Breaking convention at Bay to Breakers

Sara Yang

100 years of running, 29 years of crazy costumes—not the typical race 


A man in a giant carrot costume, spectators in pirate garb, middle-aged naked people—sound strange? At Bay to Breakers, the expectation is that everyone wears something ridiculous, or nothing at all—anything in between is a truly unorthodox outfit.

Zazzle Bay to Breakers, an annual 12k certified race in San Francisco, attracts a diverse crowd, from professional marathon runners to drunken revelers in costume. The centennial anniversary of the event took place on May 15, also marking almost 30 years of unorthodox outfits since former race director Terri Tiffany coordinated a promotional costume contest in 1982.

As one of the oldest and largest footraces in the world, Bay to Breakers attracted 33,000 registered participants in 2010 and 55,000 in 2011. With a limited number of spots available for sale every year, the event inevitably attracts unregistered runners. Other infamous trademarks include crazy running costumes and floats on the side of the road, typically hosting merry-makers with alcohol.

Junior Katie Upton and her family have participated in Bay to Breakers for several years. Juniors Danielle Beiser and Jessica Rahn joined for Bay to Breakers 2010; the three girls later expressed small regret with their conventional running clothes. “Towards the end [of the race], we started running and walking, and then we stopped to watch people in ridiculous costumes,” Beiser said. Photo courtesy of Danielle Beiser.Event organizers announced a crackdown on unregistered runners and a ban on floats and alcohol for the 2011 race, but all three persisted. Aguila and Boman participated in the race for both years as unregistered runners, dressed in homemade t-shirts each time.

Junior Katie Upton, whose family registers and participates every year, has been running the race since sixth grade. Before registering for Bay to Breakers 2010, she invited juniors Danielle Beiser and Jessica Rahn to come along for the ride. Dressed in typical running clothes, on May 16, 2010, their day started with waking up at 5:30 a.m. to catch the BART train up to San Francisco.

“It was so much fun,” Beiser said. “It was so early in the morning though, I got dropped off at [Upton’s] house and I was still like not awake.”

According to Upton, the race coordinators released several corrals—starting points for the runners—in staggered intervals in order to spread out participants. With hardcore runners in the front, the clock starts when the first gate is opened.

The clock started with the first gate, Upton, Beiser, and Rahn took off from the second gate, though they were initially scheduled to begin at the last corral.

Soon after starting, the trio observed runners in birthday suits and vegetable suits, as well as the infamous groups of people on floats, spectating from the side of the road. According to Boman, such sights are all part of the experience.

“Sometimes when you’re running, you just say [to yourself] don’t look to the left. Because there will be a nudist there. That’s always a memorable moment in the run,” Boman said. “It’s kind of like a carnival, where everyone is running.”

Both groups ended up alternating between running and walking in order to observe their surroundings. Beiser and Rahn classify Bay to Breakers as more of a social event than a conventional race.

“People get really into it,” Upton said. “And if you’re not into it, then like you’re weird… we were in running clothes and people were like ‘What?’”

Upon finishing the race around noon, the finish line greeted them with a plethora of marketing booths selling energy drinks, power bars, condoms, and more.

This year, Upton ran the race again with her family; Beiser and Rahn did not participate due to schedule conflicts, but considered their experience a memorable one, which they will hopefully return to soon.

“It was just one of those things where… we should have gone crazy. We should have dyed our hair purple and [all that],” Rahn said. “It was fun. I would recommend people doing it.”

Additional reporting by Aafreen Mahmood.

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