May 18, 2011

Bay to Breakers (Race Report)

Every runner has their list of must-do races that they hope to experience in their lifetime, and San Francisco's infamous Bay to Breakers had a spot on mine. To call this a "race", however, can be a little misleading. It's more like a giant party with 55,000+ participants making their way through the streets of San Francisco to the Pacific. Costumes, nakedness, a healthy dose of adult beverages, and general wildness are in abundance, giving it the feel of a parade more than a running race. In other words, making it an event you have to experience, at least once. I was excited to participate this year, in particular, because it marked the 100th running of Bay to Breakers, and I liked to think I'd be a little part of history : ) In addition to celebrating the centennial anniversary of the race, there were also plans to crack down on much of the debauchery the race is known (and both liked and disliked) for, namely alcohol consumption and nudity, hopefully making it safer and better for the city while still keeping things fun. I went into it with no serious plans to race, and rather enjoyed the sights and sounds, took a millions pics, and even chugged a beer mid-race : ) Basically, I had a blast!

I had to work Saturday morning so I didn't leave for the bay til almost 6pm. A while back I had made plans to do the race with my coworker, Julia, and it just happened to work out that she was from the Bay so we had a free and convenient place to stay. Julia headed down earlier and was able to pick up our packets, so I didn't have to deal with the madness of the expo. The drive to the bay was relatively uneventful, until about 40 minutes in traffic slowed and I saw smoke up ahead. I assumed there had been a crash, but as traffic slowly moved forward and I got closer, I realized that the bushes in the divider of the freeway had caught fire! A truck just beyond was pulled off the the side and looked to have been involved, but I still can't figure out how it all happened. I made it to Julia's place (with an incredible view of the bay, btw) just in time for some dinner. We finished the night off with a movie and then proceeded to crash.
race packet!

I had checked the forecast the week leading up and saw that we were in for some interesting weather: 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms! Keeping consistent with the forecast, the sky on my way there was dark and ominous, so Julia and I expected the worst and tweaked our outfits accordingly. Speaking of, when I signed up for B2B I fully intended on running in full costume. I had nothing particular in mind, and as race day got closer, I just couldn't seem to settle on anything. And then before I knew it, it was Saturday and I had nothing planned. So in a last minute mad dash I threw together some things I had and ended up representing last years' Baseball World Champions and San Fran hometeam, the Giants! I already had a Giants shirt and hat, so I just paired those with my bright orange Nike tempo shorts, and at the last minute, my Nike windbreaker, and I was set!

Our alarms went off much too early, 5am to be exact, since the race start had been moved back to 7am this year. It took some coaxing to get me out of the warm and comfy bed, but eventually I started getting ready. We had thought about having a drink or two pre-race to get into the spirit of things, but we both ended up being so tired and anticipating the cold, decided to skip it. It was definitely gloomy outside, but we enjoyed some cautious optimism when we looked across the bay at the city and saw clear skies! Still, it was a bit chilly when we got outside so I was glad to have my windbreaker. We got dropped off at BART and, along with many others, made our way to the city! Julia and I registered early and were in Corral C with a 7am start time. Obviously, the corrals are like a spectrum, ranging from the elites in Corral A, to the drunkest revelers in the final corral who walk the race, many of whom never even make it to the finish. So I figured being kind of in the middle would allow us to run when we wanted to, but also see some fun and wild stuff : )
still half asleep while we wait for BART!

Anyway, we didn't end up getting to the city in time to start in our corral, so we decided to move back and start with Corral D about a half hour later. When we got to downtown SF, everywhere we looked were runners in crazy costumes. The excitement in the air was definitely buzzing and got stronger as we made our way to the start line along the Embarcadero. The crowds got thicker and the costumes more intriguing as we got closer, and we also found ourselves treading on the remnants of the traditional "tortilla toss". Seriously, the street was covered in tortillas! Finally we got to the start and after waiting just a few minutes we were off! From our first few steps, we knew there was no way we would be able to run the whole race - it was just way too crowded, and even in Corral D most people were walking. So we dodged folks for a while and stopped to walk and take pictures whenever we felt like it.
 downtown SF
 Julia & I
 a sea of people
 waiting to start
there it is!

