Tamer Bay to Breakers keeps its boozy flavor


Thousands came out for the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco to have a good run, or a party, or both.

And then, well, whatever.

Some thought it might be dangerous because of terrorists. Others said they would not let drunken revelry and nudity hold notorious sway this year as in the past.

This is going to be a clean race, in every way, they said. Sure, that’s right, no doubt everyone got that memo.

True, the race started with a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. No sense in drawing bad karma from ignoring America’s most recent footrace with the terrible events that came from it, the latest terrorist attack.

After that moment, however, it was all San Francisco.

Well, not entirely, because this year’s top winners were mostly from Ethiopia. Tolossa Gedefa Fufui of that country won the race with an official time of 35:01.

Ryan Hall, of Redding, California, came in second at 35:40 with another Ethiopian, Tesfaye Sendeku Alemayehu, finishing third at 36:04.

In 2009 Kenyan Sammy Kitwara set a course record and tied the 12K world’s best with a time of 33:31.

For those unaware, the Bay to Breakers is a 12-kilometer (7.4 miles) race from one side of San Francisco to the other, with competition including world-class runners from every continent.

The race stretches from sea level at the Embarcadero, uphill at a grade that tops 11 percent at one point to 215 feet above sea level, and then dips down to sea level again via the beautiful Golden Gate Park.

Bartholomew Kacev happened to be in The City for this year’s race, the 102nd, visiting from Sydney, Australia. He said they have a similar race there called “City to Surf,” and like here, people wear costumes and race, except that’s a 15-kilometer course. They even have an infamous incline they call “heartbreak hill.”

Kacev said he was well aware of the concerns of local authorities had about this race, but he was not going to trouble himself about all that:

“We can’t let these lunatics dictate to us how we’re going to live our lives. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen anywhere, anytime, when you least expect it.”

Sponsors claim that the Bay to Breakers race is the oldest consecutively run footrace in the world. Established in 1912 as the San Francisco Cross City Race to raise The City’s spirits after the earthquake a half-dozen years earlier, it was held on New Year’s Day, had 218 registered runners and 186 starters. Robert Jackson Vlught won with a time of 44:10.

The first woman to participate was Bobbie Burke, who ran disguised as a man in 1940. This was the first year that anyone wore a costume in the race but she was not alone; a man also dressed as the pirate Captain Kidd that year, and (perhaps establishing a tradition for costumed runners that continues to this day) he came in dead last.

The race was moved to the month of May in 1949. Attendance eroded to a low of 25 runners in 1963, and was renamed Bay to Breakers the next year.

Many things have changed about Bay to Breakers over the years. For starters, “floats” and other mobile constructions are no longer allowed, like the Tiki Bar float that served drinks to many a previous race participant.

Katherine Johnson of Los Angeles said this is her fifth year at Bay to Breakers, and she likes “all the wasted people.” She noticed bans may have stopped the floats, but not the nudity and alcohol:

“We’ve been here when they had the floats and nothing was different. People still drink. People still do what they do, just without floats.”

In 1986, the race made the Guiness World Book of Records as the world’s largest foot race with 78,769 registered runners and an estimated total participation of 110,000. This year, registered runners totaled about 30,000 with another 50,000 to 70,000 estimated as either joining in or just watching.

Joe Kukura says he’s been coming to Bay to Breakers for ten years. His website — exercisingwhileintoxicated.com — maps and describes of all the liquor stores along the race route:

“To me this is like Christmas; it’s like a holiday. This is one of the most important and special days of the year to see all these people out here wasted and in their fabulous costumes.”

His friend Nicole Banducci of Redwood City said it was her first Bay to Breakers. She said it was “good exercise, and the booze is always helpful.”

In spite of an official ban on nudity, Banducci said she did notice naked men on the course. She could not, however, say she was impressed:

“It was more kind of blinding to the eyes.”

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