Bay to Breakers: A Quintessentially San Francisco Race
A few years ago, I moved to San Francisco on Bay to Breakers weekend. Every year since then, my dad has flown out from Indianapolis to join me the annual run/costume party/longest consecutively run footrace in the world. This year was no exception! We even dressed up in costumes this year.
In addition to my dad, though, a whole group of friends joined us as fellow Waldos. Or, rather, we joined them. The Where's Waldo? idea came from my friend Kim a few days before the race, and it ended up being a pretty fun costume. All along the race course, we had people run up to us, exclaiming "We found you!" There were also a few other scattered groups of Waldos, and it was fun running up behind them and saying hello.
Now, onto the race itself...
For those of you who have run Bay to Breakers before, you probably know that it isn't a race to run for a PR. The number of people who run it is massive, so unless you're in Corral A (which I believe you can only get in with a proven race result of a less than 7 minute mile pace) or the front of Corral B, you're going to be surrounded by a sea of people for the entire 7.5 miles. Yes, it thins out a bit as people drop off to join raceside parties or just get tired...but it doesn't thin out all that much at all. I started in Corral C this year, and we were dodging people left and right to the very end. On top of the amount of people, it's also a hilly course, with the famed Hayes St. Hill right in the middle of the action.
Approaching Hayes St. Hill
What you do run Bay to Breakers for is the atmosphere and the people. I don't think you will ever find happier people at a race than you will at Bay to Breakers. At the starting line, despite the fact that most people have been crammed into their corrals since 7am, there's music blaring, people dancing, and tortillas flying (apparently no one knows how it got started, but it's a thing).
There's plenty to keep you entertained in the corrals, too, since people get so creative with their costumes. There's been someone running with a basketball goal on his back the last two years (new corral game: try to make your tortillas in the hoop). One of my personal favorites is the MarioKart group theme, complete with balloons to pop. This year, political figures seemed to be out in full force. You might see a group of old men in bathrooms and neon hats (FYI, that costume in the corral usually becomes just the hat when the race gets started, for those of you who may not be keen on running next to naked people). Once you get started and the crowd mixes up a bit, you start seeing more costumes, as well as those of the revelers along the course (yes, people really get up at 7am to put on costumes, cheer for runners, and drink).
Since my dad is considerably faster than me, I spent the majority of my race with my friends Kim, Brent, Heather, and Nick. We ran some (including all of Hayes St. Hill). We walked some. We stopped a few times and took photos. It was the first Bay to Breakers for all of them, so they had a lot to take in! At the finish line, we all linked arms and crossed the line together. After grabbing medals, water, and bananas, we split up. Kim and Brent are marathon training, so they kept running even more. Heather and Nick had to get back to their car. I had to find my dad and navigate the disaster that was trying to get an Uber ride home (it took a 20 minute walk, a few cancellation fees, and downloading the app on my dad's phone, but we eventually got home).
As far as races go, usually Bay to Breakers is pretty well run. It's no small feat to deal with that many runners, but they've had enough practice over the years that they seem to have it down to a science. I did notice a few hiccups this year, though. The water stops were not well staffed, leading to pretty massive backups at each one. At the electrolyte stations, they were completely out of product by the time we ran through (and we were averaging around an 11-minute mile pace, meaning there were a ton of people still behind us). My dad had splurged on the "VIP experience," which meant pre- and post-race hospitality, but they sold entirely too many of those. By the time I finished and made it there (again, 11-minute mile pace, so lots of people still to come), they had shut down all the promised massages due to no slots being available and they were out of most of the food. That said, the food they did have was quite good, and the fact that the bar had both wine (including sparkling!) and beer was a very nice touch.
Overall, Bay to Breakers is one of my favorite races, and it's a quintessentially San Francisco experience. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun race. Don't come here expecting to break any records, but do make sure you pack a costume :)