Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Race--San Francisco Style

San Francisco's famous (or infamous) "Bay to Breakers Race" takes place this Sunday. It's another example of the local saying "only in San Francisco."
The event starts at San Francisco Bay, runs across the city, up Hayes Hill for those of strong spirit, back down the hill and on to the Pacific Ocean side. The 7.5 mile race itself started out normally enough. In 1912 the city fathers and local businesses joined together to come up with a citywide event to encourage a spirit of growth and sense of pride following the disastrous '06 quake. It is one of the oldest continuous running big footraces is the world. The race was only for men, but this is San Francisco and for once its departure from the rules made sense, but in a uniquely San Francisco way. The first woman to run in the race in 1940 disguised herself as a man. Wearing costumes was already part of the fun, so she got away with it. In fact, she finished near last, just ahead of a man disguised as Captain Kidd.

Women were not allowed in the race officially until 1971, but as the costumes got more elaborate, it's likely that many women ran in the races after the now iconic Bobbie Burke. At one point,the race attracted 110,000 runners, making it the world's biggest footrace. The last few years, the race averages around 62,000 which is still not small potatoes. In 2007, a woman was the winner but women had been doing very well in the race for years.

The race is broken up into segments for the regular runners, costumed runners, and recently for floats carrying beer, multiple group runners (the first "group runners" were the UC Davis track team who tied themselves together to form a centipede) and a couple of other categories which escape me at the moment. But the biggest draw over the past few years has been the nude runners.

The end of civilization is at hand. Things got a bit out of hand at last year's race, so the committee has banned nudity, alcohol, and the booze-carrying floats. Those of us who know the city well may attend the race just to see if the committee can pull this travesty off. What fun is a race where Captain Kidd can no longer be followed by Naked Nancy and Nudie Rudy? This town really is going to hell.


AndrewPrice said...


Like you, I am down right outraged at the violation of the civil rights of naked, boozed-up people that is taking place in Obama/Pelosi's fascist America.

One day they are banning the naked drunks from running in a costumed marathon (never thought I'd say that in my life), the next they are rounding up children for work camps.

It's horrible. . . it you're naked and drunk, or a child. ;-P

Auguste Ballz said...

Sounds a lot like the Homecoming parade in downtown Faber, PA. It happens to frequently. A public event of good fun, even grown up good fun gets spoiled by a usually small group of jerk-o**s who take things too far and put a crimp in everyone else's good time.

SQT said...

I can't get past the idea of a guy running naked. Seems like it would hurt....something. Or maybe David Niven was right and these people all fall into the category of individuals who are displaying their shortcomings.

LawhawkSF said...

SQT: The ancient Greeks insisted that it was the only way a man could participate in sacred games, particularly the Olympics. No accounting for taste. I'm no prude, but I never had any desire to let it all hang out while running. I will let you in on one local secret, however. If you had ever viewed one of these modern races, you would immediately recognize why the nudity was banned. Hint: It has nothing to do with nudism, and a great deal to do with the participating nudists. I spent more time trying to figure out the connection between the alcohol and the nudity, at least during the running part. I seem to remember from my confirmation classes that banning beer is one of the deadly sins.

Auguste Ballz said...

SQT - The Niven reference says you may not be too young to remember the "streaking" silliness of '73-'74. Naked people "streaking" across sporting events or almost any public gathering.

I was a HS senior in the spring of '74, a member of the track team (shot put/discus) One day at practice a dozen or so of us decided streaking the girls varsity softball game was a good thing to do.

Forgetting the 3 day suspension, the real punishment came via the schoolwide ridicule re: shortcomings. Remember the Seinfeld "shrinkage" episode? The cool air of early spring. So to finally answer your question, all the flags were furled, so there wasn't anything that could possibly flap painfully in the breeze.

To this day the words 'gherkin' and 'mushroom cap' make me kick the dog.

SQT said...


I was rather young in the early 70's (born in '69) but I do remember seeing some streaking mentioned on the news every now and then. Niven's comment was so clever I always remembered it.

You know, that Seinfeld episode may have done men a favor. I had never heard of shrinkage until that episode-- I had no idea and I guess most women wouldn't. So now, all a guy has to do is say shrinkage and a woman might not think any less of him. Not that that did you any good at the time.

Funny story.

LawhawkSF said...

In one X Files episode, an alien virus has infested a remote station in Alaska in deep winter. Mulder has been dispatched there. At one point, the scientists decide that they must do a full physical inspection of everyone, naked. Mulder strips down, with his hands across his X-zone, and says something to the effect that he hopes everyone remembers where they are and how cold it is. I saved that for future reference. It can get very cold in San Francisco.

Auguste Ballz said...

SQT - A search at YouTube may spit out the clip of Niven getting streaked at the Oscar ceremony. If he didn't make the quip right at that moment, it certainly was what he was referring to.

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