When Kenyans have won every race since 1991, Americans are left with no choice but to get drunk and parade costumed and half naked around the streets of San Fransisico.
The Bay to Breakers is an annual footrace which takes place in San Francisco, California on the third Sunday of May. The name reflects the fact that the race starts at the northeast end of the downtown area a few blocks from The Embarcadero (adjacent to San Francisco Bay) and runs west through the city to finish at the Great Highway (adjacent to the Pacific coast, where breakers crash onto Ocean Beach). The complete course is 7.46 miles (12 kilometers) long. The event is well-known for many participants engaging in varying degrees of public nudity.
Many of the participants dress up in costume, some of which show off varying degrees of nudity.
Robert J. Vlught, a student at St. Mary's College and newspaper copy-boy, won the first annual Cross-City Race on January 1, 1912 in a time of 44:10. In 1965, the name of the race was changed to Bay to Breakers.
Started as a way to lift the city's spirits after the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is the longest consecutively run footrace in the world (other races' courses and lengths have changed over time). During World War II participation sometimes slipped below 50 registrants, but the tradition carried on. With 110,000 participants, the Bay to Breakers race held on May 18, 1986 was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest footrace. That record number was partly the product of the running fad of the 1980s; currently the average participation is between 70,000 and 80,000. Race organizers estimated a field of 60,000 participants in 2008, 33,000 of whom were registered. The San Francisco Examiner publishes a list of the first 10,000 finishers the day after the race each year.
Large numbers of participants walk the route behind the runners. Some participants dress in elaborate costumes or, though not technically allowed, wear nothing at all (except footwear), thus lending a party atmosphere to the event. One festive tradition is the tortilla toss, during which runners throw tortillas at one another to pass time (similar to balloon-batting at rock concerts).
Bay To Breakers Run (506907540).jpg
Other oddities are always on the scene, including traditional characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, as well as other unique characters spawned for the race. There is also a group of much-beloved "salmon" participants who don elaborate full-body costumes to stagger upstream through the race.
The route is typically dotted with various local bands performing. At the end of the race is "Footstock," a gathering where participants and spectators can enjoy musical performances by various musical acts.
In February 2009, city officials and race sponsors announced major changes to the race regulations. The regulations included an official ban on floats, alcohol, drunkenness and nudity. The changes were made to assuage the concerns of San Francisco residents along the parade route, who say the race has gotten out of hand in recent years. The news sparked outrage amongst many Bay Area residents who said the changes would destroy everything that has made the race a national treasure for most of the last century. On February 27, 2009, city officials and race organizers announced that they were lifting many of the restrictions. In particular, floats will now be allowed as long as they are registered, and nudity is not mentioned anywhere in the new restrictions. Although the bans on alcohol and drunkenness technically remain in effect, all "zero tolerance" language has been removed.
The Bay to Breakers is organized by the Philip Anschutz-owned Anschutz Entertainment Group.
Anschutz also owns The San Francisco Examiner who assumed sponsorship of the race in 1966. From 2003 to 2005, Albertsons was the event's main sponsor. The ING Group was the primary sponsor for the Bay to Breakers from 2006 to 2010. On May 26, 2010, spokesmen for the Bay to Breakers and ING confirmed that ING chose not renew their sponsorship for the 100th edition of the race in 2011.
The Bay to Breakers is known for the large number of unregistered runners, or "bandits", who participate in the race. Ross Mirkarimi, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, reported that over half of the 60,000 participants in the 2010 Bay to Breakers were unregistered. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was among the runners in 2010 who did not pay the registration fee to obtain a race number.
In 1978, Dwayne "Peanut" Harms of the UC Davis men's track team founded a special division of the race in which 13 runners are connected as a unit entitled "centipedes". An additional runner, a floater, usually the team captain, is allowed to run along untethered to pace the team or substitute for a drop out runner. Despite the novelty, the centipede race is very competitive. The Men's Centipede winner's time in 2008 was faster than the Women's course record. Bay to Breakers is the official site of the World Centipede Running Championships.
The Bay to Breakers course
The Bay to Breakers is held on a USA Track & Field certified point-to-point course. USATF notes that the course is "wind dependent", therefore, not a "record eligible" course.
The initial course started at the Ferry Building along Market Street to Golden Gate Avenue before turning onto Divisadero Street. In 1968, the start was moved from Market Street to Howard Street and the ascension to Divisadero moved to Hayes Street. In 1983, the course was shortened from 7.51 miles to an official 12K (7.46 miles). The current course turns west along Hayes Street and up Hayes Street Hill near Alamo Square. This is the only major incline in the race. After the hill, the race runs along the panhandle and then west through Golden Gate Park, past the Conservatory of Flowers, all the way to Great Highway and Ocean Beach.
 "World records"
Race organizers and media have reported that the course records set by Sammy Kitwara in 2009 and Lineth Chepkurui in 2010 are also world records at the 12 km distance; however, the International Association of Athletics Federations, the international governing body for the sport of athletics/track and field, does not recognize world records or world bests in either an indoor or outdoor 12 km. The Association of Road Racing Statisticians, a non-regulatory group that collects road running data, does recognize world records in the outdoor 12 km provided that the race course meets certain criteria. In order to rule-out the possibility of wind assistance in point-to-point courses, the ARRS stipulates that the course must have "not more than 30% of the race distance separation between that start and finish", or 3.6 km for a 12 km race. Given that the Bay to Breakers is run on a point-to-point course in which the start and finish of the event are approximately 10.5 linear kilometers apart, the ARRS recognizes two other marks as 12 km world records: Kenyan Simon Kigen's 33:46 in Portland, Oregon on May 19, 1985 and Chepkurui's 38:10 at the 2010 Lilac Bloomsday Run.