faves (online showcase!), others could be considered duds (the rolling suspense of the noncommittal lottery), but the changes prove that the team is doing the best they can to listen to runners and improve future races for all involved.


IN CONCLUSION

I know this is a LONG post, so thanks for sticking with me! Your first SeaWheeze may feel a little overwhelming if it’s a 2-day destination race experience, but you’re not the only one. Take it all in, and enjoy the fact that you’re surrounded by a ton of like-minded people who all ultimately have the same goal in mind: HAVE FUN. Okay, and… come home with a sick new outfit or two 🙂

If there’s anything I may have missed leading up to the big day, ask away in the comments section below, and have an AWESOME race!

xx

Katy 🙂

2 comments

  1. Will see you at Seawheeze. I’ll be the one awkwardly looking lost 😉

    I read RBF as Running Best Friend at first. Not resting b face. 😉 (My car license plate starts with RBF, and I never made the connection until a younger girlfriend pointed it out!)

    Joanna, that is AWESOME advice. This is my second road half. I’m a bit scared of the weather. (I trained in HEAT), but hoping to stay mentally tough. I had a good training cycle.

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  2. As I am not a runner won’t ever be at this race have to get my SeaWheeze experience via others. LOVE hearing about it through your experience so thank you for all the details and sharing/updates. Your blog is wonderful, spend a lot of time on it but never left comments before. Have fun and show us your new duds via tryons, love seeing all the fabulous gear! Best of luck in the race 🙂

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