“Bay To Breakers went from being on my “bucket list” to one that I definitely have to do again.”
by Steve Soprano
May 21, 2014
This weekend I ran at the 2014 Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco. It was a “bucket-list” race for me as it’s one of the oldest road races in America (this was its 103rd running and on its website it claims to be “the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world” even if there are races out there internationally and in the US that claim to be older).
I figured I’d better take the opportunity to race it while I still live relatively close (I’m moving from Flagstaff to New York at the end of the month as I negatively respond to altitude). I was able to make the 12-hour drive from Flagstaff and stay with my training partner, Roman Acosta, and his family just outside San Francisco in Salidas, CA.
Getting Ready For My LRC Singlet Debut
I came into this race really not sure what to expect. I knew the course was challenging, I knew I wasn’t in good “race shape” and I wasn’t sure how deep a field it was going to be. I also felt some pressure not to completely suck since LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson “Rojo“ had paid a good chunk of change to overnight the famed yellow LetsRun.com singlet from Baltimore to San Francisco the day before the race. I didn’t want to bomb my debut in the LRC singlet. (Rojo, FYI, the singlet was disgusting with old pieces of food stuck in it and I had to wash it the night before.)
Things went pretty smoothly up until I got to the starting line. Salidas, CA is about 1.5 hours outside SF so Roman and myself were up at 4:40AM so we could be out the door by 5 and get to the train station by 6 to get a ride into the city. We left late and had to speed 80-90mph the whole way there, but made it with time to spare and found our way to the elite warm-up area and starting line just fine.
That however, was when there were some issues. I got to the starting line about 18-minutes before the race to do strides and drills and the officials were already pushing us to stand on the line. I tried to do a stride and the way a woman cop screamed at me to stop you’d have thought I was murdering someone. I was a little annoyed they were putting us on the line so early as I was behind in my warm-up routine so only got in the one stride and no drills, but I figured it wasn’t cold and I had got in a good warm-up jog so not a huge deal.
But then we stood. And stood. And stood forever. Apparently there was some issue out on the course (I later read that there was insecure scaffolding on the Hayes Street Hill) and we were standing on the line for almost 30-minutes. This is when I started getting a bit pissed off because at this point the warm-ups we’d all done were pretty much useless now and the adrenaline that had been pumping in the minutes before we were supposed to start was gone. I understand they can’t start the race if there are safety issues, but then they should have let us jog around a bit as it should have been obvious it was going to take the two cops that rode off more than a couple of minutes to “secure scaffolding” (whatever that means) that was 2+ miles away.
The final straw came when the remaining cops parked out on the lead motorcycles 100m from the line got off their bikes, walked over and stood directly in front of the starting line and started taking selfies! After that an older runner on the line jogged off to the side to get a drink of water and came right back. I followed his example and went off the line to get the water bottle and throwaway t-shirt I had stashed on the sideline. But before I could get back to the line a ton of the field had jogged off and were starting back up with their warm-ups. It was a bit of a runner’s revolt and I felt proud to be a part of it.
Party Race Beings
Thankfully we all got to do some strides and more jogging before the start so we weren’t completely cold when the gun went off, and I think we all got a nice shot of adrenaline when the announcer all of a sudden yelled for us to get back on the line because the race was about to start. I was actually sitting outside the barriers with my legs propped up against a tree (was trying to get the blood flowing since I had been standing forever) and I got one last stride when I sprinted back to the line as he was saying we had 30-seconds. I barely had time to turn and face in the right direction and we were off.
What ensued after that was nothing less than an amazing but complete shit show. (I googled for a more professional word, but the best synonym I found was clusterfuck … either one works fine.) In every road race you always get those couple of guys who sprint out way faster than they have any business doing and run with the faster runners for 100m or so. In this instance I swear there must have been 50-people who did that … and they were all wearing crazy costumes. And it wasn’t just the people in the race you had to look out for. Drunk crazies on the sidelines hopped in at random intervals either running in the same direction as us, staying put and having fun “people-dodging”, or as one loud guy did, run straight into the pack of us yelling, “You’re going the wrong way!”
