It’s official: My first half marathon is in the books! Now I’m just worried that this experience was too much fun to ever top…

Note: This post is my longest to date, so if you’re not into reading, my key highlights are at the end 🙂 

Almost two weeks ago now, Chris and I packed up for our long awaited trip to Vancouver. Since we used to live in this city, we were pumped to visit all of our favorite spots and see our ol’ roommates & friends. I actually could NOT calm down the week leading up to this flight because I was super excited, with a hint of nerves about the half, plus a splash of stress about wrapping up “life stuff” before hitting the road. Even as we landed in Van later that evening, I was still having a hard time absorbing the fact that this trip and race I signed up for nearly a year ago had finally arrived. We stayed with our friend Ruth Tuesday night, which was the first time we’d seen her since leaving Van 5 years ago! She was as warm and wonderful as ever and made us some tea before offering us her room for the night. Those are some UK manners for ya! Needless to say, we crashed out hard.

Chris and I woke up ready to start/never stop exploring. We took the bus across town (shout out to the super kind Canadian bus driver who realized we were hopelessly confused and let us ride fo free) and checked into our Airbnb in Kitsilano – the neighborhood by the beach where we used to live. It was incredible to be back in this stunning spot and I found myself overcome by waves of nostalgia. The year I lived in Vancouver was one of the best of my life, and represented my biggest adventure at the time: moving to a farish away city without knowing anyone. Since I was there on a scholarship to do independent research, my life had involved a lot of down time and exploring, so every corner brought back so many memories. Seeing these familiar places and faces was even more amazing than I expected, and it wasn’t long before Chris started the “let’s move back!” chant. (Don’t worry friends, we’re pretty in love with Boston and I don’t foresee an actual move any time soon).

Our friends from college, Abi & Pete, soon arrived and we spent the day showing them around the city. We walked along Kits Beach and I pointed out key features, such as my “bald eagle tree” (empty at the moment) and “I often spy seals spot.”

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Getting up here for a photo was super easy!
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Or not…
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First Nations totems in every park
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Kits Beach: Where the volleyball games never end and the views are unreal.

After a long wander and a quick drink at Granville Island, we walked to one of my favorite dinner spots for some amaaaaaazing Indian food (if you travel to Vancouver any time soon, the seafood and international food are where it’s at!). We then met up with all of our former roommates who still live in the city and hit up
decided to head to

our favorite bar, a place called Darby’s around the corner from our old house (or, let’s be real, our old hostel). It just so happened to be karaoke night, so we decided to have a beer and sing some tunes for old times’ sake. We were as off key and on point as ever. I was blown away by how little had changed in our old ‘hood, and it truly felt like no time had passed. I knew this would probably be my only night out before the race, so I did my best to fight off the jet lag and had an incredible time.

The next day we awoke to a gorgeous morning that allowed us to see all of the mountains that surround Van City! The weather in Vancouver can be a little Seattle-esque, so it was pretty incredible to have a whole week of sunshine, no rain, and barely any clouds in the sky. We spent the day hiking and swimming in Deep Cove, a beautiful spot in North Van that offers some easy hikes and amazing views. We wanted to move our legs and explore but not wear ourselves out, so it was the perfect choice for the day. Plus, a jump in the freezing cold ocean water afterward felt like a pre-race ice bath and woke us all right up!

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Deep Cove is for sure one of my favorite spots just outside the city
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When Pete wandered off for a hot minute, Abi got super worried and Chris decided to give us his best Bigfoot impression.
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Views from the top. I’ll take it.

We ended the day by relaxing and watching the sunset at Kits Beach, which was absolutely perfect. Moments like that always make me appreciate how lucky I’ve been to live in two cities that emphasize athletics and that are so incredible for adventuring outdoors.

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Sun on my face + feet in the sand + friends all around = biggest smiles

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On Friday morning, the day before race day, I decided to sleep in. We had grand plans to hit up November Project Vancouver, but I woke up at 5am feeling achy and awful, and felt too nervous about the upcoming race to ignore my exhaustion. Part of me wishes I had gone and when I saw Chris’ NP Vancouver tag (the best tag out there IMO!), I was beyond jealous and FIMOing out of control. I was kicking myself a bit later, but those 3 hours of sleep left me feeling great, so it’s hard to say I regret it. I’m always balancing the NPer in me that says “Get up! Embrace the day! Say yes to everything!” vs. the yogi in me that says “Listen to your body! You need rest! No sense in getting sick and feeling tired all the time!” On this particular day, my yogi side won out.

