What can I say?
Whoa..... wow..... whoazers!
Words can only describe this 99-year-old 12k race, but the experience.... well, you really, REALLY need to go see it for yourself. I first heard about Bay to Breakers long before I considered myself a runner. It was the Discovery Channel, or maybe even the Travel Channel, that was running one of those "World's best parties, festivals, events (insert noun here) shows" that caught my attention. I watched the reporter interview person after person, each dressed completely bizarre and fully intoxicated as they trudged, climbed and even crawled by on a street in San Francisco. This stuck in my memory since I grew up visiting family in the Bay area. "That would be fun to go do some day," I remember thinking.
Well, that time came last weekend. As of Friday before the race I considered Bay to Breakers a "bucket list" race, or even a bucket list item for a non-runner, and I still do, but as of race day I'm seriously thinking of trying to make it an annual event. To sum it up in a few words; insanity, randomness, HILL, crowded, only in California, alcohol, pot, expressionism, cultural screw, wacky and FUN all come to mind. Here is my recap of my first, and hopefully not last, ING Bay to Breakers 12k race.
First, off let me say the Expo sucked. Jeanie and I arrived Friday afternoon after a congested drive from Sacramento into San Francisco. I'm not the most experienced runner, but I've been to the Disney Marathon and Donna Marathon Expos along with a few smaller ones and ALL of them were better than Bay to Breakers. It was quickly obvious that this race is really not geared toward mass quantities of "runners," but more suited for the average person out to have a good time. I was hoping to get some swag for my girlfriend, but what I left with (other than my bib number and one-color cotton T-shirt) was a goody bag of dog food samples, arthritis patch medication samples and some literature on Volkswagen cars. Other than a private vendor selling "once-used" shoes there was no opportunity to buy new shoes for the Seattle Rock n Roll Marathon we're running next month. However, there were plenty of free wine and vodka samples. Go figure.
Jeanie and I got a little lost trying to find my cousin Robert and his friend Brandon, but eventually rendezvous at Magnolia Pub on Haight-Ashbury streets (neighborhood) and I must say that is an INTERESTING district in the city. After a few tasty beers we found ourselves going from thrift store to thrift store shopping for something crazy to wear. We weren't alone. Thousands of other runners were doing the same. There was definitely a sense of energy in the air. I equate this experience to the normal "expo" experience. First, we found some fishnet tops along with actual short SHORT running shorts from the 1980s. I objected immediately to the fishnet tops, but was outnumbered three-to-one and had to reluctantly try on the outfit. I was surprised to learn that with my body type I can totally rock a fishnet skin-tight top. The funny thing was that none of my friends could "rock" the shirt and pretty soon they were objecting to the idea while I pleaded in favor. Outnumbered three-to-one again we kept the pants idea and continued searching. I found some kilts, but was shot down as they were "too expensive." After about an hour of laughing, carrying on and joking Brandon's wife, Renee, found a bunch of skin-tight retro tank tops that matched all of our retro pants. On the way out of the store we found matching bow ties. Scary, I know! A few stores later we found some knee high socks at American Apparel to finish off the outfits.
By the time we made it to our hotel (picked solely for it's 1-mile to starting line distance/location) and quickly discovered that they failed to tell us that it was wedged between China Town and the Red Light district. Again... interesting neighborhood!
Around 3:30 a.m. the noise from outside on the street went silent and I think we all caught a few hours sleep before our alarms sounded at 5:45 a.m.
This is how my pre-race morning played out:
1.) Use community hallway bathroom with other funky dressed runners.
2.) Put on insanely short running pants while reminding myself that nobody knows me here and laugh at my friends as they laugh at me because we all look stupid.
3.) Drink as much Redbull, Gatorade & Vodka mixture as possible.
4.) Talk to girlfriend after getting drunk and while walking to the start line in 48-degree overcast weather.
5.) Imagine in my mind what kind of chaos would occur if an earthquake happened right now.
All this before 7 a.m.
