I want to say right off the bat I had a great time at last year's Sea Wheeze and an equally great time this year. I think lululemon did a fantastic job addressing complaints from last year and correcting them.
The 2013 Sea Wheeze makes my fourth half marathon in a twelve month period (I did the Walt Disney World Half in January and the Disneyland Tinkerbell Half a week later) so it's nice to write a report with a little experience under my belt, particularly in large destination races.
My trip this year was a little different from last year. Last year, my entire family went. We flew up to Seattle and then drove over the border in a rental car and stayed in a hotel in the Davie Street area. This year I met up with my sister and her kids (they drove up from Oregon) in Vancouver. I traveled by myself and flew out of LAX into Vancouver. I didn't rent a car since you don't really don't need one - driving through Vancouver is highly annoying traffic-wise (and I say this as someone who has lived in LA) and parking is hella expensive everywhere. One problem with traveling outside the US is that cell phone data charges are expensive so you either buy a data plan or go without and hunt for free wifi where you can. I went without but you have to do a little more advance planning/studying on where you are going. The good thing is is that a number of restaurants/coffee shops in Vancouver have wifi but like most people I am rather reliant on being able to access maps or Urban Spoon at will. I know a number of adventurous women went to Sea Wheeze this year by themselves and shared hotel rooms with people they met on the various lulu-related Facebook chat boards (the community generated by an interest in a brand of clothes is a very neat phenomena that the press never mentions) and I was able to meet in person a number of people I had only "met" on line so it was a really neat weekend.
In the airport it was fun to pick out who was heading up to the race by what they were wearing. I sat next to a woman in the waiting area heading to the race (she had on Speed shorts and a Boston marathon sweat shirt so not too hard to guess where she was headed) and ended up sitting with her on the leg from Seattle to Vancouver. She turned out to be a very nice Ambassador (hi, Leslie!) for the Brentwood store and we chatted the whole flight. There were a number of women on the Seattle flight bound for Vancouver so it was kind of fun spotting women wearing lululemon in the airport and asking whether they were headed to the race.
|Train Station - right outside the terminal|
Once at the Vancouver airport I changed a little money (with a not-cheap $5 fee!), picked up a couple of city maps from the information desk, and took the Sky Train into Vancouver. My Vancouver-local friends on the Facebook boards (lulumum and Ms. Y.) had told people that taking the train was easy and safe. The train is located right across the street from the terminal. It was about $10.00, clean, and no one ever collected my ticket. The trip into Vancouver took about 25 minutes. I took it to the Waterfront Station terminal since I was meeting fellow racers for lunch.
|The Fairmont Vancouver - very The Shining-like, isn't it? It has a haunted floor, too.|
My sister and I booked our hotel through the Sea Wheeze site and stayed at the Fairmont Vancouver which is about four blocks away from the Convention Center. Last year my entire family came and we needed a suite-type room and wanted to keep costs down so we stayed on the other side of downtown in the Davie Street area, about a mile or so from the race start. The Fairmont is located in a much quieter (and I think nicer) part of town. Last year, my husband dropped me off at the race but it was nice to be able to walk ten minutes to the start line this year. I usually walk five minutes before my training runs as a warm up so the ten minute walk to the corrals was perfect.
|Our Sea Wheeze hotel gift|
Because we booked through the Sea Wheeze program we got a little gift in our room - two bottles of Evian and a granola-type bar. I'm not sure if this was specific to Fairmont or the Sea Wheeze gift to everyone. I know my friends who were staying at the Pacific Rim Fairmont got the same thing. Last year the people staying at Sea Wheeze partner hotels got little packages with blister bandaids, some Essie black nail polish, epsom salts and hairbands. Any food I didn't have to buy on this trip was welcome so I think I preferred this year's gift.
