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Bay to Breakers

Started: 2022-05-17 19:00:23

Submitted: 2022-05-17 21:20:11

Visibility: World-readable

Running Bay to Breakers, in person again for the first time in three years

In the Before Times, I ran San Francisco's premier road race-slash-block party Bay to Breakers twice: in 2018, and again the next year in 2019. Then came the global pandemic, canceling the race in 2020 and 2021. (The race organizers initially considered moving the race from May 2021 to August, then canceled it outright; in retrospect that would have been on top of the end of the Delta Wave so maybe it wouldn't have been a great idea to have the race then anyway.

This year the race came back, a twelve-kilometer straight shot across the city from Soma to Ocean Beach; I signed up as soon as registration opened early in the year.

Even though the pandemic wasn't going to thwart the race this year, my own injuries threatened to ruin it for me. I strained my hamstring at the end of March (apparently from trying to run on an overly-stiff muscle); then, as my hamstring healed, my calf tightened up (and I probably tore it too) and I limped slightly for most of the month of April. My physical therapist let me start running again late in April, giving me barely enough time to get back into enough shape that I could credibly attempt to run twelve kilometers at an aerobic pace, hopefully without injuring myself again in the attempt.

I left Santa Cruz at 06:00 on Sunday morning, 15th May to drive to Daly City BART station. I arrived in time to catch the first northbound train, scheduled to leave at 07:16. The peninsula was sunny and dry as I drove up I-280, but Daly City was covered in fog and the train platform was chilly as I waited with a crowd of other people for the first regular train. Many were obviously runners, dressed in appropriate clothing and wearing bib tags pinned to their shirts. I wore my 2010 Bolder Boulder tech shirt.

Jaeger on BART heading to Bay to Breakers
Jaeger on BART heading to Bay to Breakers

I joined the crowd of runners departing the train at Embarcadero and taking the escalators to street level. It was early morning in Soma, and the streets were filled with runners trying to figure out where to go. We were vaguely sorted into starting "corrals" by estimated race pace, and the corrals were set up to radiate from the corner of Spear and Howard. I was in Corral C, and my entrance was pointing in the opposite direction away from Embarcadero Station; but I eventually found my way to my group and waited for the race to start.

Bay to Breakers corral C forming on Spear St
Bay to Breakers corral C forming on Spear St

I was in the corral for semi-serious runners with an estimated race pace of around eight to nine minutes per mile. (If I had been training regularly I ought to have been able to run nine minutes per mile at an aerobic pace.) My corral had some costumes, including a pair of runners with foot-high Sutro Tower models mounted to their hats. I saw a group of runners dressed up like bananas and, because I spent Saturday afternoon watching the Eurovision grand finale, I immediately thought of Norway's song, "Give that wolf a banana". (Watching Eurovision on Saturday, and running Bay to Breakers on Sunday, mixed the two events up in my mind to the point where I thought about dressing up in Eurovision costumes for Bay to Breakers, though I was worried that no one would actually get the reference.)

Heading to the Bay to Breakers starting line on Howard St
Heading to the Bay to Breakers starting line on Howard St

The race started right at 08:00 with the first waves, and soon we were moving onto Howard Street towards the starting line. This was the biggest crowd I'd been a part of since the Before Times. People crowded together, almost entirely unmasked, and just as I started to think the crowd might be too much we passed the bottleneck formed by crowd-control barriers at the intersection and began to spread out again. (I wore my KF-94 mask to the starting line and didn't take it off until I'd run a mile down Howard Street and the crowd had cleared enough. Standing in the starting corral on Spear Street probably gave me more potential exposure to COVID-19 as the entire previous month, though that says as much about what I've been doing for the last month as it does about the crowded conditions at the starting corral.) We walked to the starting line (well ahead of the estimated 08:20 start time for our corral) and I barely had enough time to start my watch before I crossed the starting line, on my way down Howard Street to the ocean twelve kilometers in front of me.

