The Centipede: A Different Kind of Group Run
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Bay to Breakers 12k in San Francisco is one of
the largest road races in the country. It’s also one of the most eccentric,
attracting a wide range of participants, from world-class athletes to costumed
(or even completely unclothed) characters. It also hosts a “Centipede Division,”
in which teams of athletes are leashed together for the duration of the race.
I had a chance to catch
up with Noreen Searls, team captain of the Asics Aggies Running Club Women’s
Centipede, to learn a bit more about this unusual form of team competition.
What inspires an
individual to join a centipede team? The
Centipede Division is a pretty big deal. It is considered a privilege to be on
the team. The Asics Aggie Running Club has a long tradition with the Bay
to Breakers. Our recent history is to keep our thirteen Centipede members and two
floaters an all-Asics Aggies Running Club team. Our club sponsor, Asics,
has been very generous to us and has sponsored our club in this race since
· Are there any special requirements for membership? A seeded Centipede
consists of thirteen connected individuals and a maximum of two unconnected
alternates. All fifteen women must qualify for seeded status in order to start
the race in the seeded section. Women’s qualifying times are 40:00 for 10K,
48:30 for 12K or 3:08 for the Marathon.
How long have you been
running together? The Centipede Category of the Bay to
Breakers was founded by our club member, Peanut Harms, in 1978. The first Aggies
Women’s Centipede Team to race was in 1987. Most members of our
current team have raced in the Bay to Breakers Centipede Division
since 2004 or 2005. We have a wealth of talent and experience on this
year’s squad. Our lead runner is Kara June, a top U.S.
steeplechaser and ’08 Olympic Trails qualifier. Linda Somers Smith is a 1996
U.S. Olympian in the Marathon and still
competes as a National Class Master’s runner. Our Road Racing Captain,
Rosemarie Lagunas is also a National Class Master’s runner, and has been
instrumental in recruiting new post-collegiate runners to our club. Heather
Gibson is competing in her fourth centipede and is a 2008 Olympic
Trials Track and Field qualifier in the 10,000 meters. Two of
our “veteran” runners have run in over ten Bay to Breakers Centipedes
(Noreen Searls started in 1990 and has run in sixteen and Melanie Voss
started in 1999 and has run in ten!). Four of our newest club members
will be racing in their first Centipede. Our age ranges are from 23 years
old to 47 years young!
What’s the hardest part
about being a member of a centipede? The hardest
part of the race is recruiting fifteen speedy women within the club
to get fit and stay healthy all spring, and make it to the starting line.
What’s the most fun?
The best part is definitely seeing how fast we can run. The Bay to Breakers is the official site of the World
Centipede Running Championships. Winning this division definitely
gives us bragging rights. Our club set the course record of 47:11 in 1999
and only two women on this year’s team were on that record-setting team. We
sure would like to break our own club record this year. We have come close
in both 2007 and 2008, running under 48 minutes, so this may be our year!
Has anything really
embarrassing or unusual ever happened while you’ve been running together?
Embarrassing – I can remember “racing” a naked
runner. Basically, the only thing he was wearing was his
registered number (held on with an elastic belt) and a pair of running shoes. He raced with us for about five
miles and we finally surged ahead of him in Golden Gate Park
to get a break from his pained expression and the awkward view. Unusual
– In 2002, we had a strong challenge from the Impala Racing Club Centipede. It was pouring down rain,
and our last gal (in 13th position), got tangled up with the teammate in front
of her, slipped on a man hole in the street and pulled down team members 12,
11, 10 and 9 like Dominos. Our blocker, Kevin Searls, happened to be racing at
our side with duct tape in his fanny pack. He whipped it out and taped our torn
nylon material to keep us connected. This all occurred while maintaining a 6:10-6:15
pace per mile in the “Panhandle” of Golden Gate Park. Needless
to say, the Impalas put on a surge and beat us by about 15 seconds that year.
How do you celebrate your
accomplishment? I think, like in any race, the fun of the
competition and the enjoyment of getting our team together in this high profile
race is a great celebration. Having won our division six straight times, from
2003-to present, we have the luxury of being invited to the VIP/Awards
Tent at “Footstock” in Golden Gate Park at the completion of the
race. There, we get to meet all the Open seeded athletes and partake in the
· What’s your team PR?
47:11 in 1999.
Are any teams ever
sabotaged by competitor teams? No, it is usually good,
For more information on
the Asics Aggies Running Club and its Centipede members, visit www.aggiesrunning.com.
Be sure to check out all
the action, Centipede or otherwise, at the Bay to Breakers race this Sunday!
– Holly Bennett