|Line up outside the Convention Centre - about ~200 people back. Can you spot me? (Thanks to Ms. S for this photo.)|
Because of the chaotic store situation last year I was really dreading dealing with the craziness of the Expo but it turned out to work out just fine for us. We got in line well before the 8 am opening time, early enough to be among the first group into the store area. The initial line up was just one big line outside the doors and then was split into non-runners and runners inside the building. My sister didn't arrive until 7:30 or so when the line was wrapped around the front of the Convention Centre building on Canada Place Way about half the length of the building and she got into the shopping area by about 8:40 am. I had heard the line eventually wrapped around three quarters of the building and people had to wait two hours to get in. The non-runner line never got too long, maybe about one hundred people, but they were held for long blocks of time, let in a few at a time, and runners were given priority to shop so that was a welcome improvement from last year.
|Packet Pick Up Stations|
|Sea Wheeze Canvas Stuff Sack|
Once we were let into the Convention Centre we were split into two lines, one for the general public and one for runners. Within the runner line we were again split into two and sent to packet pickup stations. Like last year, our names were checked against a list on an iPad and a volunteer runner went to get our stuff sacks. Inside the stuff sack was a coupon for coffee, a little bear cutout with directions for the festival, a bottle of water, our Chip timing chip (same as last year. I heard from friends who volunteered that quite a few people didn't know who the person on the chip was so it goes to speak about how interest in this race was more runner-heavy than lulu-employee/fan-heavy) and a wristband. The wristband was put on our wrists right at the counter which was a change from last year. I'm sure it was done to control who got all the freebies throughout the event and worked very well. I heard they doubled the number of pick up stations this from twenty to forty.
Once you picked up your stuff sack you went to the timing chip check stand and from there you were lined up to go into the store. Since I had arrived early I was among the first group that got to go right into the store.
|The merchandise area - very spacious|
|People with piles of clothes narrowing down what to buy.|
People were let into the store area on a batch basis (I heard about ten at a time every fifteen minutes or so) and it was kept much less crowded (I heard to 600 people at a time) than last year which made shopping very pleasant. The check in area was physically smaller because there was no flip flop fitting stations and there was more floor space given to merchandise. The crowds in the store totally stressed me out last year but this year shopping was pretty pleasant overall. I got in early enough to get what I wanted but I think it took at least two to three hours for the popular sizes to sell out in a few coveted things unlike last year's thirty minutes. I think the fifteen item limit worked out well, too. I know a few people did get more than fifteen things but they mostly made multiple trips to the store during the day and a half it was open. I want to do a thorough discussion on the Sea Wheeze merchandise so that will be a separate post.
By the time I had narrowed down the merchandise I wanted the line to check out was pretty long and was queued down the side of the ball room. Based on the length and my experience last year I expected a good hour and a half wait but this year they doubled (tripled?) the number of cashiers (from ten or fifteen to thirty) so I only waited in line about twenty minutes or so - another pleasant surprise. I think I was done around ten am. I headed back to my hotel to head out for lunch with lulumum and Susan, the woman who founded the first lulu-related Facebook chat board, Lulu This Just In (aka, TJI) board.
One nice thing I noted when exiting the ballroom after shopping is that there was an iPhone charging cart with cords right outside the doors. Since I was frantically texting my friends and sister about where they were in line and what items they wanted me to grab for them before they got into the store my phone was pretty dead and it was great to be able to recharge for a few minutes. So whoever thought of that - thanks!
On the plaza outside the convention centre there were stations to get free popcorn, popsicles, manicures, massages, Sea Wheeze spray-painted tattoos. All of these things had fairly long lines and I didn't do any of them. The lines didn't really discourage me but I preferred to spend time with my sister and friends. However, quite a few people took advantage of them.
One area I think lululemon needs to improve upon for next year is communicating to runners that if they aren't into getting the merchandise to come later in the day (I think noon is good) for packet pickup. Or, somehow separate getting your packet from buying the clothes. However, that would bring back the complaints from the previous year where non-runners snapped up all the clothes. I ate the post-race breakfast with a Vancouver woman who ran the race but is not into the clothes. She complained about having to wait an hour and a half in line to pick up her packet. She likes to run Disney races in southern California and said the Sea Wheeze was unorganized compared to Disney. Having run a couple of Disney races myself I don't agree. I did tell her it was the shopping expo that caused the packet pickup jam so if she runs it again to come later in the day and there will be no line.
For those of you who went to Sea Wheeze what was your impression of the packet pickup and Expo?