Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining 33,000 runners for the freakfest known as the 98th annual Bay to Breakers 12k in San Francisco, CA. This “must do” event is one of the biggest costume parties in the US, running point-to-point from downtown SF to the ocean where the Footstock concert will be in full swing. We had a gorgeous sunny day, plenty of naked people sitings, and beer at 9am. What more could one ask for?
I started the day early, parking at the finish line to watch the sunrise at the beach and run the course backwards. My brother-in-law, Brian Drue, would be waiting at the start and ready for his 7th consecutive B2B. The streets of SF were eerily calm at 6am, short of a few cops already issuing tickets to keg-toting revelers. I guess the race PR about “getting more strict about open containers” was not just spin! I was glad to see it, actually – last year got a bit out of control with rolling kegs and discarded giant Trojan horse floats. But given the expected 100,000+ spectators and 80 degree weather, the law was definitely going to have an endurance event of their own even with scaled back expectations.
Brian was at the start, already sweating thanks to a wine hangover from a charity event the night before. “It’s just 12k”, he kept repeating while surfing the ebb and flow of wine-induced nausea. The tortillas and beach balls were flying around (a B2B tradition), and the costumes and runner-constructed floats were marvelous. We had no goals for the race other than to take it all in and enjoy the party.
The volunteers waived me through to the front thanks to my seeded number (don’t get too impressed – you can get a seeded number too with a fast enough qualifying time). I found myself standing right next to Deena Kastor, the Kenyans, the Cal-Aggies uber-fast centipede team (they clock 5:30 minute miles roped together), and was immediately sized up by all the gazelles thanks to my low number (#86). Once they saw the camera in my hand, they knew I wasn’t taking any prizes today and smiled and introduced themselves.
It was fun to live vicariously as a superstar for a few minutes! But given how fast they were striding out during their warm up I would be lucky to hang with them for two blocks. Even the guy in the head-to-toe pink ape suit was looking pretty fast.
The elite women went first, and five minutes later we were off! Sure enough, I couldn’t even hang with the pack for the first block so I pulled over to wait for Brian who was just a few corrals behind me. One minute later, the streets were packed with costumes, naked people, and live music. I could have sworn we were in the front 500 people - where did they all come from?!?
We found a nice 8 min/mile pace, fast enough to keep up but slow enough to enjoy the sights. The Flintstones were “rocking” out, Popes were on ladders giving high fives, DJ’s were spinning naked from the roofs of their apartments, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders stopped mid-race to break into a cheer, Gladiators got in sword duels with the Knights of the Round Table (pizza, that is), Darth Vader told us to “run on the dark side…here in the shade!”, and the Drag Queens were everywhere. I’ve heard visitors call California the land of fruits and nuts…yep, that pretty much sums it up. Such a great place to call home!
Nakedness was everywhere, whether it be a sequin thong, head-to-toe green paint (SPF 30 let’s hope), or the preferred “hat and sunscreen only” look worn by the Bare to Breakers runners. Given the impressive lack of tan lines, I suspect this wasn’t their first streak through San Francisco. The temperature climbed quickly into the 80’s, and I suspect a few folks became naked converts just to stay cool.
Hayes Hill was HOT. So many times I’ve done this race looking forward to Hayes just so I could warm up and feel my fingers, and this year was like a sauna! I thought Brian was going to pass out for sure, but he focused on short strides and gave high fives to the salmon headed the other way (they run the course backward every year). The ocean air gave us some reprieve at the top, and we began the long descent down Fell St.
The shady lanes of Fell St were great, and Brian broke his hangover fever around mile 5 and instantly perked up. We took it easy cruising through the park and talking about family (his girls are a few years older than mine, so he’s a fountain of daddyhood knowledge), Western States (he’s the captain of my crew), The Death Ride (I’m his “domestique” to return the favor), and the simple pleasures of a enjoying a city that’s not afraid to let it all hang out once or twice a year.
Before we knew it, we made the final turn at the beach and finished in 1:01:30. It could be Brian’s slowest time, but it was one of my fastest! Certainly not as fast as Kenyan Sammy Ketwara, who won in 33:31. (another fun summary video here)
We drank a ton of water, accidentally wiped our hands with Salonpas spray (it looked a lot like hand cleaner…now we’re sweaty and numb!), and made our way to Footstock for some beers and snacks. Thanks to our early finish we got a coveted table in the beer garden, and instantly made all kinds of friends both old and new. I caught up with Glen Kacher, a classmate from Stanford, and we all enjoyed some brewskies and breakfast. By 10am, it was time to head home. I had that ultrarunner shock of being done so early – we should only be two aid stations in at this point in the day! Ah, it sure is nice to mix it up.
Back at home, Sophie joined her cousins in some kiddie pool romping before luring me to Alice’s Restaurant for a surprise 40th birthday party. Here I thought the black balloon revelry was done! I got to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, and page through an awesome scrapbook that Christi put together showing me getting in all kinds of trouble over the last 40 years. Sophie proved to be the only bigger troublemaker, racing around with my friend’s wonderful children, eating all the raspberries and lettering off the cake before we could finish cutting it up, and somehow losing her underwear along the way. I guess we’ll start her scrapbook pronto!
I sat in bed that evening in awe of this amazing day, and I couldn’t get to sleep. Sunrises on the beach, running empty streets only to be joined by 30,000 on the way back, meeting Kenyans, pink gorillas, naked people streaking the big city, beer for breakfast, wonderful friends (and their wonderful kids), a family I adore…I am truly blessed.
Close your eyes, Scott. Admit you LIVED this day to the fullest and couldn’t pack in one more thing. Close your eyes, and see what tomorrow brings.