Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bay to Breakers 12K "Race" Report

Two weeks, two 12Ks, two VERY different experiences!

Bay to Breakers is legendary -- for the crazy costumes, the naked "Bare 2 Breakers" runners, and (in previous years) the crazy drunken participants. More city-wide party than race, it's still been one of those "must do someday" events in my book. Given that this was the 100th running, it seemed like the perfect year to do it.

We went to the expo on Saturday morning to pick up our packets and shirts... small for an event with 55,000 entrants! We were also surprised by the shirts... Zazzle (a company that makes money by custom printing shirts and anything else you could imagine) is the title sponsor, but the race shirts were really poor quality. A thin white t-shirt with a black screen print. They were selling some additional merchandise, but it wasn't very interesting. (And there were no pint glasses. Shot glasses but no pint glasses? Weird.)

We had decided that we were going to walk the entire 12K -- injury plus not wanting to feel frustrated like we did at Bloomsday -- and I never doubted that we had made the right decision! We had also talked about using our costumes from the Bats Day "Swinging Wake" party, but the weather forecast was for rain so we just went with simple running clothes. Not being costumed was something we did regret. But, hey, there's always next year.

before the race

Race morning was bright and perfectly crisp. We made our way the long way round the starting area, entering our "C" corral from Embarcadero. I felt a little bad at first; we wouldn't have signed up for that corral if I had known we would walk. That said, we were passing people the entire race -- seems that a lot of people just sign up for whatever corral they can get into.

We walked around a little, drinking in the sights. Great to see so many costumes! At some point tortillas started flying. Just a few at first, and then dozens, and then, seemingly, hundreds if not thousands of tortillas filled the air. Bizarre.

the Bay...

People seemed giddy and chatty; there was none of the anxious pre-race stretching one sees at most races. We were, of course, in corral C... one can only assume that corral A was a bit more dedicated...

Then, with a slow lurch, we made our way to the starting line. I assure you that we crossed the start line much more quickly than we did at Bloomsday! I heard some people grousing about the wave start and not being able to find room, but at least in our corral, there was plenty of space for runners (on the left) and walkers (on the right) from the very beginning.

oompa loompas
Wil and I just walked along at our usual fast walking pace; admiring the costumes along the way. We thought the most effective ones were those where a whole group wore the same costume -- like the horde of oompa loompas or the flock of black swans "after a few good meals". And of course there were the naked men. One tall, thin, younger man walked near us for a good portion of the race. I never saw his face, but was amused that he wore a woolly hat the entire time. I guess he was worried about getting cold...

use a hat to keep warm

At one point a group of tipsy twentysomethings were running down the sidewalk in the opposite direction past us. We heard the alpha male start to catcall at an older naked man walking nearby.

Alpha male: "Hey! Look at the naked dude! Ha ha, naked old dude! Hey --- OH MAN! HE'S HUGE! Respect, man. Respect."
Everyone else: (silence, swivelling of heads, and then "Oh. Yep.")

At one point I noticed a guy with "Endorphin Dude" on his cape... Endorphin Dude is a legend in the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs, so it was a bit like seeing a rock star. We had a lovely chat and a photo op:

with Endorphin Dude

Hayes Street Hill comes quickly, between miles 2 and 3. Lots of the houses on the hill were having porch parties, playing music, and dancing. Very cool. A tiny little boy dressed as a banana slipped past me, his dad following with a "great pace, son -- great pace!" We also noticed several cops along the sidewalk just before the hill -- they were being told to "watch out for the toe tags" to identify registered runners vs. bandits. That said, plenty of people who don't care about their times don't wear the toe tags... My pal Doug had told me to make sure and turn to look back when we got to the top -- "because you'll see a sea of runners behind you". Sure enough, we did. Kind of amazing. This picture really doesn't do it justice:
looking back down Hayes Street Hill (not as impressive as in real life)

Then down the other side of the hill, a bit of a dogleg, and then we were walking along the edge of the Panhandle. I noticed that they had a lot of fencing up, which managed to keep spectators (the few there were) from engaging with participants... and to keep participants fenced away from the porta-potties. Not very clever, that. We had also read about a local brewery sponsoring "pit stops" in pubs a few blocks off the race route, but on the day there was no signage so we didn't get to take a detour...

We entered Golden Gate Park surprisingly early in the day... and just in time for a weird little rain shower. Only a couple of minutes long, and not particularly hard rain, but enough that we put our jackets on. And then it was gone, and the sun returned. Glorious!

Another phalanx of horsey cops (which we saw as "pretty" but later realized were serious -- if not yet implemented -- crowd control) and we headed down the hill, past the bison paddock, the waterfall, the Foot Stock finish festival (which was a little weird...) and then the windmill. And, of course, there were the Breakers.

The wind was gusting and the sun was gone as we made the final turn onto the Great Highway. Another strange finish line completely devoid of spectators... but we crossed, kissed, and were done.

Or so we thought. First we had to weave through the race photographers, who had set up themed backdrops so people could have their pictures taken. Then we started trudging towards the festival, all the while wondering if we had somehow managed to miss picking up our medals.

On and on we walked. Not a big deal, really, but for a lot of people 7+ miles is a long way... so making them walk another 1.5 miles seemed cruel. We reached a bottleneck -- ah, medals! -- which were being handed out parallel to the road. Why it didn't occur to the organizers to hand them out perpendicular to the road -- so that people could flow through them, like at EVERY OTHER RACE IN THE WORLD, I do not know. But eventually we made it through that.

the bling

Then we hit the next crazy snag -- the food hand out. We fought our way through a crush to where two people were handing out bags of potato chips to people. Two men. 55,000 runners. Not good odds. Next to them were people handing out cheese. And then some other items. But that sort of post-race greed makes me insane. You know what I mean, the people with an armful of snacks. So we forced our way to the far side of the road and skipped the rest of the scrum. We did, at some point, manage to pick up a bottle of "sports drink" as well as a funny little plastic baggie of chocolate milk -- from the ONE vendor who figured out that you can put people in various places ACROSS THE ROAD.

Then some more walking and we arrived at Foot Stock. The crowds hadn't really arrived yet, but there were long lines at some of the sponsor booths. We quickly realized that these were the booths that were giving away random items... like the Mahatma Rice booth. People were waiting in line for several minutes for the chance to win a cup of rice. Then there were the people filling out "sweepstakes entries" at various booths. I am sure that these are the same people who freak out about "privacy" and "identity theft". I swear, some people would give up their social security number for a free bottle of Sobe...

We bought a veggie knish, drank our sports drink, and wandered in the sun... but then decided to head out. Signage at the event was so awful that we completely missed the shuttles (which we had pre-paid for...), but we did manage to force our way onto a Muni a few blocks outside the park.

Reading back over this report I worry that it has come across as too negative -- which I don't mean it to be. We had a fantastic time -- our only regret was not wearing our costumes -- and can imagine doing it again next year. But we would also be aware that it's not the best organized of events (despite its 100 years!).

Things I will always remember: the horde of oompa loompas. The Bare 2 Breakers men with their smiley-face balloons. The drag queen with the bubble maker under her Daisy Dukes. The tiny little banana boy. The giant birthday cake. "President Obama" holding a sign saying "thank you navy seals!" Strawberry Shortcake and friends. The flying tortillas at the start.

bubble butt
the Prez

happy birthday, B2B

the Breakers

happily ever after

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