After hitting snooze and waking up at a leisurely hour, Abi, Pete, and I decided to go chase some wildlife and incredible views on a whale watch. As 3 biology nerds, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see some orcas and since I’d been on one of these tours when I lived here, I knew that being on the water is the best way to see Vancouver and the surrounding islands in all of their glory. We didn’t have time to take the seaplane out to Victoria (my favorite day trip), but we opted for a tour that left from from downtown, right where we would need to pick up our race packets later in the day.

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The Vancouver Convention Centre, also known as the site of the start of the race!
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Checking out the Seawall from the sea before we ran around it the next day.

 

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Disclaimer: these wildlife photos were from my last trip, but reflect everything we saw this time around. I decided to leave the camera this time and just enjoy 🙂
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I never thought I’d see an orca whale in real life. I also never thought I’d run a half marathon. Luckily, life keeps surprising me in the best way.
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My non-American Vancouver friends always made fun of my excitement at spotting bald eagles, not understanding that it’s not so much a patriotic (USA! USA!) love as it is a nerdy birder love ❤

After a beautiful day at sea, we grabbed our packets and I picked up my lulu shorts that were given as a part of this race. FYI lululemon does NOT mess around with their races and their swag. As we searched for the packet pick up, we passed dozens of girls waiting in line to get their nails done, their hair braided, their flash tattoos applied, and all sorts of other awesome betch-tastic stuff that I was too hungry to participate in. The 3 of us skipped over the salon and booked it to the free snacks. Granola bars, kombucha, and other tasty treats awaited, and I’ve never been no to say no to stuff. Gimme, gimme, thank you, thank you!

Hunger not quite satisfied after #sneakingsnacks, we taxied across town to my absolute favorite restaurant in Vancouver: The Naam. A vegetarian’s dream come true, this place was a stone’s throw from my former house in Van and never failed to leave me feeling full, happy, and healthy. Harty veggie food is my jam, and this place taught me that salads shouldn’t be boring, and that Mexican food is the best go-to for amazing meat-free meals. The ambiance is hippie chic, and if you can sit in the back garden with the vines and “fairy lights” you’ll fall in love with this place. I promise. After dinner, we headed home for a quiet night of enjoying the sunset at the beach and watching the Olympics with refreshingly chill Canadian commentary. I wanted to hit up the sunset yoga being offered for runners, but the trek to and from downtown at such a late hour did not sound enticing, so we did some stretching/lounging in the sand and considered that our yoga for the day. I laid out my clothes for the next morning, and hit the hay hoping for a great night’s sleep.

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Best part about going for the cheesy Instagram pre-race post: Waking up and being able to get ready without thinking!

Race Day

Eeeeep!!!! My first thought upon waking. My phone was filled with encouragement from friends and family, which brought the biggest smile to my face as I got ready. I tend not to get much sleep before races, so I was surprised to find myself feeling so refreshed and energized. After a quick breakfast of water, coffee, and oatmeal with banana and a bit of peanut butter, the 4 of us traveled over to the Convention Centre with the goal of arriving early enough to minimize stress, but not so early as to let those pre-race jitters settle in.

I took a moment to myself as we rode in the car to take some deep breaths and remind myself that I was here to have fun and let myself fall in love with running, not to go crazy. Many people had told me to just enjoy my first half without too much pressure, and I was taking it to heart. My goal was to run 10 minute miles, knowing that this was more than doable for me and that if I could run a bit faster than that in addition to running my longest distance ever, I’d leave SeaWheeze a happy lady. And still healthy enough to enjoy some post-race hiking in Banff National Park, which may warrant it’s own post.

After what seemed like 10 precautionary trips in the washroom (as they call it in Canada #themoreyouknow), we wound our way through an enormous crowd to the 10 min/mile pacers, also known as the 2:10 Pace Beavers. We said goodbye to Chris, who never quite tracked down a bib for this race and who was just starting to get over a nagging injury, and agreed to see him at the “logger’s station” or something along those lines. I said “Yeah, okay, perfect, bye!” before realizing I had no idea what that meant or what mile he would be waiting at. Oh whale!

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Among his many skills, Chris is adept at snapping illegal over-the-barrier photos.

