2009 ING Bay to Breakers

I'd like to welcome back the voice of Bay to Breakers (B2B) for this blog, our very own:  Ami Kelly Hodge. I asked her to be a guest blogger in early February when they announced changes for this year's B2B and she was kind enough to share her experience from a week ago at the 2009 ING Bay to Breakers 12k in San Francisco. Enjoy.

I said I probably wasn't going to do it. All the publicity about restricting alcohol and floats and nudity had me all up in arms over this year's Bay To Breakers. It's not that the restrictions affect me directly, it's just that these are all things I have come to look forward to in this annual event. If B2B was to become just a regular 12K cross-town race, I wanted no part.

But, as time went on and the public outcry became louder, I could see the people weren't going to just walk away from these restrictions. Groups of outraged participants joined forces and formed groups such as "Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2Breakers." They had meetings with city council members and held parties that had tag lines like "Death of Fun in San Francisco? Hell NO!" This was more than just a mere boycott…this was a revolt!

Now I was intrigued.  

I had a feeling that the outrage would actually push the limits of current restrictions even further. And, that was something I had to see.

Given the fact that Bay To Breakers usually attracts over 100,000 participants, it's fair to say I cannot expect to make any PRs (personal records). I have a habit of registering at the last minute, which automatically puts me in the back of the pack. Once the race begins, it usually takes me 10 minutes just to reach the start gate. Even if I try to run my fastest, I find myself dodging walkers, strollers, people in bulky costumes, old ladies trying to cross the street or some knucklehead who thinks it's funny to run at full speed...the wrong way! This year proved to be no exception. The other problem with trying to run fast is that you actually miss all the really outrageous stuff at the back. By the time I reached the incline at Hayes Street Hill, I probably had 50-60,000 people behind me. As I was trudging up the 11% grade, wishing it was 55 degrees instead of 75, I was also beginning to reconsider running at all. I remembered the main reason I caved and participated this year: the bawdiness!  

Where was it? The nude runners, the motorized tiki floats with frat guys pouring margaritas, the maudlin crowd who started drinking at 7AM, the multiple Elvises (or is that Elvii?). I had a hard time believing that the Save the B2B group actually relented and caved to the restrictions.
When I reached the top of Hayes St. Hill, I paused to consider walking the rest of the way. I turned to look at the crowd that was trailing me. It was a sea of bobbing heads for as far as I could see, which was about 10 blocks. I suffered an internal struggle: Should I see if I could make a PR from last year or submerge myself in the festivities and come home with something really good to talk about?! I noticed several TV and camera crews nearby which helped me with my decision.  

I continued running back down Hayes Street toward the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, taking in as much of my surroundings as possible. It was quite possibly at that moment I realized no one was going to change the true essence of Bay To Breakers, no matter what the outcome. The same people who probably complained about last year's debauchery and human excrement in their driveways were out yet again, cheering everyone on. The Victorians that line Fell Street were pumping out music and people were cheering from their windows, front steps and rooftops,. "Yay, runners!" was a constant yet welcoming chant that could be heard all the way to the beginning of Golden Gate Park.

At this point, it felt like the home stretch. Just a few more miles to go with a nice gradual decline back to the coast. The ocean breeze started to hit my face and I felt like this was where I was going to pick up speed and actually make that PR! But not a moment sooner did I feel my confidence kick in when a dozen joggers with salmon heads start weaving through the crowd and as tradition has it, the wrong way. Then, right when I untangled from that fray I almost collided with half a dozen naked male and female runners. And, yes, I mean runners! It was all I could do to refrain from asking awkward questions about comfort and support. I don't know if it was the heat or fatigue but I kept telling myself "I have to beat the naked runners! I can't let them beat me!" That just sounds so funny in retrospect.

In the end, I don't really know who was ahead or in front of me. I finished having beat my PR in 40 seconds and honestly felt I ran the best I could given the circumstances. I high-fived my friends at the end of the race and jubilantly exclaimed "Let's do it again next year!”. I was already giddy with excitement.  

When I had time to reflect on the day's events and watch coverage on TV, it seemed very little was different about Bay To Breakers this year. There was some compromise over how much law enforcement there would be over alcohol consumption and nude running. Flamboyant floats still passed through town, although not motorized. There was just enough police coverage to keep things pretty peaceful and yet have a few rule breakers slip through. It was refreshing to see headlines the next day focus on how subdued and fun the event was as opposed to the rudeness and lack of respect. All the pictures and videos show nothing but happy participants and spectators, including the usual suspects.

I am really glad I decided to run this year because now I know "death of fun" did not succeed in San Francisco that day. Bay To Breakers 2009 proved that is alive and well!

Thank you Ami for a wonderful recap and great insight (again) into Bay to Breakers. Feel free to share you comments or experiences below in the comments. Maybe next year I'll give it a go.

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