May 18, 2011

Naked runners and a whole lot of booze... only in San Francisco!

Sunday I had the pleasure of running my first-ever Bay to Breakers in my new city, San Francisco. And in true San Francisco fashion, the race was crazy, over-the-top, and a whole lot of fun. Between running in the elite field, witnessing all the costumed (and not-so-costumed) runners, and reuniting with old friends, it was a pretty memorable day!


My morning began with an early wake up, as the elite runners had to be at the Hyatt Hotel by 5:15 am for our 7:00 am race start time. I was late (typical) and therefore frantic as I drove down Market Street, now officially my least favorite street in SF because of its tricky lanes and busy intersections. Thankfully, I made it to the hotel unscathed and settled into my pre-race routine. A banana and a cup of coffee later and I was ready to go! My NBSV teammate Annie and I walked over to the start line with the rest of the elites and began our warmup. 20 minutes later, sweats came off, racing flats went on, one final fix of the ponytail and we were off!


Elite Women Start
The elite women started 4 minutes and 36 seconds before the men, as Bay to Breakers has an equalizer bonus for the top overall finisher, male or female. 4:36 is the current differential between the men's and women's records, so us ladies got a little bit of a head start over the guys as we all raced to see who crossed the finish line first and won $25,000 (a guy won this year). When the gun went off, the Kenyan and Ethiopian women shot to the front; I think I ran with them for a total of 10 seconds before they gapped me. I was content to tuck in behind the elite American women and go along for the ride. My teammate Annie and Olympian Magda Lewy-Boulet led the charge, followed closely by Olympic triathlete Laura Bennett, two other women, and myself. I ran with this pack for about a mile and a half before settling into my own slightly slower pace. The gap between us gradually widened and by mile 2 I was alone on the course. Although many of the elite men passed me in the 2nd half of the course, providing me with short bouts of company, for a majority of the race I was all by myself. 


The Hayes Street Hill was just as difficult as everyone said it would be. The 5 gradual inclines between Laguna Street and Pierce Street, are, well, miserable. I don't even want to speculate as to my mile split over that mile. My plan was to hammer it down the back side of the hill, squeeze the pace along Divisidero and Fell Streets, and then upon entering Golden Gate Park try to catch any of the elite Americans whose fast early pace might be catching up with them. Unfortunately, being all alone I found myself settling into tempo pace instead of race pace. In the final miles, I knew I wasn't going to catch any of the women nor were any females going to catch me, so I was content to tempo the final miles and just experience Bay to Breakers, taking it all in. As the elite men caught me, we exchanged quick words of encouragement - "Good job!" and "Way to go!" as they continued past me. Cruising by Lindley Meadow, the buffalo paddock, the spectators watching from the lawn chairs, the many photographers ready to capture the all the craziness coming after the elite field, I ran hard but joyfully through the park. The Pacific Ocean came into view with a half mile to go and as I made the turn onto the Great Highway, a strong and punishing wind blasted me in the face. The last 400 meters along Ocean Beach were brutal, but one of my NBSV teammates, Billy, was finishing at the same time and generously let me tuck in behind him as he broke the wind. I finished the 12K in 44:17, feeling a little worse for wear due to all the pavement pounding but overall happy and glad to have raced. I was 11th for the women and the 6th American female overall - I'll take it!


Decked-out runners in Golden Gate Park
Before long, the hordes of costumed (and drunk) Bay to Breakers participants began finishing and Ocean Beach was soon packed with Elvis impersonators, bumblebees, jellyfish, Disney characters, superheroes, and a whole host of runners decked out in various crazy costumes. And then there were the handful who were decked out in, well... nothing at all. I saw my fair share of penises and boobs and could only imagine how painful it must be to run 7.5 miles completely naked...


Post-race deliciousness!
Post-race, Annie, NBSV coach Dena, and I hung out at the elite VIP tent, where the food was plentiful and the mimosas bottomless. After watching the award ceremony and catching up with running friends from across the state, I boarded the elite bus back to the Hyatt. I had the pleasure of chatting with Magda Lewy-Boulet on our ride back, who is always so kind, so encouraging, and willing to listen and give advice. If you ask me, chatting with one of your running heroes is a great way to cap off a race! :)








Making friends on the course
While I'd finished racing by about 7:45 am, thousands of San Franciscans were still trekking from the Bay to the breakers at Ocean Beach and in the process completely blocking the streets back to my apartment. No big deal - I met up with some fellow UCD alums and spent the day in the Richmond celebrating our first Bay to Breakers experience. By the time I finally made it home, I was exhausted but happy :)


There's nothing quite like Bay to Breakers - the sheer number of people, the amount of alcohol consumed, the crazy things you witness along the course... Similarly, there's nothing quite like racing in your adopted hometown to really make you feel like you belong. I've been a San Francisco resident for 8 months now and am finally feeling like SF is home (sorry Mom!). It's been a long journey - leaving small-town Davis where I'd lived my whole life to move to SF has been a big change, but I absolutely love it here. Racing through my new stomping grounds of Golden Gate Park felt like the perfect way to say, "I'm home!" Thanks, San Francisco, for the best homecoming a runner could ask for :)

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