I barely heard the pre-race pump up as I was focused on reminding myself to “be in the moment” and “just have fun.” Before I knew it, the first few waves of runners had taken off and our group was ambling up to the start. Now when I say ambling, I mean it. I knew this race was always sold out and packed to the brim, but I was still stunned by the crowds of lululemon-clad runners (literally 90% ladies) making their way to the start. As we crossed the line, I quickly realized that Abi, Pete, and I would never be able to stay together the whole time, and I lost them almost immediately in the crowd. They were both wearing Dana-Farber singlets that I’d given them, so I thought it would be easy to track them down. But unsure of whether they were behind or ahead of me, I soon stopped trying and told myself I’d find them at the finish line.

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Considering we ran together for all of 30 seconds, I can’t believe Chris snagged photos of us. Again with the skills! Also, please note the visor. I’m on a personal crusade to make them cool. Kerri Walsh is my #1 ally.
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I work for and love Dana-Farber, but currently run for Janji. Luckily I had these two to represent DFCI for me!

After a super slow first mile, I started to get a bit antsy and tried to weave my wave to more space and a faster pace. When I felt myself getting frustrated, I took some deep breaths and decided to let the crowd slow me down and recognize that this could save me later on. I’ve never been good at starting out slow, so these runners were doing me a favor and actually opening up the possibility for some negative splits. There was no use fighting what might have been just the thing I needed!

After a few miles of winding through the city, we hit a super short but steep uphill and then a more gradual uphill over the Burrard Bridge. Thank you Harvard Stadium, Thank you Summit Ave kept repeating through my head as I felt myself grow stronger on the uphills and maintain that strength through the downhills. Hills tend to be my favorite part of road races, because it’s the one time where I feel super strong and find myself gaining time, thanks to growing up running in a super hilly town and all of my time with November Project Boston. We then ran by Kits Beach and looped back around to the bridge. This was one of my favorite parts of the race because the narrow loop allowed me to see some of the super speedy runners (many of whom I recognized and cheered on) and generally interact other pace groups.

We then wound our way to the Seawall that encircles Stanley Park, Vancouver’s massive green space. I was so eager to get to this part of the race because I knew it represented the home stretch, would offer lots of shade, and that we’d finally be running by the sea enjoying some the best views in the city. I was far from disappointed. With greenery on your right and ocean and mountains on your left, every turn was stunning. The miles truly flew by, and I could not stop smiling as I realized that I was actually running at a perfect pace for me in that moment: faster than easy, but not so fast as to prevent me from having the best time. My joy was full, and that was all I could ask for.

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Photo per SeaWheeze lululemon Half Marathon

Just past Mile 10, I found myself hitting a bit of a wall. 10 miles was the farthest I ran in training and the sun was starting to get super hot, so I knew I’d have to dig a little for the first time in this race. Settle in became my new mantra, a reminder to just keep running and let go of overthinking. After seeing a few runners get sick, stop running, or pass out, I decided to stop ignoring the water stations and snagged a cup plus one with nuun. This was the perfect boost and left me wanting to push myself for the last stretch and pick up the pace if possible. I also decided to stop doing kilometer math and just let the last few roll by. Before I knew it, I was turning into the park to run up a final short and steep little hill that made everyone groan. To my delight, I saw Chris at the top handing out high fives and cheers like it was his job. I guess it’s kind of his job. Doesn’t pay great though… 🙂

“BRITTO!!” was all I heard as I smiled and kept moving.

“Do you want water? Gatorade? Nuun? A photo? This is the last hill! Do you want me to come with you to the finish? What do you want?”

I was completely out of breath after that tiny-but-cruel incline (did I say I like hills? Not in the last mile I guess), so all I could say at that stage was “I don’t want to talk.”

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Chris pacing me and sneaking photos like a pro

Chris said all the right things to keep moving, especially when I looked at my watch and saw 13.1 miles tracked and no finish line in sight. This was a bit frustrating, especially since the last km or so was a lot of twisting and turning along the harbour wall and well-meaning supporters kept yelling “Last turn!” when it clearly was not.

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Harbour wall: Stunningly beautiful, frustratingly maze-like.

“Empty the tank! This is it!” shouted Chris.

“It’s already empty! WHY CAN’T I SEE THE FINISH LINE?!” I shouted back.

A girl ahead of us with a November Project tank on turned back and nodded at my delirious question, clearly also frustrated about not being able to see the finish. After the next corner, she turned back again and screamed “THERE IT IS!” before tearing off at a full-on sprint, beasting her way through the crowd to the finish. I tried to chase her down but didn’t quite have much sprint left in me. She was the first person I saw when I crossed the finish and we immediately went in for a hug.

