My sister and I recently spent five nights in Vancouver, BC. The trip was two-fold. First, it was to support her whilst she ran Lululemon’s half marathon known as SeaWheeze. Second, it was to make her fall in love with one of my favorite cities.
It has been said that SeaWheeze is one of the world’s most exclusive half marathons, with 30,000+ people entering the lottery hoping to secure one of 10,000 bibs.
I found SeaWheeze to also be one of the most inclusive half marathons in the world, with runners of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. From elite runners to runners who just completed their final chemotherapy treatment to runners who are friends first and runners second, SeaWheeze is, in my opinion, one of the best races you can run as a first-time half marathoner.
The photo below was taken a few steps from the finish line. I do not know the women in this photo, but I have a strong feeling that they adventure together often.
The gang from Lululemon announced every runner’s name as they crossed the finish line. Sometimes they even gave fast facts about the runner (e.g. so-and-so is the youngest runner in this race!).
Publicly congratulating every runner is not something I’ve seen at other half or full marathons. It was a personal touch and gave me goosebumps. The truth is that every time I attend a massive race like this one, I get teary-eyed. I don’t know why. I think it’s my admiration for the hard work and dedication thousands of people have put forth to get to that very moment.
Tessa and I arrived in Vancouver via separate international flights on a Wednesday (the race was on Saturday). Though our flights arrived about an hour apart, she was through customs and immigration very quickly. It took me nearly two-and-a-half hours to snake my way through the double-decker queue.
Most SeaWheezers stay in hotels near Coal Harbour so they are close to pre- and post-race events. Tessa and I chose to stay at a “lake cottage” in North Vancouver on the boundary of Mount Seymour Provincial Park.
The lake cottage made sense when we planned this trip earlier in the year. Peter and I were living in Seattle without confirmation that we would be moving back to London when we booked the lake cottage. The original plan was straightforward. Tessa would fly to Seattle and we’d drive three hours to the lake cottage. Easy!
Flying 10 hours halfway across the world was a bit much for such a short vacation and on top of staying in a remote location. We agreed that if she gets into SeaWheeze in 2020, we would stay in a hotel in Coal Harbour (which we have preemptively booked!).
Our stay at the cottage was very peaceful. It was lovely to wake up to this view, but it also meant that the packet pick-up and race days began much earlier than those who stayed near Coal Harbour.
It was a 20-minute drive (no traffic) from our lake cottage to the SeaBus station at Lonsdale Quay (pronounced “key”). Parking in Lonsdale Quay is no problem if you know where to park and understand the fees.
On weekdays after 6pm and all day on weekends, parking is free at the Lonsdale Quay Market parking garage (ICBC lot). We parked at this lot on Saturday and Sunday. We parked at the Chadwick Court parking garage until 6pm on Friday for only $10 USD! The walk to the SeaBus station from both of these parking garages was only 2-3 minutes.
The SeaBus is a pedestrian-only ferry that connects North Vancouver to Coal Harbour (Vancouver).
Without the SeaBus, we would not have been able to stay at the lake cottage. The Seabus journey time is about 15 minutes and departs every 15 minutes.
When visibility is good, the view of the Vancouver skyline from the SeaBus is magnificent but don’t board the SeaBus with the intent of taking photos. There isn’t an exterior deck on the SeaBus, and the windows will be dirty with salt water.
The best place to take photos of the skyline is from Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver.
As mentioned above, all pre- and post-race events take place near the Vancouver Convention Centre in Coal Harbour, which was incredibly convenient for us since it was a five-minute walk from the SeaBus station in Vancouver.
Now for my thoughts on all three parts of SeaWheeze: PreWheeze, SeaWheeze, and Sunset Festival.
PreWheeze is defined as the two days before the race (Thursday and Friday). There are sessions and events all day long, including yoga, meditation, foam rolling, live music, packet pick-up, and the main event, the Runners Only Shop (Friday only from 7am-11am).
Due to our commute from the cottage, Tessa scheduled her packet pick-up and Runners Only Shop timeslots for Friday morning. Truthfully, runners can pick up their packets at any time on Thursday or Friday because the packet pick-up timeslot is a convenience for race organizers to help level the volume of runners picking up their packets.
Experienced runners recommended on social media forums that runners arrive at the Convention Centre up to two hours before their Runners Only Shop timeslot. Perhaps this advice was solid in past years, but under no circumstance should you arrive two hours before your timeslot.
The Runners Only Shop queue was managed by several “queue monitors” holding up signs with times written on them. You can only join the queue when they hold up the sign containing your timeslot.
My advice is to arrive 15 minutes before your time slot. As an example, if your timeslot is 7:30am, arrive at 7:15am, loiter around the queue for a few minutes until it appears that all of the 7:15am timeslot runners have joined the queue, and then append yourself to the end of the queue so that when they hold up the 7:30am sign, you can raise your hand and say, “Hey, I’m a 7:30am timeslot runner so put that sign in front of me!” and you’ll magically be at the start of the queue for your timeslot.
As soon as Tessa joined the Runners Only Shop queue, I walked to a nearby coffee shop to waste time and warm up. It took Tessa nearly two hours from when she joined the queue to when she entered the shop.
Meanwhile, myself and all of the other friends and family members of runners waited for our runners outside near the 2010 Olympic Caldron. It was cold, windy, and miserable, but at least there was a plethora of port-o-loos nearby.
After Tessa emerged from the shop, we walked to the other side of the Convention Centre to pick up her packet. This is when I realized that I could have sat comfortably inside the Convention Centre while she was in the Runners Only Shop. Friends and family members of runners, take note of this protip!
