Prior to the big move from Chicago to the Bay Area in December, as I was in the thick of some near-nightly anxiety- and tear-filled near-breakdowns, when I should have been working on things that really mattered–the little details, like actually preparing for the move, or grading my students’ essays–I often found myself researching, and then subsequently registering, for Bay Area races. I had no idea when A and I would actually make the move, but dammit if I didn’t already have a racing calendar lined up just in case. Coping mechanism at its finest, folks.
Naturally, then, Bay to Breakers, the world’s oldest, most consecutively-run (103 years in 2014!) road race, in San Francisco, came up on my radar. I was pretty sure Stone had run it in previous years, but all I knew was that it was supposed to be a big party, replete with tons of costumed runners (and some streakers). That was about it…and good enough for me to register.
After I registered in the autumn, I all but forgot about B2B until May, when I realized that it was going to coincide perfectly with Pfitz’s prescription of an 8k-10k tune-up (eh, 12k, same difference) two weeks out from my goal marathon. With B2B being my first 12k, and having this on my calendar specifically as part of my marathon training, I went into the race virtually pressure-free. I had a soft-but-mostly arbitrary time goal, in no small part because I wasn’t entirely sure how long a 12k was (and thus, my mental math on what my time could be was crude, at best), as well as a more practical goal of not pacing the race like an idiot. More than anything, in the immediate days preceding the race, I was looking forward to a quick overnight/weekend in SF with Stone and company.
B2B hosts a two-day expo in the Concourse Exhibition Center, the same place where TSFM held theirs back in 2010, and I volunteered to help promote the ZOOMA Napa half/10k on Saturday afternoon for a handful of hours. I normally wouldn’t willingly want to be on my feet for four hours pre-race, but again, no pressure going into this, and really, I found the whole thing to actually be somewhat… energizing. (We got lots of runners signed up, including some sisters and some BFFs who were all going to run together! So sweet. Truly, I almost teared up because I was so touched. And hey, you should come run, too!). It was also nice to meet/see folks from social media world at the expo.
Post-expo, on Saturday night, I made my way over to Erin and Ryan’s, my ever-gracious hosts for the weekend, and shortly thereafter, Foxy and her boyfriend Eric, plus Julie and Arnaud, all came over as well for some winin’ and dinin’ and good timin’ (had to) pre-race. Most of us were running B2B, so it was awesome to just hang out with friends old and new (aw); the race was more of an afterthought which, again, was pretty perfect in that whole “no pressure thing.” It wasn’t even until folks were getting ready to leave that we even began to look at the course maps and began to figure out the race morning logistics.
Race morning, Sunday
We all again met-up at Erin’s to Uber/cab it over to the race start at the Bay (hence, the Bay in the “bay to breakers” race name) and got some pre-race obligatory pics before we left. In the spirit of the race, and in part because hey, let’s keep it real, let me practice the value of having a positive body image that I try to showcase to my impressionable 3 year-old daughter, and because realistically, I knew there’d be streakers out there who surely had to be a bit more flabby than me, I decided to just rock the Girl Scout vest sans singlet–and with the City of Chicago flag shorts–and hope that the vest and all its myriad patches on the front and back wouldn’t chafe me and reduce me to tears. And yup, this was my vest from when I was a Junior in Girl Scouts, circa… 6th grade? 7th grade?
Colorful costumed runners and spectators, of wildly varying degrees of clothing coverage, were already out in force in the Haight hours before the race (and miles away from the starting area), and once we got to the race start, we split up since we had all been assigned to different corrals and since there was a decent amount of security detail actually checking bibs to ensure that only runners assigned to the specific corrals were gaining entry. Coincidentally, the race started mere blocks from where C’s previous employer’s office was, so I kiiiiiiinda knew where I was, which was nice.
I don’t really remember, but I think a marathon time I had used when I registered for the race last autumn allowed me entry into the “elite, seeded, and sub-seeded” corral (which was also where my friends should have been, too, but hey… next time), and luckily, adjacent to my starting area–which was totally sectioned off from the rest of humanity–there were probably about 10-15 porta-potties and a good .2 mi stretch of street the other runners in my corral were also using for their back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth warmups. I was able to get in ~1.75 mi and an additional 3 PRP attempts before entering the corral and awaiting our 8am start.
Ryan had mentioned that there would be lots of flying tortillas being flung around as runners waited in the starting corral, and he wasn’t kidding. Apparently, it’s some sort of race tradition for folks to chuck the flour frisbees; I guess beach balls are too hipster, even for SF.