The first mile of the course down Howard Street was crowded by people who were not running as fast as the estimated pace for the corral; I had to watch the road in front of me carefully and weave around the people stopped or walking or running backwards, often three or four abreast. As we approached the first mile I started to feel hot in my mask, despite the clouds covering the sky, so I took of my mask and carried it the rest of the way to Ocean Beach.

Running on Howard St under the transit center bus bridge
Running on Howard St under the transit center bus bridge

The course turned to the north, crossed the middle of Market Street, and turned west again to head up the race's hardest hill, up Hayes Street past Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies perched on the side of the hill. I took the hill at the easiest pace I could run, trying to avoid using up my energy less than half-way through the race, and I only made it half-way up the hill before I stopped to walk the rest of the way.

Jaeger struggles up Hayes Hill
Jaeger struggles up Hayes Hill

At the top of the hill I caught my breath, ate an energy chew for quick energy, and started running down the steep western side of the hill. The race course jogged onto Fell Street, ran past the DMV, and onto the Panhandle. I hit the half-way point of the race and I began to hope that I might actually run the rest of the race (even though the total distance was almost 50% longer than the longest distance I'd managed to run as I was recovering from my injuries this spring).

The race entered Golden Gate Park and turned onto John F Kennedy Drive on the north side of the park, now a permanent pedestrian-only promenade (except today, when runners in costumes replaced everyone else on foot on the road). I ran past the Conservatory of Flowers and the de Young Museum. The road wound lazily through the park and I began counting down the miles.

Each mile was marked by a poster with a pithy slogan. Mile five admonished me to "Run like a tech bro is trying to explain NFTs".

At mile 6 I considered bumping up my pace to try to finish strong but I found that everyone else had already done the same thing, and I had automatically increased my pace a bit to keep up with the crowd. By mile 7 the race jogged to the left to exit the park onto Lincoln Way, then turn north along Great Highway to finish on the beach. I didn't have any energy left to sprint but I ran as best as I could, crossing the finish line (according to the final race results) with a net time of 1:17:06, for a net pace of 10:20 minutes per mile. This was not a great result but good enough for this year. I had reached the breakers at last, having run all the way from the bay.

Bay to Breakers finish line at Ocean Beach
Bay to Breakers finish line at Ocean Beach

I grabbed water and a banana (thinking about the wolves again) and my finisher's medal and joined the very long queue for the official race t-shirts; but after fifteen minutes the line had barely budged so I gave up (I don't really need more t-shirts), ate a snack, and left the finish line in search of breakfast.

Bay to Breakers finishers medal
Bay to Breakers finishers medal

By this point in the morning MUNI was running its regular service so I walked down to the Ocean Beach terminus of the N-Judah MUNI metro line to Van Ness, then caught an outbound S-Shuttle to West Portal (my first time riding through the Twin Peaks Tunnel since the back-to-back tunnel retrofits) and waited for a K-Ingleside train to take me to Java on Ocean in my old neighborhood for a late breakfast. (San Francisco has innumerable coffee shops, and I could have eaten breakfast almost anywhere between Ocean Beach and Daly City, but I decided to go visit my old neighborhood to see what had changed in the last four years.)

Java on Ocean
Java on Ocean

At Java on Ocean, nothing had changed in the last four years, except more people were wearing masks.

Properly fortified, I rode MUNI the rest of the way to Balboa Park and caught BART to Daly City. It was still overcast when I arrived, and I was getting cold in the wispy fog in my running gear. I was glad to reach my car (and my stockpile of clothing more appropriate for the fog) to drive back home to Santa Cruz, after running the Bay to Breakers with a side-trip into an obscure corner of San Francisco.

like a lot of geeks, I can run risky meatspace things
through my head until a faulty value comes out that
suggests there's no need to actually do them.
- Caleb John Clark, "Linux and the Lady", Salon.com 27 September 2000