Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bay to Breakers 2017 (Rainbow Beads)

Bay to Breakers 12K (about 7.5 miles)
Average Pace 15:09/mile
*Hayes Hill Challenge: 10:07.67

I have been pining over racing Bay to Breakers for years.  Running?  Costumes?  Beaches?  Sunshine?  California?  Sign me up!

Yet, for some reason, every year since it came onto my radar, I've always been unavailable for Bay to Breakers weekend.  But ... in 2017 the stars aligned.  Well, technically, the stars started to align in 2016, as that's when my husband realized that point prices were REALLY low for airline and hotel reservations, and he had plenty of points (and then some) to cover us.

So late last fall, with my sister roped in to my shenanigans and our travel reservations booked, we started planning costumes for Bay to Breakers.  Because that's the most important part, duh!


Thanks to Amazon, the starting point for our costume was this motor inflated set of wings:

And, immediately after receiving delivery of two pairs of wings via USPS, the starting point for my sister's smart ass comments (which paid homage to this race costume from years ago) was this:

Luckily, I did NOT need to run test these wings for flutter effect, since it was obvious they would work.  The elastic bands at the shoulders proved to be quite comfortable, and the wings were made of nylon, not vinyl like a typical inflatable is, so they seemed to feel fairly breathable (read - not sweaty to wear).  Plus, an added bonus was the motor fan that kept the wings inflated served as a nice personal AC unit.  Score!

Until race day, the rest of our outfit was a little bit of a toss up due to possible weather conditions.  Eventually we settled on a simple black wicking workout T and rainbow chameleon InkNBurn capris.

The net result ended up looking like this (don't mind my still saggy post pregnancy belly ... bah):

Yes, we got many questions RE: what we were supposed to be.  I don't know, don't ask me.  A butterfly of some sort, I suppose.  Although, in San Francisco we did get a lot of other interesting suggestions ... including rainbow vaginal beads.  Ok.  Huh.  Go figure.


Traveling to San Francisco from Minneapolis went fairly smoothly, especially considering I had a 1 year old in tow on a 4 hour flight.  We had all taken Friday off work for travel, making for an especially relaxed day, which was nice.  Everything ended up about on time, and our mid day flight got us into SFO a little after 1 pm.

Although there had been some recent news stories in regards to crime on San Francisco public transit, I hadn't seen any headlines in the 2-3 weeks leading up to our visit.  Figuring the risk was relatively low, we hopped on the BART train from SFO to downtown.  The gamble proved successful, as we arrived to our hotel unscathed.

By the time we had checked in and settled into our hotel room, it was just after 3 pm.  The race expo was scheduled to be open until 7, and since we had a fair amount of time until it closed, it seemed worth a shot to head out that way.  I had read online that lines into the expo in years past lasted up to 3 hours, which sounded like no fun for a 1 year old, so I asked my husband to say back at the hotel with our son while my sister and I worked on getting our bibs.  That request proved unnecessary, as we were able to waltz right into the expo without any line at all.  I should have just had them come with.  Oh well, I won't complain!  No line is just fine with me!

Upon entry, we went to the wall to find our bib numbers:

And then off to check in to get our bibs and shirts:

After we got our bibs and shirts, we were dumped out into the sponsor area - Alaska Airlines was the person footing the bill for that this year, and their presentation was amazing! 

I was particularly fascinated with the giant streamer chandelier they hung from the ceiling, and the faux grass and carpeting they had for their entire section.


Oh - I should add here that it was the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco, and to honor that anniversary, Bay to Breakers had chosen it as their theme:

Alaska Airlines, who ran with the theme 110%, had booths for tons of free stuff: photos in a hippy van, stations to make flower crowns and friendship bracelets (which included super cute enameled charms in shapes of peace signs, hippy vans, flowers, etc.), hippy themed temporary tattoos, and a station where you could get a live screened shirt of your choice (I chose a white, unisex shirt with a teal colored screen of the Bay to Breakers hippy bus logo on it). 


With so much free swag before I even got into the meat of the expo, my head was spinning ... or maybe that was just the contact high I got from the people smoking out on the street.  I dunno.  Heh.

The rest of the expo was your typical stuff - energy bars and drinks, store branded running gear, promos for other races and the like.  Since we had our fill of free things thanks to Alaska Airlines, we pretty much just glossed over the rest of the offerings and headed straight to the exit.

Overall the expo was very well organized.  I was amazingly happy about that.

With packet pickup out of the way Friday, Saturday we simply spent the day being tourists ... and pre race fueling, animal style of course.



On race day, we were recommended via the official Bay to Breakers email to arrive into our corrals 45 minutes or more prior to race start (which was 8 am).  Having done other large races in the past, and knowing what a cluster corral entry can be, I was on board with that suggestion ... no questions asked.

Though our walk from the hotel to the race start for the most part was uneventful, my sister and I did have a brief moment of panic when a very ... not lucid ... homeless man started screaming things at us like "Imma slap the shit outta you bitches".  Luckily, we were able to quickly walk away from that scenario, and security at the starting area was very good, so no further problems ensued.

Though I did have a slight issue once inside, as I almost got a concussion from a corn tortilla.  Heh.

If you're new to Bay to Breakers, apparently this is a "thing" there.  Instead of bouncing around balloons or beach balls, racers bring packs of corn tortillas and throw them around like Frisbees.  It was extremely entertaining, and really broke down barriers among strangers in the crowd.  I mean, how can you not laugh if your neighbor (me) gets hit in the head with a stray tortilla and goes "ah!" as you are standing there waiting for gun time? 

