Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Race Report: Bay To Breakers 12K

For those who don't know Bay to Breakers, here are the most important points:
  • 12K across the city, from San Francisco Bay to Ocean Beach ("Breakers")
  • 2nd oldest road race in the country (started in 1912)
  • Attracts somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 participants,
  • Most of whom wear a costume or at least dress up in some way, and
  • Sometimes the costume is going naked.
  • The vast majority don't actually run (and nearly half don't even finish)
  • The race begins at 8:00 with elites from all over the world, but
  • Over the course of several hours inevitably degenerates into a drunken hellscape of garbage/costume pieces, public urination, uncoordinated fisticuffs, & a handful of arrests.

The real, actual Bay To Breakers starting line.

Elsewhere on the course:

Like most other road races Bay to Breakers does have aid stations, but it also has several sobering stations for people who in the course of their 7.5 stumble across the city need to lie down until the world stops spinning or they fall asleep. Another common race strategy is to hoof it over the Hayes Street Hill to the Panhandle, then find a bar in the Haight & call it good. Basically, it's a 7.5 mile party. (Or, y'know. However many miles you make it.)

Bay to Breakers has always been one of those local color things that I've never bothered making it a point to do (sort of like Alcatraz or Beach Blanket Babylon), because I always figure, "Eh, I can do it whenever." This year, though, there was a one-day super low price sale back in October where you could register for $39 (compared to the $80+ regular price).

So I figured, what the heck? After seven years, I should really take part in this uniquely San Francisco experience at least once. However, since my core competencies lean more towards running than walking for 3 hours or drinking before noon, I decided to forgo the shall we say more "authentic" experience. Courtney & Alyssawere both running, & I was excited to get to run with them since I don't get to much anymore. Courtney wanted to try for a sub-1 hour so Alyssa & I took up the challenge.

I needed to run 16-17 miles that day, so my plan was to jog from my house to the start (about 3.2 miles) & then back home from the finish (6-7ish), which I knew would put me more or less in that range. The downside was that I basically didn't sleep the night before, so I was not feeling super great as I made my way to the start.

Jogging down Market Street toward the start at Howard & Main.
Apparently, I was not the only one with this idea.

After a lot of texting, frantic jumping up & down, & clumsily vaulting over corral barriers, the three of us managed to find each other in Corral A (theoretically the 7-8 minute pace corral, just behind the elites/seeded/sub-seeded). Sadly, Courtney had tweaked her ankle the day before & didn't want to push it too hard, so we decided to just take it easy. (And given my lack of sleep, I have to admit I was a little relieved.)

Corral A/Starting Line

We find each other!

Courtney & her November Project peeps

The weather was PERFECT race weather, ie uncomfortably cold at the start (but at least no wind!), & we huddled together for warmth until the horn sounded and Corral A began marching towards the start mat.

The first leg of the race is through sort of downtown/SoMa, & there were LOTS of people out cheering. Also lots of police on hand. We cruised along at ~9:00 pace, chatting & weaving through the crowd (though, I was pleased to find that it actually wasn't that crowded). I also saw my first naked guy at ~1.66. I did not look back when we passed him.

At mile 2, we turned on to Hayes Street & steeled ourselves for the infamous Hayes Street Hill:

This picture came from Google, not our race, but you get the idea.

Even though we weren't running all that fast, it was still a lot of work, and as always I was quite excited to see its crest come in to view. After we got back down the hill, my right foot started to go numb. I ignored it for a while, hoping it would go away on its own. When it didn't, I made us pull over for a minute so I could take my shoe off & slap some sense back into it. (This hasn't happened since Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in May 2013....Perhaps some nerve in my foot has an issue with races using the naming scheme "_______ 2/To ________"?)

We clocked our third mile through the Panhandle in ~8:35ish (slightly uphill), then entered the Park. From there, I think we gradually sped up all the way to the end (though I made us pull over twice more to deal with my numb foot, which sucked....BOOO). By the time we hit the second half of the Park, we were definitely running sub-8's, and there were even a few times when I saw 7:15-20 on my watch. Once we hit the mile 7 marker we could hear the finish line.

