Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bay to Breakers

This past weekend we ran one of the largest foot races in the world. More than 60,000 people take part, many without a number. I came 7334th (being narrowly beaten by Patty who came 7333rd).

We entered this circus because I used to watch it and be amazed at how many people could get up on a Sunday morning and run 12km (7.5 miles) across the whole city. At the time that seemed a pretty long way. At best back then I'd run a couple of miles anaerobically on a gym treadmill. Running on a road, for that distance, was unimaginable. So this year it was a running goal to enter it, do it, run the whole thing including the dreaded Hayes St Hill and put that one to rest.

For bonus measure, we decided we'd do it, and then we'd turn around at the finish line and run back downtown. This would get us our 13 mile long run. And it would save us each $7 to take the special bus back. And, we'd rock.

The race started with us standing in Zone 2. That meant there were 3 city blocks of people ahead of us. Tortillas flew threw the air and occasionally spin into the back of our heads. They almost hurt. I lifted my foot to stretch, a difficult act in itself in the confined space, and noted that the bottoms of my shoes were now tortilla covered too.

Soon the count down began and we were off. Actually, of course, we just stood there. This year they had timing chips and so it wasn't a big deal. Up ahead, a long way ahead, you could see heads start to bob. A wave of bobbing coming towards us at a snails pace. When it hit us, we started to bob too. A walking kind of bob.

Almost 9 minutes later we crossed the start line and broke into a slow shuffle. Then back to walking. Then the shuffle. Then walk. Then something like a slow run. Then there it stayed, a slow run. For miles.

Just before The Hill, Kelly and her Grandpa were waiting for us. Kelly was later given a string of beads by a naked man. That's an education for her. She enjoyed the spectacle. We stopped for a couple of minutes and chatted with them, then slow ran it towards the hill. Our pace was greater than a 12:00 at this point, possible closer the 13:00. Flying!

Up the hill we went and it was fine. In fact it felt good. All the hill work has made a big difference. There started to be some open space and we even picked it up. Pretty soon we hit the top and started the journey down to the coast. At this point we noticed there was few walkers and people were moving much faster.

Photo: Novato Advance

The rest of the race was pretty easy and passed quickly. We settled into a comfortable 10:00-10:30 pace for much of it always mindful of the return trip we still had ahead. There was probably faster miles in there too. Running felt good in the park with a slight cool breeze and a clear blue sky and everything was bathed in the morning light at our backs. We stopped for water a couple of times for practice and I had some luck with grabbing the back of the cup and squeezing it to make a mouth opening and drinking while moving.

I'm not sure where the 6 or 7 mile marks were, but we hit the end of the park all of a sudden and ran out onto ocean road and headed to the finish. I kicked at the end and probably passed 200 people in the process. We had lots left, I wish I could finish all races with so much to spare.

We crossed the finishing mats. Beep. Grabbed a couple of bottles of water and then after a few minutes of walking picked up to a jog again and started to head back up through the park. Initially this felt awful, but it settled down to being just unpleasant.

Half way up the park we rejoined the race (us headed the wrong way). We stayed over on the sidewalk and it didn't really cause a problem. A few others were either walking or running back too. Most people in the race were walking by now, but there was still thousands of them. Many were really just wandering around drunk. Or dancing on truck rooves. Or lying face down in the park. Or lined up at a port-a-potty. By the time we hit the panhandle it was mostly people who had no intention of finishing.

At this point we hit the regular streets and made our way towards to the BART station. By now we were both pretty beat and the concrete downhill pounding, raising day temperature, increasing dehydration and the constant start. stop. of the traffic lights was pretty brutal.

But eventually we were there. Reflecting what it would have been like to turn around and run another 13 miles, like we'll have facing us in the marathon, was not a happy thought.

Across the road was a Rite Aid where we wandered the around looking for calories for a while. I came out with a King Size Snickers bar and a 32 Oz Gatorade. The Snickers bar vanished instantaneously. The Gatorade followed fairly quickly.

So, would I do it again? Well, in a way I'd have liked to have actually raced it. So maybe one year we'll do that. The race itself was fun and the costumes and general madness were worth being involved with, once at least. If you're going to try and afford to live in the Bay Area it's worth being part of what it has to offer. Not everything has to be a race, so once you let go of that, realize you can't run this fast anyway, then you set the running on cruise control and enjoy the show. So yes, I'd do it again. It's funner than it looks.

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