Since I had read that most people vastly over estimate their race pace, my sister and I registered for the 4th group to be released on course - corral B (8-9 minute miles).  I knew this might be slightly aggressive when I signed up last fall, as my usual pace is closer to 10 when I'm in shape.  But from what I read in other reviews, if you didn't get into corral A ... or at least B ... you might as well walk the entire course.  Knowing I wanted to run as much as my body would let me, I definitely wanted to be in B.

Sorry not sorry.  I know I can't do 8-9 min miles over a 7+ mile course, but nuts to walking with a bunch of drunk back of packers (this race is known to get a little wild in the slower groups).

After the two elite groups were released, along with corral A, I realized I was just fine in corral B anyway.  With 20 minutes (roughly) on the clock, we were released, and many immediately began to walk out of the starting gate and onto course.

Even about 1 mile in, where my husband was scouting for pictures, people were still barely washing out to a 12-14 min pace.  It was a little frustrating, but I pretty much expected this given the size of the race.


To help pass the time, I began counting naked runners.  Yes, this is another "thing" at Bay to Breakers in addition to throwing corn tortillas at the start.


Another "thing" for Bay to Breakers is the "caterpillar" race category.  It's essentially a group of 6 people tied together who have to run the entire course at the same pace - which sounds pretty challenging when you think about the fact that everyone in the group must keep up with each other for over 7 miles.  I was pretty impressed by how many elite runners alone chose this option.

After counting about 12-15 naked runners, but seeing very few caterpillars, we came upon Hayes Hill.  For those of you unfamiliar with how horrendous running in San Francisco can be, let me present to you some photos:

Now, I couldn't find a good picture on the Google machine that showed Hayes Hill without people on it, but here is a similar San Francisco hill so you can get a feel for what I'm talking about, and an actually Hayes Hill elevation map for reference.


Yeah.  You let me know how you feel about running up that hill.  Especially knowing it is almost a mile long.
Seeing the above pictures, it should come as no surprise to you to hear that Hayes Hill is (1) the most difficult part of the course and (2) is known for being the biggest party spot of the entire race.  People with houses on course host huge parties on their front steps, and booze is offered all around for spectators and participants alike. 
Here's an example of one of the houses we passed in 2017 - you can see how it's basically like a giant frat party:

After experiencing some of the ... finer points ... of San Francisco on the days leading up to the race (ahem, bums pooping on sidewalks, people smoking strange things in public, ahem), I had my doubts about accepting anything from strangers on course.  My sister and I simply trudged up the hill and enjoyed the *sometimes naked* people watching as we went.

Hayes Hill is a little tricky, because while you're on it you think you've finally hit the last plateau a couple of times ... only to realize you still have another climb coming.  When it was finally obvious we had finished the climb (we passed the second set of chip readers indicating the special time read for Hayes Hill was over), my sister and I celebrated by partaking in our first water stop of the run ... and getting eye frisked by course security to ensure we had legit bibs and no booze in hand, both of which are large issues given the party environment on Hayes.

With the worst of the course behind us, my sister and I finished our celebration and water ... and then proceeded to be "parted" by various runners for the next 3 miles.  Apparently, our wings were an attractive gateway to be entered, and numerous silly runners opted to duck/run/dive in between us with their hands together in prayer position (much like you would to dive into a pool). 

Imagine this, but with more butterfly wings and less booty shaking

The majority of the runners who did this did so in good jest, cheering and laughing as they passed.  Knowing that we took up a fair amount of real estate on course due to our wingspan, and knowing it was part of the experience of Bay to Breakers, my sister and I took it in stride and just laughed.  To clarify though, it was never really like we were clogging the course, as things were tremendously spaced out at this point anyway and we were on a 4+ lane street.

With around 3 or so miles left of the race, we entered Golden Gate Park.  If you've never heard of this before (which I hadn't), it is almost like Central Park in NY.  In this aerial view, you can see how this massive stretch of green is almost out of place amongst the city:

I had no idea how beautiful this part of the run would be, and I loved every minute of it.  It was slightly hazy from the ocean fog, and fairly shaded due to the overhanging trees.  There were even old fashioned windmills and (fenced in) wild buffalo on course ... none of which would I have expected to see in the middle of such an urban city. 
While I didn't take many photos myself, here are a few I borrowed off Google for reference.



I really enjoyed this portion of the race, and for the Golden Gate Park piece of the race alone, I wouldn't mind repeating the run again in the future - that's how beautiful it was.  It was such a unique experience, and something I've never seen on any race before (which says something, being that I'm over 70 races complete at this point).

The only down side to all the trees and winding roads of Golden Gate Park was that it was pretty hard to tell where the finish line was.  Even with about a quarter of a mile left, I wasn't sure visually where we would end.  But - have no fear!  After passing a professionally hired group of Asian performance drummers, there it was.  The finish line arches were there, with the rolling ocean behind it.


Despite the large volume of runners, the exiting process was fairly smooth.  My sister and I both managed to quickly snag a bottle of water, our finishers medals, and a energy bar as a snack.  After milling around looking at what else there might be to eat or see, we decided that there wasn't much that interested us so we took off for the muni - which true to Natalie form, included going to the wrong side of the park (we wanted the N, but we were on the side for the 5, which required almost a 1 mile detour back through the park), boarding a train going the wrong direction, boarding another train that was packed like sardines, and having to stand for almost 45 minutes in order to get home.

Good thing we had pre-race fueled with a double cheese animal style at In-N-Out the day before.  After all that race day activity, and some more tourist roaming later in the day, we had earned it.


And that's the story of how race bib #78 joined my collection.  Fortunately, I only had to see 37 naked men, and take a couple of corn tortillas to the noggin in the process.

Here's to another race soon!

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