Name of the race: Bay to Breakers
Where: San Francisco, CA
Time: 7:00 am
Entry fee: $58
Swag: Cotton t shirt (technical t shirt if you pay extra)
Post-race Food: Coconut water and water
Performance:Overall 8878/22454; Gender 3375/11609; Age (35-39) 1138/3331
Time: 1:26:17 (11:35 pace; fun run)
Weather: 57 degrees and sunny
Bay to Breakers has a special place in my heart. It was the very first race that I did. My best friend in grad school convinced me to do this with her in 2003. At that point I had been living in Berkeley for several years. I heard about B2B, but I hadn’t participated. I just didn’t understand. My best friend was a runner (and a competitive trail runner) and coaxed me into doing this with her by promising me that she would be my sherpa and carry water and fuel. I didn’t know about races. I heard about marathons, but I didn’t know that there were shorter distances and quite frankly races happened all the time. To me, I thought marathons were like once-a-year-events. I was a little dubious of the all whole thing and wondered if I could run the entire distance. She assured me that with a little training I could. So the several weeks before B2B, I trained (on a treadmill). I ran B2B with my best friend in front of me the whole way. The only reason why I was able to run the entire distance was because she held out a piece of chocolate in front of me the entire time. The first time my energy flagged and I said I wanted to walk, she whipped out a piece of chocolate and held it out just in front of me. I stumbled on to get that chocolate. She held out chocolate just in front of me (I couldn’t just grab the chocolate because she’s faster than me) and once in a while rewarded me by letting me have the chocolate. She dryly joked that it was the world’s first Skinner box race.
I ran B2B again with a friend in 2005, which was my last year in the Bay Area. A couple months later I was going to be moving away to Toronto, so I wanted to do everything that was special to me.
B2B is no ordinary footrace. I always describe it as a moving party that goes through the city. More people dress in costumes than in regular running clothes and spectators come out to party. When I did B2B, the streets were filled with runners and spectators. Bands were playing everywhere. The houses on Fell St along the park were partying a storm. With boomboxes blaring, people dancing, food on the grill, and copious drinks flowing, the city was alive with energy and a festive mood to party on the third Sunday of May. It wasn’t uncommon to have food and beer offered to you as you were running.
Unfortunately because of all the disruption and damage caused by the boisterous and unruly crowd, the city and police have been seriously cutting down on the partying. As I was running with my sister, I definitely noticed that there were far fewer spectators and house parties than in the early 2000s.
Still even in its subdued form, B2B is a fun “race.” I would never say that this is a PR course because 1) the hill at Hayes St., 2) the massive slow crowds, and 3) lack of water stations (there were only two water stations at Mile 3.5 and 5.5, it’s not a race for runners in mind). This is a race to take it slow and enjoy the sights and spectacle that is Bay to Breakers.
I asked my sister if she wanted to do this with me to celebrate her graduation (Congrats, Dr. Baby Sister. She’s now a pharmacist.). She eagerly agreed and we planned our fun. Saturday was her graduation. Originally we were supposed to drive back down to LA later that night, but our mom graciously agreed to hold off on the drive down by a day so we could do B2B.
Bay to Breakers starts at the “bay” near Embarcadero (means wharf in Spanish), but the fun starts long beforehand. My sister and I got on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, a subway/commuter rail) and already we were surrounded by costumed runners. We also planned on wearing costumes, but our mom accidentally took out our costumes out of the car in LA, so we just ran in our running clothes. But I did not forget the tortillas. It’s tradition to throw tortillas in the air before you start the race. In previous years, the air would be thick with flying corn discs.
We ran slowly and just had fun looking at the people around us. It’s amazing what people are able to run with for 12K. Although the day was quite sunny, it wasn’t so bad because we ran west away from the rising sun. We ran at an easy for me. It was interesting seeing what it was like running with someone for whom it was a harder pace and for me it was a breeze. I carried a water bottle with some Fruit Punch Nuun for us to drink. This was just a fun run for me and good way to get a long slow run in for my half marathon training.
One of my favorite traditions of B2B is the salmon run. People dress up as salmon and complete the race in reverse – they start at the finish line and end at the start line. They run the race “upstream” just like salmon on their way to spawn. You can always tell when the salmon are about to arrive because runners ahead of you get really excited and then you hear, “The salmon are running! The salmon are running!” I love running by and high fiving them.
The Hayes St. Hill is one of the many reasons why I can’t take the wah-wah-wah complaining about the small inclines in Central Park or Prospect Park seriously. NYers, THIS is what a real hill is like. The Hayes St. Hill is a 5 block 11.15% incline. That “dreaded Harlem Hill in Central Park” is a mere 4.4% incline in comparison. And this the Hayes St. hill is no different from the many other hills in San Francisco. NYers have no idea what hills are.
The last part of the race takes place in Golden Gate Park. I love this part of the race because I love the scent of the eucalyptus leaves. Plus the shade from the trees offer a cooling respite from the increasing warm temperature as the day goes on.
You run through some of the major landmarks in the park, including a waterfall. It was wonderful hearing people gasp as the waterfall came in to view. Then finally you see the windmills and can smell the salt in the air. We’re about to hit the “Breakers.” The finish line is near. The last few hundred feet, my sister kicked it up and we ran down to the finish line. I said, “Let’s hold hands as we cross the finish line.” One hour, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds after we crossed the start line, we crossed the finish line holding hands up in the air and a big smile on our faces.
I love having a view of the ocean greeting you as you cross the finish line. I miss California. The finish line was really fun because the announcers would describe various runners and their costumes as they finished. This is how I found this group of “running with bulls.” As soon as I heard the announcer describe them, I chased them down so I could take a picture of them.
The course changed a bit from when I last did it. The finish line is much closer to the ocean. Before we finished in an open pasture and there was a huge party afterward. There wasn’t much of a party this time around. Vendors from the expo were there hawking their wares. There were some food booths. Runners were heading to the ocean to play in the waves. We didn’t have time to stick around and see if atmosphere picked up because we had to leave to drive to LA.
I paid the extra $12 each so we would get a pass that allows on the special MUNI shuttle that took runners from the park to downtown SF. If you were cheap, you could pay $2 and take the regular bus. It was worth the extra money to me to have a fast and quick commute back to downtown. In the past, getting back to downtown was a nightmare. I remember my friend and I waiting for hours for a bus or a shuttle. And then we would be packed in like sardines in a never-ending traffic jam. This year the shuttles seem to be really well organized. There was no wait and plenty of seats. Aside from a little bit of congestion right at the beginning, it was smooth sailing back to downtown. Strawberry Shortcake and Sailor Moon agree.