Honestly the whole thing was pretty awesome and was a welcome distraction from the fact that I was stiff as hell from having finished my proper warm-up about 45-minutes before. For the beginning of the race people were constantly jumping on to the course wanting high fives and around the first mile there was actually a collision between a masked girl in an orange body suit and one of the cops on his motorcycle. She had jumped in and started sprinting next to us and I think he was coming up to tell her to get off and there was a small collision as she sprinted towards the side and he skidded to a stop. He fell off the bike and she got hit, but I took a quick peek and both looked ok since he didn’t go down hard and she continued to jog off the course.
Most of the craziness on the actual race course seemed to die down (or at least I got too focused on the effort of racing to notice all of it) after Hayes Hill and most of the rest of the race was through Golden Gate Park. However, I did really appreciate it when a little after 5-miles several drunk spectators (a girl and two or three guys) started sprinting next to me on the course. I was fighting a strong headwind trying to bridge the gap to the guy in front of me and having some company running at my side for a bit (don’t worry, I didn’t do any drafting) was actually pretty helpful. They were not wearing anything close to running attire and I was running at a decent pace so I was surprised how long they kept up. I think I had at least one of them there for around a full minute. That guy was yelling some words of encouragement and I was too tired to know or care if it was sarcastic or genuine so I used it as motivation all the same.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
In the end I finished up 26th place in about 39:41 (the results incorrectly say 39:51). Looking at last year’s race results it didn’t look very deep, and I thought even not in top shape on a hilly course I’d still be able to manage half-marathon pace (5:10) and finish top 10. However, I underestimated both the course and the competition. A time that would have placed you 10th last year only placed you 24th this year and that was with a very strong headwind as both Sara Hall and Nick Arciniaga mentioned in their interviews. I definitely did my fair share of drafting early in the race (thank you to Scott Baughs and the Asics Aggies centipede team … if you don’t know about “centipedes” click here), but mid-race when I broke out on my own to try and catch the runners in front of me the wind was pretty tough.
I also completely misjudged the course and had way too much left the last 2.5-miles. The day before the race we had done a course tour, but due to road closures only got to see the first 4-4.5-miles of the course. With the massive uphill followed by a short screaming downhill and then more rolling hills it didn’t paint a pretty picture. I knew you finished at about the same elevation you started, but it seemed like you lost most of the elevation from Hayes Hill immediately afterwards in a downhill so steep and short it probably does more harm than good so I was expecting a pretty tough run. However, the last 2-miles, which I didn’t get to see the day before, have a ton of generous downhills.
In retrospect I should have been out a lot faster and ended up with too much in the tank as I was able to close the last 2-miles in under 10-minutes, but only averaged 5:19-pace for the whole thing. I was barely ahead of the Asics Aggies centipede team as we neared 5-miles, but ended up finishing 46-seconds in front of them and despite finishing 26th I only had the 64th fastest time up Hayes Hill. Just too conservative all-around with the early part of the race.
Given all that, I was pretty happy with the race and while the time wasn’t anywhere near a PR for me at least I know it was a 12K PR for the LetsRun singlet.
Overall, putting aside the starting line issues and timing mistakes, Bay to Breakers was a pretty fun race and it went from being on my “bucket list” to one that I definitely have to do again. I agree with what Sara Hall said in her interview about it being a course where experience counts and I look forward to coming back and cracking that top-10 the next time around.
More: Full Race Results
*San Francisco Examiner: Diane Johnson wins second Bay to Breakers race in a row Johnson says that after training for marathons this race “feels like a sprint”.
*SFGate: Bay to Breakers hits its stride after slow start Includes a run down of some of the police crackdowns on drinking and arrest reports.
*SFGate: Bay to Breakers tamer this year, Panhandle residents say
*MB: Bay to Breakers results
*MB: Ryan Hall has pulled out of tmw’s Bay To Breakers
Personal Note: Shout out to Syracuse alum/14:25 man Roman Acosta who ran his first race in 16-months after having hip surgery last year.