Bay to Breakers

Today my wife and I ran the Bay to Breakers. This is an annual footrace which takes place in San Francisco, California. The name reflects the fact that the race runs from the northeast end of the downtown area near The Embarcadero (the Bay side of the city) to the west end of the city and Ocean Beach (the ocean breakers near the finish line on the Pacific coast). The race is 7.46 miles (12 kilometers) long.The course begins at the northeast end and runs southwest through downtown just south of Market Street. The first mile of the race is so crowded that many participants must walk it.

It then turns west along Hayes Street and up Hayes Street Hill near Alamo Square. This is the only major incline in the surprisingly flat (considering it runs through San Francisco) race. After the hill, the race runs along the panhandle and then west through Golden Gate Park, past the Conservatory of Flowers, all the way to Great Highway and Ocean Beach.

Started in 1912 as a way to lift the city’s spirits after the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is the longest consecutively running footrace in the world (other races’ courses and lengths have changed over time). During World War II participation sometimes slipped below 50 registrants, but the tradition carried on and the race now also holds the Guinness World Record for the highest participation footrace with 110,000 runners in 1986. This record number was partly the product of the running fad of the 1980s; more recently the average participation is between 70,000 and 80,000. The San Francisco Examiner annually publishes a list of the first 10,000 finishers the day after the race.

Large numbers of participants walk the route behind the runners. Many participants dress in elaborate costumes or, though not technically allowed, wear nothing at all, thus lending a party atmosphere to the event. Bay to Breakers is also the world’s premiere event for “centipede racers.” Competiting teams in the centipede race must consist of a minimum of 13 runners tethered together, usually in some artistic fashion. I’ve included a couple of pictures of an ”Salmon” centipede. 

An additional runner, a floater, usually the team captain, is allowed to run along untethered to pace the team or substitute for drop out runner. Despite the novelty, the centipede race is very competitive. The centipede winners used to have better finishing records than the women’s division until just a decade ago.

The route is typically dotted with various local bands performing. At the end of the race is Footstock, a gathering where tired participants can enjoy a performance by a nationally known acts. I have some pictures of us from this year (2007) and prior years (2003 and 2002.


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