By 7:20 a.m. we had found the entrance to our corral. Since I was corral B and had no intention on taking this race seriously I back tracked into corral C to meet up with Jeanie, Robert and Brandon. If anyone has ever ran with the Hash House Harriers just think of a Hash with about 60,000 people involved. The website says about 24,000 people registered, but the local news said they estimate 60,000 people take part in the race one way or another. As it started I think there was probably at least 15,000 people ahead of us and we didn't make it to the actual start line for a few minutes. Looking around I could see everything imaginable. If I didn't know any better I would think it was Halloween! Ninjas to my right, people dressed up as Tetris shapes to my left and naked people in front of me!
Just after passing the start line an announcer yells "runners to the left, walkers to the right," but what I experienced was chaos. Walkers everywhere and runners everywhere! Nobody really cared though.
Just after mile 1 we stopped at some port-o-johns, because well, we were drunk and that's what drunks do. As I'm waiting in line the race is literally flowing around me on all sides. Some guy next to me says, "hey bro, you taking pictures?"
"Yup," I said.
"Take a picture of this man," he says as he holds up a handful of marijuana. I look down in amazement as him and his friend, both wearing race bibs, are standing in the middle of the course rolling a blunt to smoke out in clear daylight!
And that is the general attitude. The race is famous for naked runners and we did see a few. Apparently the thing to do these days is start with your clothes on and after the start get naked, store clothes in backpack, run most of the race, stop just before finish line and put your clothes back on... so we saw lots of naked men and women running with backpacks.
One of the most hilarious things were about 20 people marching down the center line of the road dressed as giant salmon going BACKWARDS! Then behind them were about 20 more people dressed up as grizzly bears.
Then there were the dozen or so hecklers dressed up on the side of the road as giant bacon all drinking beers!
Starting off I had the impression that we were all staying together and "fun" running the race. Before I knew it I had lost everyone. I knew that Robert and Brandon, the least experienced runners, were ahead of me and Jeanie, who runs at a slower pace, was behind me. I didn't want to leave Jeanie, but now I couldn't find anyone. Without I plan I continued to run at my pace. Before long I literally ran into Robert and Brandon and decided to stay with them since I had a phone and Jeanie had the other phones and I wanted to be able to find everyone at the finish.
Whether they knew it or not, Robert and Brandon were running on pure adrenaline and excitement. I don't think there was much thought to pace. When I found them we were approaching the famous Hayes Street Hill (an 11 percent incline near mile 3) and we were weaving like rally race cars as we passed hundreds of people up the hill. It was beginning to be easier to run at any pace (the first mile was a 12-minute mile at the fastest whether you wanted to go that slow or not).
We reached the top of the hill and could see down the other side. The last 4-miles seemed to be mostly downhill, but not steep downhill and I can see why 12k world records are broken on this course. I would have loved to see the elites run by going down this gradual almost controlled hill.
The last few miles are all within the Golden Gate Park, which I learned is actually bigger than Central Park. There was even a waterfall within the park that is within the city. Amazing! As we reached the final downhill jaunt the Pacific Ocean opens up before us and we turn the corner to run the final 1/2 mile along the shore line. The finish line is now visible and Robert feeds off its energy taking off on what I estimate to be a sub-7 minute pace. I'm not one to ever sprint the end of a race. I feel like it's amateur for some reason. It's just my thing. However, I stick with him as I've got tons of reserve energy and I take pictures the entire way. We finish with Brandon only a few seconds behind. Jeanie eventually finishes and we're all stoked beyond belief.
At the finish line they make an announcement that the top female runner broke her own record for a new world record. Awesome! She is a Kenyan of course. Jeanie and I take a shuttle back to the start line while Robert and Brandon walk about halfway back on the course to Brandon's flat. I was told that the scene on the Hayes Street hill a good hour after we conquered it was the same crowd only four times as drunk and nuts. Next year I want to do it again, start in an earlier corral to get a good time and then go back and watch the chaos coming up that hill!
See you in 2011 Bay to Breakers for the 100th running!