There are a lot of reasons why someone would choose to run a half marathon (13.1 miles, 21.1 kilometres, or 69,225 feet). Some want to take their running fitness to a new level. Some do it in preparation for a full marathon. Others are looking for space to spend time alone. For me, I signed up because I needed a reason to take a break from my overwhelming work schedule … and participate in a once in a lifetime experience. Little did I know, the last six months would ultimately change my life … FOREVER!
Although this was the eighth year of the SeaWheeze Half Marathon, I hadn’t really heard about it until this past year working at lululemon. I didn’t understand how it could be different from other long-distance running events I’d been a part of in the past (including the Toronto Marathon, Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and Marathon van Gent) … and had no desire to find out until I unintentionally GOT IN!
To be honest, I merely visited the website to register my name for the Non-Guaranteed Random Entry Application (because friends of mine were also trying to get in). Knowing I had a 1 in 10 chance of getting in, I didn’t think Vancouver was in the cards. Needless to say, reality started to sink in on February 27th when I received the email saying I was joining 10,000 other participants for this year’s event. I paid my $178 + tax and I had to start thinking about “how” I was going to get to the finish line (physically, mentally, emotionally and … financially).
I AM NOT A RUNNER …
Long distance running has NEVER come naturally to me. As an athlete I always gravitated to sports that exemplified speed and power (i.e., volleyball, badminton, and track and field). In essence, running any more than a set of lines on the court or laps around the gym was absolute torture.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in my late twenties, that I ran my first marathon (in support of a personal training client who wanted to run a marathon as a personal goal of hers). My promise to help her get across the finish line was my motivation. Even the next four marathons were not for me, being a member of the Joints In Motion Marathon Training Team. Every training run was to show up for someone else, to help them through the physical and mental struggles they were facing, and to support someone else’s journey. I was a trainer, NOT A RUNNER.
Fast forward 16 years to 2019 … to my first half marathon. This time it was all about my own personal journey, the reality of my physical and mental struggles, and facing inner demons. This was the spark that set a series of exciting projects in motion, including personal passions and professional endeavours!
FEAR OF INJURY … AND GETTING PROACTIVE
For the first few weeks, I was still trying to come to terms with the fact I was going to SeaWheeze and that I couldn’t back out. The entire team at lululemon Chinook knew I was going, I paid the $200 registration fee, and the flights were booked. Now, it was time to get my 44 year old body ready for the 21.1 kilometre journey along the Sea Wall. This wasn’t going to be easy considering I had been sidelined the last year with chronic injuries and extensive rehab for both my shoulder and knee. CRAP!!!
I needed a plan … and help. Thankfully, I connected with Hayley Gulayets, a fellow lululemon Educator, Registered Dietitian, YYC Run Crew Coach, and all around AMAZING human being. Our conversations sparked a cascade of events that would lead to the creation of a series of mobile apps designed to proactively prevent common injuries in distance runners.
Heading up a local tech start-up, focused on developing a mobile app platform designed for coaching and learning movement skills, I suddenly realized I had access to a powerful tool that could help take the fear out of running. I then asked myself, “Why not help other people who feel the same way?”. This led to the connection with YYC Run Crew and Momentum Health Mission in the development of the “Injury Prevention for Runners” series of mobile apps for iPhone and iPad (powered by MOVE Improve).
I had everything I needed … a group of seasoned runners to connect with three times a week, a team of rehabilitation professionals at Momentum Health (in the clinic and on my iPhone), and the support of my fellow Educators at lululemon to get me to the finish line. With a consistent training regime including high-intensity interval training, spinning, yoga, and (obviously) running, I was feeling strong, capable, and mentally ready. Then … the unthinkable happened.
AN UNEXPECTED “OBSTACLE” TO OVERCOME
Here we go … again. Less than one week before SeaWheeze, on a leisurely run with YYC Run Crew, I strained my left calf. I was devastated.
It was a cold, damp morning, about four kilometres into the run, when I felt as though I was shot in the calf with a BB gun. With each step the pain got progressively worse, to a point where I had to slow down and slowly walk. As much as I wanted to sit in a corner, drop my head into my hands and cry … I didn’t have time to waste. All I knew is that I had six days to get my body ready for the 21.1 kilometre battle ahead and that quitting was NOT an option.