Within the first mile we spotted our first nekkid person and cut a tangent across the crowd to get a pic. It ended up being the first of many for the day, despite the supposed ban on nudity. We only saw one woman baring all, and the rest were all older men - exactly the people you don't want to see naked!! After the first few, I decided I really wasn't a fan. More power to you if you can rock your birthday suit in public, but I'd just rather not look! My last comment on the topic - it was funny to see the different ways the nudies displayed their bibs!
 1st nakie! notice the number on the lunch box!
 haha : )
 a naked giant!
There was so much to see in the first mile that it seemed to take forever to reach the first mile marker. The course cut through downtown San Francisco, surrounding us with tall building on either sides and lots of spectators out cheering and joining in the partying fun. The skies had stayed clear and the gorgeous blue skies made everything that much better! Once in a while we'd glance behind us and it was almost overwhelming to see the throngs of people - literally, a sea of people. We ran in stretches, stopping to take pics of our favorite costumes. Around mile 2 we came across one of my favorites of the day - the salmon! From what I've heard, this group is there every year, dressed as salmon, and runs in the opposite direction (aka salmon swimming upstream). We caught them as they were taking a break to dance to some jazz, and I couldn't resist catching it on video. Check out the hilarity below:
 mile 1
human piƱatas!
 box of crayons : )
photo op
dancing salmon!
Next up was Hayes Street and the infamous Hayes Hill, the only real hill of the course. It's definitely no joke - it's both long and steep, so obviously we decided to walk it. It was while we were trudging up this bad boy that we passed a liquor store and decided that it would be a good idea to stop in and chug a beer. We figured it would make for a good little pick me up, and thus mile 3 became known as "the beer mile" : ) We finished walking the rest of the hill to let it settle, and eventually it gave us a little kick! When we reached the top we got sprinkled on briefly as we ran through an odd patch of rain, but by mile 4 it was clear skies again as we entered Golden Gate Park.
 starting up the hill!
 still going up...
looking back...
 the beer mile! it was a good idea : )
 oh ya know, just enjoying a beer mid-race
we can finally see the top!
entering Golden Gate Park
I spotted another favorite for the day: an Up!-inspired costume complete with a mini house floating away by a bunch of balloons! Definitely put a smile on my face : ) Over the next couple miles the crowds thinned a bit and we were actually able to run a bit more than before. I ended up randomly running into a couple people I knew from Fleet Feet which was fun, considering just how many people were out there. Just after mile 4 I realized we were running on the same route as the San Francisco Marathon as we passed the brightly colored Flower Conservatory. Brought back some fun memories from my last SF race!
 Flower Conservatory
this looked so fun!
hello, sunshine
love this
unicorns do exist!
better than the real thing
silly pose for the photogs!
The course continued to wind through Golden Gate Park and was all flat and downhill to the finish. If you've never been to GG Park, you have to understand that it's not a typical park. It's huge and has all kind of things like museums and zoos within it's borders. Case in point, as I was running I glanced to my right and spotted a herd of buffalo! Yes, buffalo, just grazing and ignoring the madness going on around them. Clearly I was pretty jazzed to spot them : ) Soon after we spotted another awesome costume - a man cross-dressed with a "bubble booty" - yes, he had actually made a voluptuous butt that emitted real bubbles! Funny and creative! By this point I was down right warm, and had tied my windbreaker around my waist. It wasn't uncomfortable, but looking back on the pics I realized it looked more like a skirt! Ha.
 bubble booty!
thug shadows
 me and my windbreaker "skirt"

Before long we were leaving the park and could see and smell the Pacific. Obviously from all the weaving we knew the course would be longer than 12k, and we ended up recording the race a full half mile longer. Regardless, when we saw the finish and saw that we were at 1:43, I told Julia to sprint so we could come in under 1:45. The finish was pretty uneventful actually, but we did finish with an official time of 1:44:44. Considering all of our photo ops, the crowds, the beer mile, and chatting with others, I'm just fine with our time. This is definitely not a race I would run as a race, so time wasn't really a big part of the experience.
a pic with the Pacific
 kick to the finish!
first Bay to Breakers in the books!
After crossing the finish line we joined the crowds once again to make the one mile plus trek to collect our medals and shirts and ended up back in Golden Gate Park at the finish festival, Footstock. The medals were actually really cool and are a limited edition to celebrate the centennial, so I'm glad I got one! The shirts on the other hand sucked. For one, they were cotton, and for another, the logo was screen printed, and it wasn't even straight on mine! The finish festival wasn't bad, just the usual vendors, food, and music. We stuck around for a while, stocking up on free samples and scoping out some more awesome costumes, and then made our way through the park to meet Julia's folks.
 rockin' our awesome medals
 raccoon! haha
dressed up pup!

On our way, we spotted a gopher peeping out of his hole in the grass. Surprisingly though, he didn't dart back underground, but actually stuck around, munching on the grass around him. I even managed to get super close to him and he didn't freak out! I'd never really known what a gopher looked like because they usually disappear so quickly - turns out they're super cute!
 my little gopher friend : )
look at his chubby little cheeks!
As we headed back to Julia's place we drove past the Golden Gate Bridge, and on such a beautiful day we couldn't resist stopping (ok, I sort of freaked out at the view and they kindly obliged me and stopped). It was seriously breathtaking; I think I could have spent the entire day there just staring, a smile stuck on my face. Just beautiful. I always forget what an amazing city San Francisco is, and I need to start taking advantage of living so close!
I ♥ SF
 just breathtaking...

We spent the rest of the day hanging out, getting lunch, and seeing a movie (Bridesmaids - hi-lar-ious!) before I made the drive back to Sac where the weather was not so nice. I couldn't have asked for a more fun weekend and Bay to Breakers experience. It's definitely a crazy and eccentric race, but one that everyone should do at least once!
100th Bay to Breakers: a race I won't forget!


  1. Damn that looks like a blast! I have to do that "event" one of these years...great pics!.

  2. i stumbled across your blog looking for personal experiences for races of people living in CA. thanks for sharing your stories and workouts. I've often wondered about bay to breakers. looks like lots of fun!

  3. This sounds like a ton of fun. I should add this to my list of races to do at some point in my life. :)

  4. Ooooh, glad that you got to run the 1st B2B that actually had a medal! Glad to hear you had a great time!