I didn't realize we got a medal for this race, so that was kind of a neat bonus. In general I'm not much of a medal horse, but B2B is kind of a unique, special race, so I like the idea of having a memento from it.


At this point the finish line was still pretty chill and sane. We got our box o' water (still don't get it), & then Alyssa & I took off on the rest of our respective long runs.

(For more Bay to Breakers pics, please enjoy this post from SFist.)

    Official: 1:05:05 / 7.46 miles/ 8:44 pace
    Garmin: 1:02:58 / 7.55 miles/ 8:20 pace

I know part of the reason for the huge discrepancy between these two (besides the fact that we were weaving around people all over the place & paying absolutely no attention to tangents) was the fact that I made us stop three times to deal with my stupid foot, and out of sheer habit I'm pretty sure I stopped my watch every time. So, 8:20 would be probably our average pace for the time we were actually moving.

(Of course, then, if you think about it, since we ran the Hayes Street Hill at ~9:30 pace, which is about half a mile, that means our average pace for the rest of the race (when we weren't stopped) was more like 8:15. So really, for all that we were "taking it easy," we were clearly still moving at a good clip!)

If you're curious:

    Overall: 2699 out of 29970
    Women: 567 out of 16076
    A/G: 141 out of 2759

I was also the 1884th fastest person up the Hayes Street Hill, & 75th in my A/G group!

I don't know if Bay to Breakers will ever be an every-year sort of thing for me, but I had a good time doing it this year casually with friends. I think at some point it might be fun to try to do it for speed, though the idea of actually training for that hill kind of gives me hives.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date: Third Sunday in May (May 17, 2015 this year)

Prices: I got a super early bird special deal & signed up last fall for $39, which is a heck of a deal when you consider that registration tops out on the $80s. As of May 5, it was $64 for adults & $32 for kids.

Field Size: I believe they said there were ~50,000 people registered, probably at least half of them were walking/shambling rather than actually running. Looks like there were just under 30,000 finishers.

Deadlines/sellout factor: I'd always been under the impression that this race sold out, but there was still registration at the expo so go figure. & speaking of the expo...

Expo: OMG STAY AWAY!!! It's (generally) at Fort Mason, which means:

  • It's hard to get there if you don't live close-by (ie, I can drive there in 20 minutes but public transit takes an hour), and
  • Traffic will suck so even if you DO drive it will take twice as long, and when you finally do,
  • Parking will suck, so it will take you *another* half hour to park (there are lots, but they are generally badly managed and/or perpetually full), and when you finally DO find parking,
  • It will probably be close to a mile away (but you will still take it & feel lucky).

Also, I'm sorry, but Fort Mason sucks. It's gross and nasty and basically just a big warehouse on a pier. This is why they have lots of big drinking events here, because people vomiting all over it can't really make it much worse. Yes, there are 60/40 kinda okay views of the bay, but you're going inside for an expo. If you want to look at the bay, there are definitely MUCH more picturesque spots to visit.

Finally, the expo itself, much like SFM, is a total shit show. You have to wait in a line to get in.

I would say the line was about a quarter mile long when I arrived.
(Though to be fair my friends who went at 9am when it opened said
there was no one there, so maybe that's the secret.)

Super crowded. Super loud. Pushy brand reps yammering at you to try this or come look at that or here's a free sample. I got very luck with my bib. There was one line for every number under 10,000, and I only had to wait behind I think two people. The rest of the tables (of which there were, I dunno, 6? 8? 10?) all had lines that stretched around the room.


It was the same when I went to get my shirt. For some reason the 'regular small' table had literally no one waiting, while most of the rest of the lines probably had 40-50 people in them.

I could not get out of there fast enough. When you register, there is an option to pay more ($10? $15? $20? Don't remember) to get your bib mailed to you. At the time it will seem like an exorbitant amount, but trust me. I definitely would have paid $20 to get my 2.5 hours & my sanity back.

Staging: This is by far the largest "race" race I've ever run, & definitely the first with a map showing you where to go based on your corral.

