Inside Bay to Breakers

Press_2_lg Yesterday, the 98th running of the ING Bay to Breakers 12k stopped traffic in San Francisco and served as an enormous street party for many of the city’s residents, complete with floats and costumes. (Although more than 30,000 people registered, it’s estimated that some 60,000 participated in the event.) But it wasn’t just a party—elite runners traveled from all over the world to compete for more than $40K in prize money.

To watch both the race and the party, I went for a seven-mile out-and-back run in Golden Gate Park early in the morning, following the race route. At first, I was passed by the elite runners—including American marathon star Deena Kastor who just recently returned to racing after an injury and who finished third in the women’s division; the winner, Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso, bested her by 35 seconds with a finish time of 38:29, at a blisteringly fast 5:10-per-mile pace. For the first few miles of my run, the event looked like any other race I’d watched or run—until Tommy Greenless sped by in an enormous pink gorilla suit. Greenless, who competed in the 2008 Olympic marathon trials, had lined up at the head of the pack with the elite men at the start—an only-at-Bay-to-Breakers moment—and ran the race averaging just over six-minute miles, an impressive feat not only because of his enormous costume, but also because of the unusually hot 93 F heat.

After my run, I walked over to a friend’s house located on the race course. To get there, I had to fight my way through thousands of costumed walkers—none of them had any intention of running—and man-powered floats. This was more like Carnival than a race. From the second-story windows of my friend’s loft, we had a birds-eye view of the back of the pack: costumes ranged from swine flu-inspired pigs and Wonder Women to Spongebob Squarepants and men decked head to toe in green spandex. As Kastor told before the race, “Only in San Francisco do you get a race that embodies the city the way this does—it’s a festival of running.”