Our 8am start slowly got pushed to 8:03… 05… 10… and finally, to 8:23, thanks to some issues with spectators that race officials feared would interfere with the elites’ races, as well as some equipment issues on the Hayes St hill that needed to be rectified. I’ve run in (much, much smaller) races that have had delayed starts, and while it is a pain in the ass, there’s really nothing you can do about it. A shitty attitude isn’t going to speed things up any, so the most you can do is wait… and as was the case for B2B, watch for more flying tortillas above you and hope you don’t get knocked in the head. Besides, as is the norm, I was chattin’ it up with folks in my vicinity and got the skinny on the race from a female masters runner who had similar race goals as me (and, btw, was a total rock star. I want to be her when I’m a masters runner. She was so gracious and just so cool).
Once we finally began the race, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer number of spectators already lining the course at 8am (or 8:23, anyway). In the first half-mile of the course, the deluge of spectators lining the course was thicker than probably any marathon I’ve run–with the possible exception of NYC–and while I knew that runners often partook in the costume or streaking revelry of the race, I had no idea that the spectators did so as well–and quite frankly, to a larger extent than most runners.
I can’t recall every get-up I saw from spectators or runners during B2B, and honestly, you’re better off doing a Google image search anyway (and/or reading Scott’s recap of running it with his daughter), but what I do remember:
- a clan of a dozen-strong Tibetan monks, outfitted in orange robes and swimming-style head caps
- lots of superheroes
- lots of men wearing old-school, Greco-Roman wrestling-style leotards, showcasing their clumpy and uh, kinda dirty-looking chest hair (ew)
- men, typically seniors, with impressively small penises and gray pubes, just letting it all hang out there… but don’t worry, they donned a veeeeeeeeeery thin string around their waist because where else would they have worn their race bib?
- women, mostly younger, donning little star-shaped nipple stickers, equally letting it all hang out
- a trio of white guys, with crisp white button-down shirts, skinny black ties, ironed black dress pants, carrying small books–yup, a trio of Mormons
- a slew of folks dressed as contestants from The Price is Right or Legends of the Hidden Temple (remember that show?!)
- centipedes–groups of runners (10+, I think) who raced, roped together by bungee cords or some other mechanism–dressed as ladybugs (women) or in crispy, button-down business shirts (men). Note: the ladybugs were fast.
- random shit, like tacos
Again, Google image search Bay to Breakers costumes. The creativity was actually pretty impressive.
Back to the race… soon after I started, I was immediately awestruck with how many people were lining the course. Only parts of the course were barricaded–so weird to me because all the pre-race communications made a huge deal of how the race was really crackin’ down on safety and having “zero tolerance” on stuff this year–and I saw a fair number of folks already in the street, which I didn’t think much about because I figured they were just trying to see their friends more easily, get side-5s, video, photo, whatever. While that might have been the case for some of these
drunk as a skunk high as a kite let’s call them rather spirited spectators, there were also many who were legit standing in the middle of the street–I’m not being hyperbolic here, folks, the fuckin’ middle of the street–slowly but surely beginning to collapse in the throes of the race into a pile of their own shitfaced selves.
Remember kids, it was barely 8:30 a.m.
While it was initially pretty entertaining to see some spectators three sheets to the wind so early in the race, I think my ‘mom mode’ kicked in and I kinda began to fear for their safety. What I saw paled in comparison to what my friends saw, since they started a few minutes after me, but I can recall seeing at least one guy all but throw himself into the race, and were it not for the grace and sliiiiiiiiiiiiightly less-delayed reflexes of his buddy who intercepted him, Mr. Trashy McTrashed would have been in bad shape. And, besides the rather spirited spectators who wanted to have a front-row seat to the race action by thrusting themselves into the thick of the race, I also saw random shit that I’ve not really seen before in races, like people on the sidelines, mostly costumed spectators, seemingly decide on a whim to enter and thus run the race, beginning from wherever they’re standing.
All this spectator commentary over the first couple miles of the race isn’t to say that the race is bad or poorly managed or anything like that–it really isn’t–but I think it’s just something that runners should be aware of. Truth be told, from my vantage point, it really was more entertaining than irritating… but then again, the stakes were quite low for me for this event. I don’t think I’ve raced anywhere that necessitated that I have my guard up so as to avoid being sidelined or body-checked mid-run by a shitfaced spectator, and fortunately, that wasn’t the case for me because of how soon I began the race after the gun went off. No doubt, though, had I started even a few minutes later, I would have had to dodge significantly more family members of the Trashy McTrashed brothers and sisters of humanity.
