(Belated) Bay to Breakers
As a resident of the Bay Area for over ten years and a (somewhat) avid runner, it is astonishing that this year was my very first Bay to Breakers. I simply never got around to it, and I now realize I've been missing out on one of the most exciting yet eclectic events the city has to offer. Here are the highlights of my experience -- needless to say, I'm glad my friend peer pressured me into running a race I'll never forget.
A RACE LIKE NO OTHER
My prior knowledge of Bay to Breakers was relatively limited before the race, so when I saw my fellow runners tossing tortillas in the air at the start of the race I was, to put it lightly, amused. (I actually felt a bit self conscious as I was one of the few who didn't have any tortillas in hand to throw.)
I later looked up the tortilla-throwing tradition, and there was no explanation. For some reason, this made me love the race and this weird city all the more.
I put "run" in quotation marks because few people legitimately run the race. Most participants were happy to complete the race at a meandering pace, stopping on the side of the road to rest, to chat, or to enter one of the many house parties along the entire course. San Francisco's residents opened their doors and blared music, shouting encouragements at the people passing by and making the race feel like a city-wide block party.
We later passed through Golden Gate Park, my personal favorite part of the city, passing by the park's famous bison and Dutch windmills. Finishing the race at Ocean Beach (hence the name Bay to Breakers), I thanked my lucky stars for the absence of the city's typical fog.
CENTIPEDES, SALMON, GORILLAS, OH MY!
Bay to Breakers is chock-full of unexplained traditions, and one of the things that makes the race so special is its wacky costumes. Traditionally, there is a group of runners dressed as salmon who "swim upstream" and run the race backwards. My friend mentioned this to me beforehand, so it was not as great a shock as the tortillas. Floating along in a small herd in surprisingly intricate and realistic-looking costumes, the salmon greeted us warmly as they passed.
Another B2B tradition is the centipede, groups of people tied together and running in synchronicity. This was truly a feat to watch -- unlike the bulk of the runners, the centipedes competed for speed and ran along at an alarmingly fast pace. In fact, one centipede this year completed the race before the first female finisher. I suppose there is strength in numbers.
However, I was also told to keep an eye out for the legendary pink gorilla that would run the race, but must have missed him in the masses of people clad in Spiderman costumes, furry boots, or nothing at all. Elusive as Sasquatch himself, the pink gorilla will remain a legend to me for now, though I hope our paths cross in the coming years.
One of the best things about any race is the post-race expo, but this one blew others out of the water. Complete with a stage and a stand offering free beer, this expo felt more like a party than anything else. And you couldn't pick a more beautiful backdrop than Ocean Beach.
Chatting with a man on the bus home who has run the race every year for thirty years, I found that Bay to Breakers has toned itself down. He told tales of keg party "floats" that would follow runners through the course, and hundreds of unregistered runners breaking into the race without security. He was nostalgic for a rowdier time, but this race seemed plenty strange to me. To put it simply, I won't be missing another Bay to Breakers. And next time, I'll be sure to buy myself some tortillas beforehand.