It just so happened that the iconic Bay to Breakers race perfectly aligned with our recent holiday in California. I knew that thousands of people did this race in costume, but I didn’t realise that Bay to Breakers is the world’s largest costume race, and nearly everyone was in costume… or nothing at all! (More on that later).
This annual race is considered a quintessential San Francisco experience, and it has been part of the annual event calendar in the city since 1912, making it the longest consecutively run footrace in the world! Since it began, over 1.8 million costumed runners, walkers and intoxicated revellers have completed the 12K journey from San Francisco Bay to the breakers on Ocean Beach.
We didn’t pack a costume, so we had to improvise. Luckily, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend had a plentiful variety of choices. Graham and I decided on Mario and Luigi, reasoning that the light onesies would be suitable running attire.
We showed up on race day and I was astounded by the costumes. I expected a lot of tutus and cat ears, but what I got was Halloween on steroids. Not only were there costumes of every possible variety, there was also a large contingent of people wearing nothing at all. Apparently running this race nude is a tradition for some – men and woman. Most were large, middle-aged guys with saggy bums walking alone, but one stuck in my mind: a tanned, muscular guy wearing nothing but a lime green wrestling mask and running shoes! (No picture. Sorry!)
I learned that many people get up early and start drinking, planning to run the race drunk and carry on partying into the afternoon. I’m all for a post-race party, but running 12K drunk sounds like a questionable choice. I think many people underestimated the challenge, and about 1K in, I heard a girl say, “Wow, I’ve never run a race drunk before. It’s way harder.” No sh*t.
This was a race like no other. And let’s be clear: this is not a PB course. It wasn’t even worth trying for a good finishing time. For the first 6K, we were forced to jog along slowly through the masses of wobbly runners in costumes not terribly conducive to running. The streets turn into a huge party and those not running or walking, are outside, drinking, playing music and cheering. It was like every house was a full-on cheer station. The atmosphere was incredible – more like a frosh-week style party vs. a road race.
By about 6K, we had lost most of the drunks after a huge hill. It was hard to run up sober, so I can’t possibly imagine running it with a belly full of beer. Some of my most memorable race moments were:
- When running up Hayes Hill and a group of people dressed like salmon ran down the wrong way yelling, “Come spawn with us!” (I learned afterward that this is an annual race tradition)
- Two guys running together, side-by-side carrying a towel like a hammock with what looked like bowling ball resting inside. I ran by to realize they were carrying a watermelon. They were running 12K carrying a WATERMELON!
- Multiple fully naked men and women who ran shamelessly.
- A man selling hotdogs literally in the middle of the race route, in case you wanted to stop for a mid-race snack!
- The sobriety tents located throughout the race. Seriously, have you ever heard of such a thing? They are a place for runners who have had enough can go lay down and sober up
- The enormous quantity of toilets throughout the race. There was more than I have ever seen. Evidently a race tactic to prevent drunk people from using the front lawns of San Francisco as their toilets.
- Running next to a group of girls with a portable speaker playing Conga by Miami Sound Machine on repeat the entire race
- Running through Golden Gate Park, with the sun shining and the cool ocean breeze in our faces. It was beautiful, even while dressed like Mario and Luigi.
We eventually crossed the finish line in 1:13:27. Time was irrelevant. It was honestly one of the most fun races I have ever done. I laughed the entire way.
Like all races, Bay to Breakers has a great finish line festival. But the real party happens on the race route. After all the runners have gone by, partyers crash the race route and walk along it like a really bad parade. The police seem very relaxed about all the chaos and the entire event was wrapped up by 12:30. We joined up with the rest of our family and walked part of the race route back into Golden Gate Park where we shared some beers, listened to music and did what any normal family would do: had a plank competition. Shout outs to everyone who held a minimum plank for 2 minutes, but a massive shout out to Lesley who won our competition with a plank of more than 4 minutes. #AbsOfSteel
This race was such an experience. It combined many of my great loves into one event: running, costume parties, drinking, sunshine, fun people. If you find yourself in San Fran next Spring, I highly recommend you get in on this. It was one of the most memorable races I have ever run.