Anyway… once we got out of the downtown area, we made our way over north of Market and eventually, around mile 2 and change, to the storied Hayes Street Hill. HSH is a good .70mi-ish long climb, with a small dip about midway, just enough for you to catch your breath before you begin wheezing again, that totally makes me think of the old-school Rice-a-Roni commercials that featured the hills of SF as its backdrop–and, appropriately enough, I saw a spectator at the tippy top of the hill dressed as a box of Rice-a-Roni. B2B set up a challenge, as did Strava, to see who could be the quickest person to ascend the hill, and while it was a totally fair hill… damn, that was no joke! Here’s an image from the 2011 B2B for perspective.
Soon after HSH, most of the course, which wound through the Panhandle before dumping us into Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway–the GH at the ocean being the “breakers” in B2B–became quite flat and/or a series of descents. I didn’t pay a ton of attention to my splits, and I took the HSH at effort, not looking at my watch at all. After my first mile, a quick glimpse revealed that I had posted a 6:5x, so I consciously tried to reign things in a bit early on because I didn’t want to blow up and slog later. For the remainder of the race, I felt strong, and all the downhills through GGP definitely let me pick things up, but with my history of shittily pacing shorter distances during races, I was really trying to be mindful of how things were going and how I was faring. I wanted to enjoy the race and actually race it–which I did, on both accounts–but I also spent a lot of time in my head, simply gauging my effort and assessing, top-to-bottom, how I was feeling.
Once we had passed the panhandle and gotten into GGP, the race became less of a crazy shitshow and more of an actual race, which, compared to what we had just a few miles earlier, was almost somber. (And all the fog/mist that we ran through, near the bison, only added to the drastic mood change ). Somewhere in the park, I had noticed a guy wearing a singlet I recognized, and sure enough, it was a displaced Chicagoan, Ryan, who had run with TTAU (and with whom we shared some mutual friends… thanks for letting me name-drop you, Dan!). My Chicago flag shorts elicited some additional catcalls from other displaced Chicagoans mid-race (and afterward), which was a nice pick-me-up and a fun way to connect with people in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Before I knew it, we were passing the windmill–which always makes me smile because I’m a huge Quijote fan–and approaching the ocean, covering much of the same route as the Kaiser half in February (though we were running in a different direction). I was genuinely surprised at my splits at each mile marker–thank you, near-constant descents and flats–and it wasn’t until the last ~1 mile that I felt like my stomach was potentially beginning to revolt from the effort of running hard. I hadn’t seen any women around me for a long time, and despite my best effort to not let any women pass me, a couple got me in the final 20 steps (ugh!) before the finish.
First 12k, first Bay to Breakers, done and done — and arbitrary and more practical goal both realized.
Soon after I finished, Ryan, Stone, Foxy, and I all connected and got some more fun pics before heading back to the Haight for some celebratory lunch, less so for our individual races but instead, for Arnaud’s and Julie’s, both of whom had just completed their first ever road race. No time like your first, right?!… and especially when B2B is your first. Talk about memory-makin’.
And ultimately, how I fared:
arbitrary time goal: 53 (or sub); practical goal: not pace like a moron
actual: 51:36 and better-than-I-expected (read: I’m happy) pacing
Garmin stats: 52:24 for 7.54 miles (not sure why the discrepancy for my time is so huge, but hey… operator error?) 6:54, 702 , 752 — HSH mile, 725, 654, 629, 628, 607 for .54
So, is it worth doing?
Yea, probably, even if it’s a one-and-done. In a lot of ways, B2B reminds me of Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle, the world’s largest 8k (or so I’ve heard). Both the SS and B2B have a ton of racers, and probably only a very, very small number of those racers are truly chasing after a time; instead, most are there for the fun time with friends or the after-partieS. That’s not to say that you CAN’T run fast at B2B or the SS; it’s just that you will probably be in the minority…which, again, is fine; it’s just a different experience.
In the case of B2B, and for me, personally, if it weren’t for my lovely hostess putting me up overnight, I’m not sure I’d make the effort to get myself into SF to run “just a 12k,” (that sounds douchey, and it kinda is, but I generally don’t like to commute for anything besides marathons). I’m not really sure if I’ll run B2B again but not because it’s a bad race or because of the shitfaceapalooza sideshow the spectators put on; it’s more a logistical thing than anything with the inevitable commute from SJ and the time spent away from my family. In this case, it’s not you, B2B; it’s me.
But — just like many of my races these days — what will stay with me for much longer about my first B2B is less so my actual race day performance and more so the memory of the QT with friends.
And, with that, we are THIS MUCH closer to the Newport Marathon…!!!
What about you? Have you ever done a race that started more than 20 minutes late? Or how about a race with thousands of shitfaced spectators?