“Thanks for the push!” she said.

I looked at her like she was crazy because all I had done was express what everyone was feeling; she gave the push. “All you” was all I had breath for before I waved and wandered off toward Chris/water.

It immediately sunk in that I had reached my goal: Finishing my first half while having an amazing time. As for time, I came in at 2:07. With a goal of 2:10, I was pretty happy. In fundraising, we set up swing goals for the year – a high and a low goal – and aim to raise some amount in between those numbers. My swing goal for this race was 2:05 – 2:10, both of which I considered achievable while still focusing on joy and fun. Since my watch (and most everyone’s) tracked 13.3+ miles,  I’d say I was pretty close to 2:05 if I wanted to be all nit-picky about it. 🙂

Post Race

After the race, we started the long walk back up to the Convention Centre, which felt more like a receiving line/spa walk. SeaWheeze volunteers handed us our medals, water, cold towels to wipe off, and lululemon bags to collect our swag. But seriously, let’s talk about those towels. We went from running our asses off, to suddenly dabbing our faces with perfectly chilled, lightly scented white towels while being spritzed with peppermint as we whipped our hair around. Maybe there was no actual hair whipping, but I would describe the vibe as Herbel Essences commerical. It was probably the most glamorous I’ll ever feel while drenched in sweat. Nuun, KIND bars, and a hat rounded out the swag bag, which technically included the race shorts as well. I told Chris that I would rather pay more and be given awesome stuff than run a cheap race, which he found crazy but I stand by. Give me a few snacks and treats and I’m just a happier person. That’s why I also try to fly JetBlue. Snacks galore. In case you’re wondering, JetBlue didn’t pay me to write that, it’s just the truth. But if a JetBlue rep is reading this, please do send me money or miles.

Just some of the swag. Mat not included!
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The best part about racing a new distance? 3 Half Marathon PRs!
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Unofficial Pace Beaver/Support Raccoon (newly coined term)

Swag bags full, our post-race recovery involved a long walk home with loads of water and Nuun, a quick swim in the ocean and cat nap on the beach, and then a giant lunch at one of our favorite spots in Vancouver: Go Fish. Chris used to eat here near daily due to their phenomenal fish & chips. I opted for tacos and more sides than were necessary.

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Nothing like a little sunshine and swim to reset

That night we went to the SeaWheeze party in Stanley Park, which was absolutely beautiful. The location was perfect and the bands were awesome, but I was way to hungry/hangry to wait in the epic lines, so we only stayed for a bit before heading to hang with our Vancouver friends, the perfect way to wrap up an amazing day and our last night in the city.

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That view though ❤

Race Highlights & Additional Thoughts

  • Pace Beavers
    • The pacers for SeaWheeze were, in a word, amazing. They made me laugh, provided tips about form, kept us informed about the course, pointed out funny signs, and most importantly, kept us moving. The 2:10 pace group I found myself in was running closer to 9:30s rather than 10s, but that was the perfect happy pace for me and offered a way to push myself without checking my watch. They really made this race for me, especially since I lost Abi & Pete so early on! It was great to find a group to relax into a set pace with, and let the miles/kilometers tick by.
  • Solo time in Van
    • I was craving some alone time in Vancouver to reflect and while I didn’t expect it to happen during the race, it was actually incredibly perfect. I was far from physically alone (in fact, literally surrounded by people), but I was alone in my headspace and that felt amazing. I thought back to my time in Vancouver and how much I love this city. I thought about how much I love Boston and how lucky I’ve been to live in such wonderful places. I took in the views and acknowledged how good it felt to feel strong in my body and work hard. This was of course interspersed with that typical running mental chatter about pace and twinges popping up and check ins about how much farther I had to go, but I tried to just let myself have fun and could not believe how the miles flew by.
  • Cheer stations
    • While passersby watching the race were fairly tame, the cheer stations were above and beyond. Coming from Boston where crowds are always rowdy and cheer stations literally line the Boston Marathon course with unbelievable energy, I tend to find most races quieter than expected. SeaWheeze had some seriously incredible stations, my favorite being a 3-way tie between the party boat out at sea with music blasting & a megaphone to cheer us on, the water jet packs  since I’d never seen one used in real life, and the police troop with an incredible best sense of humor. Also the naked suits. Also the spin groups with their crazy high energy and great music. So I guess it’s a 5-way tie/they were all amazing.
  • Views
    • The photos speak for themselves. Vancouver is stunning and I doubt many road races can compete with this scenery.
  • Swag
    • As noted above, the swag bags for this weekend are unreal. Raise your hand if you’re surprised that lululemon doles out the best free-with-the-cost-of-admission stuff ever.
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Party boat for the win! Photo per SeaWheeze lululemon Half Marathon

