Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2013 Sea Wheeze Half Marathon Race Report, Part 1: Travel to Vancouver and the Expo

Part 1 - Traveling to Vancouver and the Expo

Part 2- The Merchandise

Part 3 - The Race

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.

All in all my Expo experience was very pleasant and I think lululemon fixed a lot of the complaints from last year's expo regarding making more merchandise and getting the clothes into the runner's hands. However, the mermaid "racer shirt" still ran out before noon so lululemon still needs to up production of items like that or take pre-orders with our registrations. I'll talk more about merchandise issues in my next post.

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?


Anonymous said...

I am in your shopping photo :)

Taryn13 said...

We were in line just before 6:00am for my package pick up and there were about 40 or so people in front of us. (For the record I got there last year at 6:00am as well, and I was the first {and only!!} person in line for about 15 minutes before the crowds even started!) We met a wonderful volunteer in the line up (HI Christine from Ohio! :) who didn't get signed up for the race in time and decided to make the trek on her own just to be a part of it. The two hours went by quickly and in no time the doors were opened, we picked up our packages, did our shopping, (got everything we wanted .. 17 items between the two of us!) and we were out of the building by 8:35! We wandered over and signed the Sea Wheeze banners, got our temp tattoo grabbed some breakfast at De Dutch right on the waterfront, came back up the stairs and enjoyed a free massage from the WCCMT students before leaving the area at 11:00 to enjoy the morning/day in beautiful Vancouver... And all the while we watching the lines grow and grow and grow and hardly move! YIKES! I would much rather stand in line from 6-8am stress-free enjoying a coffee and meeting people before the doors even open then stand in line later and be at the mercy of the crowds to decide when I could go in, get my package and shop. They did do a better job this year of allowing runners in before the community but I am still a fan of giving runners and volunteers the entire Friday. I still heard lots of complaints that people didn't get the items/sizes they wanted and that shouldn't happen IMHO. Let the community in on Saturday!! But it's all about money first and foremost so I know it wont change for next year. But overall we had a FANTASTIC weekend!

Anonymous said...

LLA, congratulations on completing all of those half marathons! I would like to know what day and time you arrived in Vancouver and what time you went to the convention center please
I would like to plan better for next year! Thanks

Sara said...

I thought the packet pickup was a disaster. I agree that had I picked my packet up late in the day I would avoided the waiting but it just seems ridiculous.

I like lululemon but I am not one to wait hrs in line for something.

Anonymous said...

My friend and I took BoltBus up from Seattle and didn't get to the Convention Center until about 3pm. There was basically no line for packet pickup or to get into the store... but the downside was that most of the items were sold out. There were maybe 5 Scuba hoodies left and all were size 2. Most of the CRBs were sold out. Most of the shorts were sold out. I personally think that non-runners shouldn't be able to shop until Saturday because that would give all runners a chance to shop first. We could have taken an earlier bus out of Seattle but I'm not sure how much that would have helped because we had no way to get there by 7 or 8am unless we came in on Thursday.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the amazing post! I would love to attend, so I really appreciate all of the insight!

Jen said...

Hi LLA! Seawheeze this year was a blast. Can't wait to go back.

I stayed at the Westin Bayshore under the Lululemon rate and was disappointed that they didn't give any amenities as they did last year. (We did get free wifi, but it's not the same.) the front desk guy said there had been a few grumblings about it as well. They set a precedent last year, unfortunately, one they'll need to continue.

We were about 25-30 back in the line for the store/packets. At about 7:15, I walked up and down the line asking if anyone was planning to exchange shorts ... And was able to trade my 8 track attacks for 8 speeds. Yay! I found packet pick up to be notoriously slow. Having to punch in your name on the iPad seemingly took forever (especially as you are watching the store fill up), and then they messed up my name and had to start over. Then, it was another couple of minutes of torture while they went to find my bag. The items in the bag were pretty sparse. Was surprised there weren't more sponsor-related items. And, didn't runners get a 10% store discount last year???

Having the runners/non-runners separated was very nice. Though, like you said, most everything was gone by noon. My local friends commented that it would have been nice for them to accommodate locals who have to work with a restocking of items late in the day. Not everyone can get off work and wait in line for hours. I just don't understand why they don't do this in the first place. It would help to bring people back to the store (think of all the "speeds restocked on the website" excitement, and transfer that to a physical location).

We got a massage just as the noon yoga began. And the line became nonexistent. Such a treat.

Went back to the store with my local friends as they picked up packets at 5pm and noticed many items on MD. I didn't get a chance to go to the store after the race, but am curious as to how many additional items were marked down then.

Looking forward to hearing more of your experiences!

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks for sharing all the details...I'm hoping to go next year! Can't wait to hear about the clothes!!

