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May 6, 2009 > ING Bay to Breakers - More than a Fun Run!

ING Bay to Breakers - More than a Fun Run!

By Richard Medugno

There's still time to participate in a San Francisco Bay Area athletic tradition called Bay to Breakers that is being held in the city on Sunday morning, May 17.

If you haven't heard of this famous San Francisco sporting event, let's bring you up to speed. With nearly a 100-year history, the ING Bay to Breakers is a 12 kilometer (around 7.5 miles) foot race that starts in downtown San Francisco (not far from the Bay), goes over the Hayes Street hill, through Golden Gate Park, and finishes in Ocean Beach (the Breakers).

If you do know about Bay to Breakers, but were leery about participating, there's nothing to fear; it is a true fun run that's on ESPN's list of 101 things sports fans must experience before they die. The race is open to world-class runners as well as average, everyday walkers. Last year an estimated 65,000 people ran or walked the course.

As a Bay to Breakers participant, the 97th annual event started before 7 a.m. at the Fremont BART station where I stood on the platform with dozens of people, some dressed as pirates and clowns, and a one colorful group made up as life-size crayons. These colors run.

The train ride into town was quite pleasant and lively, even for so early on a Sunday. Riders were laughing and joking. As more race participants boarded at each stop along the way, the mood on the train grew even more buoyant - a very different vibe from the usual dourness of commuters going into the city on a weekday.

Runners disembarked the packed train with a cheer at Montgomery Station and charged up with stairs and escalators to Market Street. It was about 7:45 a.m. when I found myself being gently pushed south on Spear Street into a sea of human beings - some dressed bizarrely, but most in running apparel - engaged in the loopy activity of flinging tortillas.

I could have stayed in the "back of the pack" area all day throwing tortillas, despite the gnawing feeling that we were wasting a lot of food. Then the gun went off and the race began, but because the starting line was blocks away and the crush of humanity limited movement, it was probably a good 15 minutes before I actually began to run.

Thousands of spectators lined the route, pointing, laughing and enjoying the parade of mankind. In this first mile, I eyed my first streaker. If you are offended, as opposed to just being annoyed, by the types of people who get their jollies by letting it all hang out, you probably shouldn't participate. However, this is a very small distraction from a very exhilarating event.

Along the course, there were a number of different bands playing and other distractions that made you forget you were even exercising. That all changed when I hit the hill on Hayes Street. Though it was steep, I was proud that I didn't stop running as I climbed over it. It was literally and figuratively, all down hill from there.

It was around the three or four mile point where I almost ran into the people dressed as salmon who were running from the opposite direction. Yes, they were "swimming upstream." Apparently, they started their race at the finish line at 8 a.m. and were fighting their way towards the starting line. Their gumption both amused and inspired me.

Running through Golden Gate Park was delightful and reaching the beach in one hour and twenty minutes was great. Soon I connected up with friends who had also run and we chatted all about what we had seen and done as we stood in line for city buses that took us back to the heart of the city. If we had wanted, we could have stayed for Footstock, a post-race festival in the park that included entertainment, food, and ceremonies.

The 98th running of the Bay to Breakers is Sunday, May 17 at 8 a.m. You can register online before May 12 at The fee is $48 for adults; $44 for under 18. The fee includes registration, collectable souvenir chip and timing, a runner's bib, a T-shirt and free entrance into ING Footstock.

Some policies for 98th ING Bay to Breakers have been revised:

Shared enforcement of city ordinances regarding alcohol - Anyone publicly drinking alcohol or displaying public drunkenness on or along the race course will be subject to the laws of California. Race organizers will coordinate with the San Francisco Police Department to proactively remove kegs and glass bottles of alcohol from the race course.

Wheeled objects and floats will be permitted on the course, with new provisions for safety - Wheeled objects and floats owners must register and start at the race starting line behind all runners and walkers. There will be no charge for floats, but the participants who carry or use them must register at Wheeled objects and floats cannot be motorized and may not be used to transport or store alcohol. Float owners are directed to act responsibly toward the environment and dispose of their floats in dumpsters along the route near the end of the race.

In addition, race organizers, along with city officials, strongly urge participants to register for this year's race - Registration fees pay for the necessary infrastructure - including portable toilets and dumpsters - to ensure a safe, clean race course for participants and spectators alike.

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