City runs wild in Bay to Break­ers on Sun­day

Thou­sands get ready, set to party, cos­tumed or not

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Peter Fim­rite

A roil­ing, cos­tumed pa­rade of hu­man­ity will shimmy through San Francisco Sun­day dur­ing one of the world’s long­est-run­ning an­nual footraces — and by far the most fun.

The 106th run­ning of the Bay to Break­ers is re­ally a party dis­guised as a race and, if his­tory is any mea­sure, it will be a smoky, boozy cel­e­bra­tion stretch­ing from the Em­bar­cadero to the Great High­way.

More than 40,000 peo­ple have regis­tered for the an­nual 7.46-mile run, but thou­sands more rev­el­ers are ex­pected to join the fun along the route. The elite run­ners will leave the start­ing line on Howard and Main streets at 8 a.m., trig­ger­ing a pul­sat­ing mass of peo­ple the likes of which can­not be found in any other city.

The naked and skimpily clad will join run­ners, per­for­mance artists and the out­landish in a slow, col­or­ful morn­ing sashay across San Francisco west through Golden Gate Park and out to the Pa­cific Ocean.

“Our re­quire­ment is you need to have a race

bib to be on our course,” said Chris Holmes, gen­eral man­ager of the race, which is spon­sored by Alaska Air­lines. “Cos­tumes al­ways have been and al­ways will be a part of the race. It's kind of fun to see some of the things peo­ple come up with that they have ob­vi­ously been work­ing on for a long time.”

Streets will be closed along the route start­ing early Sun­day until early af­ter­noon, ex­cept along the Em­bar­cadero and Cross­over Drive through Golden Gate Park (con­nect­ing 19th Av­enue and Park Pre­sidio Boule­vard), the only north-south op­tions for mo­torists.

As has been the cus­tom for sev­eral years, no floats or wheeled ob­jects of any kind or bags and back­packs that aren’t trans­par­ent will be al­lowed. Hun­dreds of po­lice of­fi­cers will line the course, which will be dot­ted with nearly 1,000 por­ta­ble toi­lets, Holmes said.

“Safety is al­ways go­ing to be our No. 1 pri­or­ity,” he said .

The Bay to Break­ers race be­gan in 1912 as an ef­fort to boost civic pride and unite San Fran­cis­cans fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing 1906 earth­quake.

Then called the San Francisco Cross City Race, it at­tracted 150 run­ners, in­clud­ing lo­cal col­lege stu­dent and part­time news­pa­per copy boy Bobby Vlught, who out­ran every­body, fin­ish­ing what was then a 7.5-mile course in 44 min­utes, 10 sec­onds.

The real pi­o­neer, though, was Bob­bie Burke, the first woman, cross-dresser and cos­tumed fin­isher to en­ter the race. Burke ran in 1940 dis­guised as a man be­cause women weren’t al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate. Her boyfriend and later hus­band, Ed Pre­ston, won the race that year.

It was 31 years be­fore a women’s divi­sion was added to the race, which be­came known as the Bay to Break­ers in 1964. The dreaded Hayes Street hill was added to the course in 1968. That’s about when cos­tumed run­ners, nud­ists, cross-dressers and par­ty­go­ers be­gan show­ing up.

The race Sun­day will mark the 40-year an­niver­sary of the first cen­tipede, in which teams of teth­ered run­ners race to the fin­ish. In 1978, 13 mem­bers of the UC Davis track team tied them­selves to­gether for the run, ush­er­ing in a new era of com­pe­ti­tion.

For years, the male cen­tipedes tried to beat the top fe­male run­ner, but be­fore long the elite fe­male ath­letes were too fast.

“There are races across the globe now that have cen­tipede di­vi­sions,” Holmes said, adding that cen­tipede en­trants are re­quired to have at least 13 run­ners. The Ag­gies track team “in­vented it.”

The seeded cen­tipedes are still highly com­pet­i­tive, but their in­ven­tive­ness also mat­ters. Holmes said a few thou­sand cen­tipedes — in­clud­ing male, fe­male, mixed, gay, straight, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der en­trants — are regis­tered to com­pete Sun­day. Last year, he said, a group of women fin­ished the race dressed as life-size snow globes, each de­pict­ing a dif­fer­ent city in the world, win­ning many plau­dits, but no­body seems to re­mem­ber their time.

The race or­ga­niz­ers are in­tro­duc­ing a new dis­tance op­tion called the Break­ers Bonus this year. Reg­is­trants who run an ad­di­tional 3-kilo­me­ter loop along the Great High­way will get a spe­cially de­signed medal and a beer at the fin­ish line, Holmes said.

There has al­ways been a

sober side to the race, but quite a few run­ners also take par­ty­ing se­ri­ously. It got so out of hand in 2008 that race spon­sors made the con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to ban al­co­hol, nu­dity and floats with kegs.

The booze-car­ry­ing floats have dis­ap­peared, but spir­its and other per­for­mance en­hancers have been de­tected in re­cent years among the crowds chug­ging up the Hayes Street Hill and among spec­ta­tors ev­ery­where along the course.

The race now attracts any­where from 40,000 to 65,000 run­ners in all man­ner of garb and, in the case of the “Bare to Break­ers” run­ners, no garb at all. Con­trary to pub­lic per­cep­tion, Holmes de­nies that the ranks of the naked have grown in re­cent years.

“It is a very, very small per­cent­age,” he said of the nude run­ners. “Of course, they are easy to pick out in a crowd.”

On­line regis­tra­tion is closed, but run­ners can still reg­is­ter dur­ing an expo Fri­day and Satur­day at Pier 35, com­plete with ex­hibits and swag.

Holmes said miles of bar­ri­cades and fenc­ing, in­clud­ing chain link around stat­ues and other city as­sets, is be­ing erected in prepa­ra­tion for the race.

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chron­i­cle 2017

Remi Fer­nan­dez plays with bub­bles on Fell Street dur­ing the 2017 Bay to Break­ers. The race has been held since 1912.

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