    - Seeded: Sub 6 minutes per mile pace
    - Sub-Seeded: 6 – 7 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral A: 7 – 8 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral B: 8 – 9 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral C: 9 – 10 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral D: 10 – 11 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral E: 11-12 minutes per mile pace
    - Corral F: 12+ minutes per mile pace
    - Corral G: Walkers
    - Corral H: Family corral

To get into the seeded or sub-seeded category, you have to have met a qualifying time in the last 12 months & submit a link so it can be verified. (They used to have them listed somewhere but now I can't find it. At least in the past, specific qualifying times have been listed for each distance & A/G group.) The rest of the corrals are assigned based on the projected finish time you enter when you register.

The Course:

It's like it says in the name: Start at the Bay, & run to the breakers.

The most notable feature of the Bay to Breakers course is the Hayes Street Hill at mile 2.

As counted by the race organizers, it's .69 miles with 201 ft of climbing for a 5.5% average grade, but in my opinion the first two blocks they count (so about .2 miles) are essentially flat. So the way I see it, it's about half a mile with ~200 ft climbing, which makes it more like 7.5% average grade. It gradually gets steeper as you go up, with the steepest part being the last block between Fillmore and Steiner streets (11.15% grade.) This is just how much of San Francisco is. Maybe you can see now why I've run several races where I've been warned about the hills and afterward been like, "Hills? What hills?"

(For a comparison of Hayes Street with other well-known hills in the road racing world, you can check out this article from Runner's World.)

The downhill on the other side is steep but mercifully short (about two blocks); when I run this hill, I like to use it as a recovery to catch my breath. After that there is a mild, just-noticeable uphill climb through the Panhandle (.75 miles?). The first half of the park is gently rolling, and the second half is a speed-friendly, gentle downhill to the ocean. (It was through this stretch that we occasionally found ourselves clocking 7:20-7:30s).

Otherwise, the the biggest issue with the course is just the nature of the event. If you're up at the front, it probably won't seem that much different than a regular road race besides a few people in costume, and if you're just walking it for the experience, you're probably not all that concerned with the course anyway.

Parking: Lololololol.

No but really. Take public transport (BART & Muni will get you pretty darn close), or get someone to drop you off semi-close to the start. (Just be sure to check road closures.)

Schwag: A reasonably cool-looking tech shirt in your choice of gray or black, and also regular cut or lady-cut:

Also, I didn't realize there was a medal until the end of the race! Generally in the past there haven't been medals. I knew they'd done one in 2012 for the 100th anniversary, but I didn't realize it had become a routine thing now.

Overall Assessment: This is definitely a fun one to do just for the experience, especially if you're a local. I don't know that I would have paid $60-$80 for it, but for $39, it was totally worth it. You just have to know that there are going to be a bunch of naked people (mostly older men) & if that bothers you, then perhaps this race is not for you.


  1. Nice race report! I was there too, I got lucky and was awarded a sub seeded bib (even though I only ran a 7:01 pace last year). It was awesome being up in the front with the elites, seeing them warm up was cool. And basically no one was in my way to run around. I've now done this race 14 times, I would say this year was the most organized and well run race out of all of them. There was some fun, but it didn't feel out of control like other years. Fun times.

    I'll post a race report soon, I've been really bad about posting race recaps lol. (Oh, and I got another PR, this time by 30 seconds over last year).

  2. And I hope you figure out your foot issue...

  3. It sounds a lot like City to Surf that's held in Sydney every year. A race for runners and non-runners alike. Lots of colour and personality and fun!

  4. Great recap! I completely agree with your sentiments...so much so, that I might just link this on my race recap and add a few pictures and footnotes, and call it a day. :) Do you recall whether you had to list a race time to seed yourself in Corral A? Because if I ever do this again, that's the only place I'd want to start. Corral C (9-10 min) was a complete clusterf*ck.

    1. Lol - go for it! :)

      I don't think you have to submit an actual past race time - I think they just ask you your estimated finishing time (and no one is checking, and like I said we were definitely not running the pace for the time we entered and it was not an issue at all).