Momentum Health Mission, including Leah Peterson and Katja Ruohio, to the rescue! Aside from the acute therapy and localized treatment on my calf, including tape job and compression sleeve to help me get to the finish line, I booked a well-deserved deep tissue massage for when I got back.
69,225 FEET TO THE FINISH LINE
For anyone with a heartbeat, 21.1 kilometres is a distance that most consider daunting to complete on foot. Being that I was injured, this had me questioning myself and my reasons for doing this in the first place!
My original “WHY” behind my SeaWheeze journey was to run pain-free and enjoy every fun-filled kilometre. I wanted to take selfies with the Drag Queens, Police Officers, and Mermaids, high five the musicians playing on the side of the road, and hoot and holler for others along the way. I didn’t want to let my natural competitive side take over and ruin the enjoyment of such an incredible community-focused event. I wanted to meet people along the route, laugh and smile the whole way, and soak up the sights, sounds, and feelings from start to finish. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be (this time around).
The morning of August 17th, I was not ready for what I was going to have to face mentally, emotionally, or physically along the route. Despite the constant reminder that my leg was “struggling”, the help and support of everyone leading up to the weekend, and knowing they were in my corner every step of the way, helped get me to the finish line.
- 1 … 2 … 5 kilometres. Shuffling around the corral of runners, I could feel every step beneath me. My calf was warm, but I could feel the pressure of the weight with every step. I was hypersensitive to the feeling of the wind and the pebbles underneath my feet.
- 10 … 12 … 15 kilometres. I found myself waiting for the marker flags around every corner, counting down the kilometres to the finish (never looking at the clock to know how long I’d been on my feet). The music was blasting in my ears, trying to drown out the electric shock running up my leg, keeping me going and not letting me slow down or stop.
- 18 … 19 … 20 … 21 kilometres. I don’t remember much these last few kilometres. I was dehydrated. I felt heavy. I was being passed by some and was passing others. I wasn’t smiling (and was in fact grimacing).
- The last 100 metres seemed (unexpectedly) effortless … and incredibly satisfying! I think it was the first time I remember feeling the air enter and exit my lungs, the sweat dripping down my chin, and the salt on my lips. I distinctly remember wanting Village Ice Cream (specifically Chocolate Coconut Milk). Despite everything … I DID IT!
There were several moments where I found myself questioning my ability to endure the discomfort … but thought of the people who wanted to but couldn’t run. I thought about the experiences in my life where I’ve faced excruciating pain (physical and emotional) and come out the other side. I thought of the unsung heroes who make the world a better place every day by simply “showing up” … and who have always been there believing in me (when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself). I envisioned myself five years from now, running alongside me and coaching me through the mental and physical war going on in my mind and body.
After it was all said and done … the SeaWheeze 2019 medal that I earned can never be taken away from me.
CELEBRATING STRENGTH, RESILIENCE, AND ACHIEVEMENT
It didn’t take long for the adrenalin to wear off and for my body to start to feel … everything. I felt dehydrated, hungry, tired, achy, and emotionally drained. After a few hours of rest and much needed hydration, a group of us ventured to the Sunset Festival … the perfect way to celebrate what SeaWheeze is all about – strength, resilience, achievement, people, and connection. So many memories … and so little time. You can catch a glimpse of the weekend by watching the SeaWheeze 2019 video.
Finally, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who played a part of my journey to this life-changing weekend … YYC Run Crew, Momentum Health Mission, Santisouk Photography, MOVE Improve, lululemon Chinook, 2110 Fitness, Crush Camp, Junction 9 Yoga and Pilates, Rhythm Ride, and the numerous people I’ve connected with along the way. This journey would not have been possible without each and every one of you.
As I close this chapter, I am excited for the 362 day journey to the next SeaWheeze event in 2020 (on August 15th)!
FAST FORWARD TO 2020 …
With 50 days to the start line (on August 15th), I am still planning on running the 21.1 kilometre journey. Although this year’s SeaWheeze Half Marathon is now going virtual, I have every intention of breathing in the experience and enjoying every step along the way. I hope to have friends alongside me (although responsibly distanced) and putting another memorable day in the books.
Next stop … SeaWheeze Half Marathon (2021) in Vancouver, BC!
Andrea Oh is a tech entrepreneur (@moveimproveapp), local blogger (@sixfootcanasian), philanthropist (@yycheroesproject), and proud YYCRunCrew member.