Sunday, May 18, 2008

ING Bay to Breakers 12K Race, San Francisco

Over 60,000 people, mostly in fancy dress, ran or walked across San Francisco in the ING Bay to Breakers race this morning.

'It's the Mardi Gras of San Francisco,' said one man of the historic annual 12K race that is now in it's 97th year.

An elite core of professional athletes led the pack from the Embarcadero, up and over hills and down through the expansive Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean. But behind them came a throng for whom the heart of the race is participation and carnival.

From well before the start of the race at 8 am, people in all styles of imaginative and multi-coloured costumes poured off Caltrain, south of the city, to make their way along the Bay. 'They were slamming beer and wild turkey!!!!!' said one lady, eyes popping in amusement. She had sat on the top of the double-decker train looking down at the early-start revellers. Other race-goers as they disembarked were diving into the Panera Bread bakery and Safeway supermarket to stock up on essentials. Further along men in nappies walked on the pavement and others towed a decorated supermarket trolley loaded with beer.

The 12K race is just under seven miles, the width of the city, with the four-mile marker at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park. First into the park were the athletes for whom the race is a serious event. Next came the fit and regular runners. These included mums and dads jogging with babies in strollers, and those in a costume that was easy to run in - apart perhaps from the Roman Centurion who somehow, though, managed to keep pace!

Overhead, a thin fog hovered. Rock bands, music stalls and a Chinese drum band lined the park road to cheer the runners on. And as the serious runners gave way to the party-goers there was plenty of hand-waving and dancing in appreciation of the music. One group with boatsails on their heads circled in front of rockers The Attack Plan.

The costumes were myriad with some creative and lively presentations. Hot-air balloons floated in the air, their baskets entwined around runners' waists, picnic tables rested over shoulders, the contentious Olympic Torch relay was re-enacted, and an orange bug of a girl skipped along to make her wings flap. Children making good time ran together as a blue centipede, there were at least two Father Christmas', and two ladies symbolised San Francisco in hats topped with models of the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars. A popular choice of costume was grass skirts.

There were also the colourfully abstract and outrageous. And those with no costumes at all. Despite race rulings on 'no nudity' there were a few groups of men and the occasional woman who chose to go in the buff.

But possibly the two most popular costumed characters of the day were not even in the race! Pirates Douglas and Jim strolled alongside the route in the park causing momentary distraction. Runners, including a gorilla, stopped in their tracks to photo and be photo-ed with them and Douglas and Jim generously pantomimed for the cameras.

Douglas, in green outfit, said he had dressed up for the event to 'add to the merriment of it and to show support for those running in and out of costume.' While Jim in magnificent purple said: 'I lived here 25 years ago and ran in the race, so now that I'm back living here we decided to act out our support for the race.' As for running, he added that his knees would no longer make it!

A few people made a political point. 'Save me from landfill' said a girl dressed as a plastic bottle while a campaign group for teachers facing budgetry cuts stood on the side with placards that read: 'Yes an 'A'. Every Child Deserves a Great Teacher.'

Neither did everyone in the race run or walk. One man rode his monocycle while others were towed on a float bearing a crafted telephone box.

The race officially ended at midday to allow for the reopening of the Pacific Coast road with a diversionary end for stragglers. While some people made their way back, there were others for whom the end of the race marked the start of 'party in the park'!

The city appears to effortlessly roll out mega public events. Roads were closed, police and firefighters were there to ensure safety, Muni trains ran a non-stop free service and of course there were water-stops for the runners. To compound the logistics, as the race ended on the Pacific side, on the bay side the 45,000-capacity Giants baseball park was opening for a high-profile game against the Chicago White Sox. In total, there were somewhere around 100,000 people in one day!

In three years time, though, this event will be marking it's centenary with presumably great celebration as the oldest race in the city and one of the oldest in America. Those who make an 'artistic' display might like to ponder that others see it as limiting the attraction as a family event. And that two of the most popular people of the day were pirates Douglas and Jim - costumed from head to toe!

Click for pictures - click each picture to enlarge

1 comment:

M. Gabrielle said...

Cool! I ran in the kids blue centipede-- we did it in 09 and this year too!