The process of picking up her packet was as simple. She scanned her bracelet “in” and asked for permission for me to enter the secure packet pick-up area with her – permission was granted.
We went to the counter designated for her bib number, they handed her the bib, and she scanned her bracelet “out” as we left the secure area. It took two minutes and was not enough for my hands and feet to thaw out before exiting the Convention Centre near the Olympic Cauldron.
We did not participate in any of the other PreWheeze events or activities.
SeaWheeze is the actual half marathon race. The start line is at the junction of W Hasting St and Thurlow St next to Portal Park.
Race pacers were organized into 15-minute “finish time groups” (i.e 1:15, 1:30, 1:45, etc.). Race organizers staggered starts based on finish time groups.
The time between the staggered starts seemed extremely long at 5+ minutes. I do not fully understand why there was so much time between the staggered starts considering the slowest runners were the last to start and had the least amount of time to finish the course before the roads re-opened to the public at 11am and the finish line closed at noon.
To track runners, Lululemon displayed tracking data obtained from a third-party system and displayed it in the Lululemon app. SeaWheeze was the first half/full marathon that I attended that provided a functional tracking app!
Since I have little faith in race tracking apps (in my experience, the load of people attempting to access runner data causes the apps to crash), Tessa and I planned out rough “cheer points” along the course based on her estimated pace, mile markers, and how quickly and easily I could traverse the city on foot.
I waited at the start line until Tessa’s group set off on their journey, and then I walked to the other side of the city along Thurlow St. Occasionally, I would check the app during my walk. At about the 10-minute mark, I noticed that she had passed the “2” marker.
I thought, “What is she doing? She’s running five-minute miles! She will never make it at this pace. How is this even possible with a pacer?” I picked up my walking pace because if she kept up her incredible five-minute/mile pace, she’d run past the first cheer point before I got there.
I checked the tracker again about 15 minutes later. It said she was expected at the “5” marker, and again I was like, “WHAT IS GOING ON?”
Shortly after, I realized that the markers in the app were kilometers, not miles. Rookie mistake.
I caught up with Tessa on her return journey on the Burrard Street Bridge. She later referred to this bridge as “that fucking bridge” and as “the worst part of the course”. The Burrard Street Bridge is the only out-and-back section of the course, and it’s uphill both ways!
I ran alongside her for a few minutes and confidently told her that there were port-o-loos ahead… just beyond the drag queen cheerleaders (they were very funny!). I think she believed me, but the truth is that I was saying whatever I had to say to keep her running. I didn’t necessarily care if she peed in her pants.
As soon as we reached the drag queens, I set her loose and began my journey back to the finish line located on the seawall below the Olympic Cauldron plaza area.
By the time I arrived at the finish line, I’d completed a quarter marathon and felt proud of my achievements! I mean, I didn’t even train for it!
The Sunset Festival is the race after-party that is held Saturday evening in Stanley Park. In my opinion, this is where Lululemon epically failed (exception: shuttle buses).
Included with the Sunset Festival was transportation from Coal Harbour to Stanley Park. The bus stop was near the start line next to Portal Park.
If memory serves correct, we boarded the bus around 5:30pm. The queue was long, but there were many buses. We boarded quickly and then spent about 30 minutes sweating to death on a converted yellow school bus as we crawled through Vancouver traffic.
The SeaWheeze website stated that two forms of ID were required to acquire an “I can buy alcohol” wristband. This requirement was confusing to Sunset Festival goers because (a) why would we need to provide two forms of ID, and (b) the site did not provide a list of acceptable forms of ID (e.g. passport, driving license, etc.).
Side topic: This brings me to a small complaint, the SeaWheeze website could be improved. We found broken hyperlinks, missing and/or outdated information, and difficulty finding information on the site.
In the UK, a credit or debit card can often be used as a form of ID by itself, so I assumed that if we each carried a picture ID (driving license) and a credit card, we’d be fine. This assumption was confirmed on social media sites; however, when we arrived at the entrance, we were only required to show a picture ID.
As a non-runner, I paid $48 CAD ($36 USD) for my Sunset Festival ticket. For me, the ticket cost turned out to be nothing more than a pricey entrance fee to the Sunset Festival pop-up shop, where I spent an additional $108 CAD ($91 USD) on clothing.
The food and drink options were atrocious. Organizers claimed that there were food trucks. Plural. This was a total lie. There was ONE food truck. It was a dessert food truck and had a queue a mile long.
Instead of creating a mecca for local food truck businesses to thrive, the organizers opted to hire a large-scale catering company. There were many kiosks around the perimeter, but they all served the same food and drinks. It reminded me of the stadium food of yesteryear when there were no outside vendors allowed to sell food inside stadiums.
Food options included: hamburgers, veggie burgers, BBQ ribs, popcorn, poutine, and fries. Drink options included: red wine, white wine, two different kinds of beer, and a handful of non-alcoholic drinks.
I read one post on social media where someone asked if there was coffee at the festival. The answer was a pathetic no. Another person posted, “Do not plan to eat at the park. Food options are terrible.” Yeah, they were terrible!
The main event of the Sunset Festival was the dance party led by Kaskade, but Tessa and I were back at the cottage drinking wine on the “wine deck” by the time he took the stage.
In total, we spent about an hour at the Sunset Festival. If there had been a decent selection of food and drinks, we would have stayed longer, but it was a complete and utter failure of a party.
In conclusion, Tessa and I agreed that we would do SeaWheeze again if the opportunity arose, but we would only attend Sunset Festival if circumstances were different (e.g. I obtain a free ticket via volunteering, the performance is by someone we would like to see, we stay in Coal Harbour versus the lake cottage, and they improve the food and drink offering).