Wacky Bay to Breakers Is a San Francisco Treat

Editor's Note: This report is an account of the 2007 Bay to Breakers event.

Roughly 50,000 runners, costumed thrill seekers, beer guzzlers and streakers hit the streets yesterday for the annual Bay to Breakers San Francisco's most popular footrace.

"We got addicted to coming here," said Bernard Wells of Berkeley, who didn't run or walk but sat on a picnic cooler to wait for the first runners to cross the finish line.

"You see things you've never seen before," joked Barbara Clark, who sat on a lawn chair nearby. "I like the naked men, but I like to see the good runners and costumes, too."

Runners from Kenya dominated the field. The two top finishers ran side by side for most of the 7.46-mile course, until James Koskei, 32, of Kenya, broke ahead and won the race by three seconds, with a time of 34:19. Jane Ngotho, 31, of Kenya, won the women's race in 40:35.

Low temperatures helped keep injuries to a minimum. Race officials reported none of the heart attacks that marred the event in recent years. Red Cross workers treated mainly blisters, skinned knees and sore muscles.

There was only one moment of chaos: The elite runners were startled by a man who suddenly broke through police lines on the Hayes Street hill and sprayed the athletes with a huge water cannon.

San Francisco's annual rite of spring drew significantly fewer runners and spectators this year the first that the race has been produced by the Fang family, the new owners of the Examiner newspaper. The Fangs acquired the Examiner and the Bay to Breakers in November after its previous owner, the Hearst Corp., bought The Chronicle.

Race organizers estimated that the total number of participants yesterday was close to 50,000, with about 40,000 registered runners or roughly 30 percent fewer participants than last year, when 60,000 registered runners and about 15,000 crashers took part.

Police do not estimate the number of participants, however, and there is no way to really know.

One race official, who said there were fewer unofficial runners this year, noted that the event may have suffered this year from a limited promotion and marketing effort. In fact, some of the Muni buses used yesterday morning to shuttle runners to the starting line were empty.

But the lower turnout did not dampen the enthusiasm of the athletes or otherwise detract from what has come to be known as one of the Bay Area's most colorful, if not bizarre, institutions.

Costumed entrants included all the usual suspects: Elvis impersonators, nuns, jailbirds, cartoon characters, Roman soldiers and half a dozen women with gold-painted bodies who described themselves as goddesses of fire.

"I thought it was fun," said 8-year-old Nicole Killigrew of Foster City, who rode a scooter for 1 1/2 hours to keep up with her mom, runner Fiona Killigrew.

The race itself handled by the same management firm that has run the Bay to Breakers since the event began 26 years ago went largely as planned. Almost 1,000 volunteers helped maintain the race course. Police security and public transportation were well-synchronized.

At 8 a.m. sharp, the first group of world-class athletes burst across the starting line at the foot of the Bay Bridge and quickly cut a channel through the downtown fog before winding through San Francisco neighborhoods and ending at Ocean Beach.

Top-ranked amateurs followed the elite athletes and then came a virtual parade of weekend warriors, 13-member centipedes, joggers, walkers in running shorts, colorful costumes and bare butts.

The sun broke through for most of the runners on the knee-breaking Hayes Street hill, where they were cheered by thousands of fans and the reverberating sounds of local rock bands.

Some runners pushed strollers with babies inside. Others pushed shopping carts that held kegs of beer to guzzle en route. One man ran with a model of the Transamerica Pyramid over his shoulders. And a group of men and women who called themselves "land sharks" jogged with aerodynamically designed cardboard fins on their heads.

As usual, there were dozens of naked runners, including couples.

"It's a dream come true," said Mark Gibson of San Francisco, who ran the race sans clothes. "I've always wanted to run naked in an urban environment ... At one point, a lot of people were cheering. But I looked back and saw they were cheering for three naked women."

A tad more discreet, seven men and women sported cotton bath towels, fastened at the top with packing tape.

"It was so easy and cheap," said Amy Hayes of the Richmond District, who was wrapped in a blue towel. "And it's like there's a bit of mystery to it."

Rebecca Rahe and Natalie Finley, both from the Central Valley town of Madera, posed as prom queens from the 1980s in long, flowing dresses.

"We just wanted to look pretty and be comfortable while we were running," Finley said.

"And running naked was not an option," Rahe added.

Ron Long, 58, of Oakland, ran his 20th Bay to Breakers. He and Joann Zimmerman wore grass skirts and flower leis.

"We used to run with our dogs, and they'd have skirts and leis, too," Long said. "But they don't like dogs in the race anymore."

The sweat-ridden sea of humanity eventually found its way to the carnival-like atmosphere at the finish line. Triumphant runners and groups of hugging friends posed for free, post-race photos that were posted on the Internet, then headed to the Footstock music concert at Golden Gate Park.

Four hours after the race began, finishers were still strolling across the finish line.

"I thought I was going to pass out," one jogger confided to another.

"We did it!" her friend responded.

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