Race Matras

  • Be in the moment
  • Just have fun
  • A finish is a PR (wahoo!)
  • Settle in
  • Relax into it

Biggest letdown of the day: Missing puppies

Mid-race, I kept hearing people talk about a puppy station coming up on the course. Yes, a PUPPY STATION! I thought it was a joke at first, but by Mile 10 I had heard enough chatter to get super excited. Visions of pups wagging their tails and waddling after us danced in my head. But lo and behold, a floof troop never appeared. While the final cheer station was great, nothing can compare to the promise of puppies. We were all like kids on Christmas morning who found a basket under the tree…filled with socks. Socks are cool, until there are puppy rumors. 🙂

Fun fact

The SeaWheeze medals are enormous and heavy AF. So heavy, in fact, that airport security took my bag away due to sighting a “suspicious object” and gave me the full pat down while they searched for this potentially elicit item. They returned my bag with a laugh and said “Man that medal thing looked weird!” Cue me sighing with relief before nervously laughing and side stepping away.

THANK YOU!

Some serious thank yous are in order for those who inspired me to do something I never thought I’d do, and those who helped me make this the most amazing day.

  • Jana Ross, Lady Boss
    • My running coach and inspiration, your faith in me and advice on everything from footwear to attitude made all the difference. I don’t know how much I should be paying you to be my running coach AND life coach, but it’s probably a lot. You left me feeling super prepared and your advice about enjoying this race allowed me to have so much fun. I can’t wait to sign up for the next one!
  • Chriso
    • First of all, my apologies for the onslaught of crazy things I said to you while you pushed me through that last mile. I recall spewing things like “No talking” and “Just talk to me” and “No pictures” and “Just one picture” and “Where is the finish?!” and “Where are the puppies?!” and “Why does my watch say 13.3?!” Your calm, cool, and collected approach to everything you do always calms my nerves and helps me shake off unnecessary stress. Thank you for joining me on long runs and understanding that hanger is real and should be avoided at all costs. You’re the best.
  • Abi & Pete
    • Thank you both so much for being crazy enough to sign up for this with me almost a year ago with only a few minutes to decide. It was so much fun to explore Van with you and your laid back attitudes about the day mirrored my goals and made this pure fun. You both kicked butt on race day and I hope we run many more (maybe even some where we can actually run together!
  • November Project Boston (and beyond)
    • Before I even started training, I knew I could handle a half because of NP. These workouts are no joke, and increased participation has left me stronger than I’ve ever been and eager to keep trying new things. I truly felt the support of the tribe leading up to, throughout, and after this race. The messages and words of encouragement I received the day before and after meant the world, especially coming from a group of people who are seriously badass and have crushed so many races at amazing speeds. To hear from you all on my lil ol’ first half gave me the biggest boost and made me excited to see what’s next.
    • Missed connections: To the mysterious NP woman who gave me that push for the finish, you rock and I hope you somehow find this!
  • Janji Corps
    • One of my favorite race moments was meeting another Janji Corps member out on the course. In a sea of lululmeon, it was great to see a familiar pattern on the singlet in front of me on the Burrard Bridge and chat with a stranger, united by a common passion.
  • Jamie
    • There’s nothing quite like door-to-door runs with your sister. Thank you for joining me for my last few runs before the race!
  • And to many other amazing friends and family members, thank you for your support!

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In so many ways, I couldn’t have asked for a better half to start out with: the course was incredible, the default pace was chill, and the atmosphere was absolutely unbeatable. On the other hand, I may be a bit spoiled for future races!

Even though I wanted to take a casual approach to this first half and stuck to that, I was still surprised by how relaxed and prepared I felt throughout. I never once doubted that I could finish and only felt exhausted during the last mile (which was also my fastest). This left me excited to sign up for another and to push myself a bit more. SeaWheeze, you were a blast. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future…

Any great New England half suggestions? Let me know. Let’s sign up!

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