Finishing Time: 1:08:31
Training: Three runs a week for the previous four weeks of 5 – 12 miles each
Overall Recovery: A two-hour cat nap immediately following the race
YOU DON’T RUN San Francisco’s Zappos Bay to Breakers 12k to set a PR or, if you’re as pale as me, to achieve a nasty sunburn on the tops of your shoulders during the race itself. You don’t necessarily run it for the prominent nudity (though, no judgment if you do) or for the truly epic costumes you’re sure to see.
You run Zappos Bay to Breakers because it’s a staple on your Running Bucket List – and if it’s not already #1 or even #10, read on for a few reasons it should be.
But first, how does a Philadelphian find herself on the West Coast, pale skin browning (burning?) under the blazing San Francisco sun?
I pull off the East Coast look convincingly well enough: dressing in navy and dark professional attire most of the time, ability to doge oncoming traffic like a boss and a slight distaste for the summer months. However, I am a native Californian.
Originally from the San Fernando Valley area, I had grown up hearing about the San Francisco 12k run into the Pacific Ocean. When my college friend brought up the run six months ago and my family members already residing in the area and generously able to provide a place for us to stay, the trip seemed to plan itself.
Urban Runner Tip: Even if you don’t have relatives in the San Francisco area, the race has deals with various hotels for cheap rates.
An Account of Zappos Bay to Breakers 12k
THE EXPO –
Located on Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 35, the expo ran smoothly, quietly and efficiently. Although it was significantly smaller than any Philly 1/2 mari or full mari with which I’m familiar, the Zappos Bay to Breakers expo had lots of mini stalls boasting various California organic and locally-grown health-food items.
The expo remained open Friday – Saturday before the race on Sunday. Since it was located in touristy Fisherman’s Wharf (akin to Philly’s Walnut shopping area minus the barking seals and the water), non-locals have the option of exploring the area’s shipyard and various seafood eateries. I indulged in clam chowder in a breadbowl as the sea lions barked and sunned themselves across the pier.
If touristy seaside piers are not so much your thing, you can still kill time any number of ways the day before the race: touring Alcatraz via ferry, exploring Chinatown, eating your way through Little Italy like I did (it’s carbo-loading, right guys?) or checking out the rolling and steep hills of San Francisco’s famous crooked Lombard Street via cable car.
Getting to the Start Line –
… was not difficult for a race as large as Zappos Bay to Breakers since parking was FREE ON SUNDAYS in San Francisco (are you listening, PPA??). And all you have to do, we discovered, is follow the gaggles of college students in costume (or “pockets of youth” as my cousin referred to them). We surmised the “pockets of youth” quite possibly started out partying the night before and just never went to sleep; deeply impressive to me – five years ago I could barely pull an all-nighter let alone party into the early hours of the day!
The costumes – and lack thereof – were many: groups of fit-looking men in Wonder Woman outfits, every kind of superhero, wig color and cape getup imaginable. In fact, our group, consisting of my friend and cousins were in the minority with our shorts and running gear.
As for the nudity, well, I had been expecting more of it. I’d counted maybe six courageous people in total. Lots of people, however, ran shirtless or in Under Armour but full-on nakedness was hard to come by.
THE COURSE –
We found our corral signs but due to the excessive amount of people running, it took 20 minutes after the crowds dissipated to even squeeze into the corral itself and then another 15 minutes for the slow moving crowds to get us to the start line. There was also so much talking and excitement that we couldn’t make out the National Anthem (the singing being one of my favorite aspects of racing).
Unlike the urgency with which I’m familiar on the East Coast, once our corral got to the start line, everyone carried on walking. My cousin and I wove through the various costumed walkers and at about 2 miles in, we’d created our own running bubble past the contented walkers.
But now we’ve gotten to Hayes Hill and I’m gasping on the sun-blasted course – I’d been expecting a hill like this – it is after all, San Francisco, eh? – and boy does it test my legs. The only steep incline on the course, Hayes Hill is a vertical climb. Runners are parting all around us and stopping to walk (hike?) up the steepness. My cousin and I push through and the streets, which up till now have been residential, start to become more nature-like with trees lining the course.
Nearing mile 4 on this 12k journey we are running through beautiful Golden Gate Park – complete with its own waterfall!
The course curves through grass fields and it’s not long before we can smell the salt of the Pacific Ocean. The Dutch Windmill looms ahead of us, waving in greeting signaling the end of the race is near.
The last quarter mile is a straight-shot to the finish lined with spectators. Once through the finish, volunteers hand out medals shaped like boom boxes – truly epic!
While there is no line per say through which runners can get their post-race snacks, the post-race festivities are lined with snack stalls where everyone is milling around taking treats.
My cousin and I sit amongst the snack stalls in the sunbaked salty air and wait for the rest of our group to gather. It is peaceful here.
Overall Experience –
Zappos Bay to Breakers 12k is the race you hear about in all its glory: costumes, drunk spectators and (some) naked people. It encompasses the sunny disposition of the West Coast with its all-accepting, all-fun attitude, the race that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Everything from the expo to the starting and ending points, to the course itself and participants naked and clothed alike helped to make a positive experience an even more exciting one than I’d anticipated.
If I had to constructively criticize one aspect of the race, it would be to tighten regulations or put in place a rule about walkers: even in corral B, I would’ve liked not to have had to dodge walkers or participants who just stopped in the middle of the street. I’m sure it would be nearly impossible to police, but if walkers had a different start time, perhaps an hour later, that would certainly ease up the bottlenecked, chocked streets. As a serious runner, I nearly careened into several participants who were stopped in the middle of the road.
Besides that one note, Zappos Bay to Breakers is just what you expect it to be: joyous, slightly inebriated, costumed and an all-around blast.
Take any of these reasons and push Zappos Bay to Breakers to the top of your Running Bucket List for next year. San Francisco will welcome you with open, naked arms.