The hype started nearly two months ago when Mark started talking about Bay to Breakers. It’s an annual 12K run in San Francisco. It can attract some top runners both from the ranks of professional and age group. But that’s not why you participate in Bay to Breakers.
“It’s the craziest race I have even been a part of,” Mark said. “It’s just incredible.”
It was a vague description, but after seeing countless YouTube videos, noting it was on an ESPN.com writer’s list of 101 things a sports fan should experience before they die and the sheer giddiness with which Mark (vaguely) described his experience last year had me ready to plan my vacation around a trip to do this crazy race.
Of course Mark and I used the term “race” loosely. We weren’t so much running as we were participating (although afterward we discovered that had we moonwalked the entire thing, it still would have been considered running. Actually, come to think of it, moonwalking the entire event would have been more in line with the spirit of the event in some regards). It was a 12K run in which we were going to enjoy ourselves and let the day take us where it wanted.
And where it took us was 7.5 miles through the streets of San Francisco in a run that turns into something part Mardi Gras part Halloween part keg party.
Mark and I dressed in a beach theme, picking up inexpensive board shorts and tank tops to match the group with whom we would be attending the festivities with. Only, we were the only ones who actually had race numbers. (And then needed to cover up with jackets and fleece after the race.)
The traditional start of the race includes tossing of tortillas in the crowd. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but after nearly getting one girl in the face with my toss back my tortilla tossing skill greatly improved.
It took us 15 minute to get to the official start line and once we did, the pace was a slow jog. This was a time to take in the sights. Some costumes were simple — women in leotards dressed from the 1980s and guys in togas. Others were complex — a group went as pieces from the video game Tetris. There were lots of people dressed as bananas. Waldo of “Where’s Waldo” was popular as were characters from the classic video game Pac Man. Then there was the chain of salmon which ran the race backwards — starting at the finish line because, you know, salmon swim upstream. The bonus came with the chain of bears which chased the salmon.
The chatting stopped a bit when the course hit the one hill in the third mile. It was a long climb with a few steep parts and I kept plowing up it in order to finish it off as quickly as I could. The rest of the course was flat with a rather generous sprinkling of harmonious downhills. Around mile 5 we decided to catch the giant carrot. Yes that’s right. The giant carrot. A guy was wearing a carrot suit that was easily 10 feet tall. He was run-walking and sweating pretty good. It was no big feat to catch the carrot. But for some reason, it felt good to get there and pass the carrot.
As we turned the corner with the finish line in sight, we picked up the pace. As we neared the finishing chute, the race announcer asked all runners to finish on the right side while calling for medical personnel to report to the left side of the finish line. As we crossed, I glanced over and saw medics doing chest compressions on a man — a reminder of how precious our health is and how special each day is.
Then came the mix of fun and frustration as we tried to find our group. With the amount of people in one concentrated park area, cell phone service was sketchy. So we wandered — in part to take in the sights, in part to keep warm. Because it’s not just an event for participants but for spectators, too. People dress in costume to come and watch the runners. And by the end of the race, where the really creative costumes and bizarre behavior resides along with a parade of floats (powered by people, not motors) it becomes more parade and spectacle than road race.
It was the most unusual combination — what you might expect if Monty Python created a 12K. And it created the most spectacularly unusual experience. One of the best I’ve had in a long time.