Anonymous said...

this has nothing to do with sea wheeze (but way to go!!)

i just stopped in my local store & they had the track attack skirt (sizzle stripe) marked down, the pinkalicious CRB & the black twin stripe CRB marked down.

they also had some of the plaid speed shorts which i picked up! yay! so if you missed them online - check your store. i really hope they come out with a solid or heathered plum CRB! the color is super pretty.

Ange said...

I found the package pickup and Expo to be really well done. I haven't ran Disney yet (I will in Feb) but have participated in races with 3000 or so runners and found this to be EXTREMELY organized. Yes, there were lines, yes a saw a bunch of people who were NOT runners piling up clothes looking to sell on eBay (an entire family? eBay fure sure) but you can't really help that stuff.

My ONLY suggestion would be to limit the store to runners only on the Friday and non-runners on the Saturday.

I made it to the convention centre for about 10am and had my packet by 11am and was out of the store by noon, so it really wasn't bad at all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I think I want to do Sea Wheeze next year. It seems like could be the perfect girls weekend!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on your race! It makes me want to do Seawheeze with my two SIL's next year! We all run, and we all love Lulu! I'm looking forward to the rest of your report!

Anonymous said...

Great report! You made me feel like I was there. Can't wait to read the rest.

Anonymous said...

We were in line about 7:45am; the line was wrapped around the building, but the wait wasn't too bad (I expected a certain degree of waiting) and we chatted with those around us. I've as done many halfs at this point, many of them large races including Disney. I think this race/weekend was generally well-organized.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting such a great report on Sea Wheeze and congratulations on your half marathon! I love reading your put so much time and effort into it and its immensely appreciated!

Anne Hurst said...

OT but I still have a pair of size6 check speed shorts I would love to sell to someone who is looking for them. I paid $56.84 with VA tax and would love to sell them to someone on here so they don't have to buy off ebay. Email me at if you would like to buy them. I don't want to return them to store if someone here can enjoy them!!!

LuluAddict said...

@ anon 1:10 pm- I think whether you get there at 6 am or 8 am you were in for a couple of hours of waiting. The only way to avoid it is to come after lunch. I was waiting with friends and the wait went fast.

LuluAddict said...

@ Taryn - based on what I heard about the length of the community line, it was mostly runners who snapped up everything but I do agree, ban the public until Saturday. I think there was quite a bit of "angling"being done for friends of runners. I think the 15 item limit made the merchandise last longer but you could leave your bag with a friend and do more shopping without exiting the shopping area. Last year they seemed to funnel you outside after you checked out. They might want to look into doing that next year - you check out and you have to get back into line to get back in. That way it really keeps people to the 15 items and will make sure runners get what they want.

LuluAddict said...

That should be angel-ing not angling. lol.

Rachael said...

I thought SeaWheeze was pretty awesome this year!! Here is my race recap:

Taryn13 said...

Haha I just took a look at the pic of the package line up and there we are!! LOL Funny, I remember when the fellow was taking that pic and was trying to get everyone's attention that was in the line :) Where are you LLA??

Eric M. said...

My mom ran the SeaWheeze this year so I tagged alone to watch and support!

As far as the expo goes, we arrived late to Vancouver and went to the expo around 4:30-5:00pm. There was NO line to get up her bag and packet and there was barely anyone in the store! I was able to buy a Men's Half Zip pull over and a Precise T mesh shirt that I liked. She didn't get anything because she didn't like the colors at all. I agreed. Some of the Men's items were HORRID. Poor color choices for the Men.

We did go to the Robson lulu store after that and she got the Stuff Your Bra in Orange and wore it for the race (she said she LOVED it). I do have to say the Robson Store was CRAZY packed. I think people headed there to buy stuff that they didn't like at the expo?

Overall easy process for us since we were late. But we did enjoy the music outside of the convention since there were still a lot of people there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you LLA- thought lulu did an amazing job and everything was very well run considering it is lulu and there are was exclusive merch involved!

Lined up about 7:30 and was in by 9ish. I got everything I wanted except black and white stripe crb with orangey edging- size 6 :(. Honestly with all the new colors I'm much more interests in those but still wish they had let runners in first- we paid to run the race and fly to Vancouver and deserve first dibs.

Overall so much fun and my group of 9 girls agreed. With the lounge area, massages, pedicures and sunset festival at the end it was a wonderful, fun and well planned event!! Can't wait til next year!

Anonymous said...

After reading all the positive reviews of the race I want to go next year.
Did anyone go from the east coast that could give me a ballpark figure of what it cost them? Airfare, hotel,etc..
Thanks !

LuluAddict said...

@anon 3:55 - FYI. My trip cost me about $1800. Airfare: $500, hotel $500, race $128, phone charges $50, Sea Wheeze Merchandise $400, food $300. I'll be selling off some of my lululemon to pay for it. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Never, never, neve again. Complete waste of money.

LuluAddict said...

@ anon 12:07 pm - why do you say that?

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