Bay to Breakers

The Bay to Breakers is an annual footrace which takes place in San Francisco, California. The name reflects the fact that the race starts at the northeast end of the downtown area a few blocks from The Embarcadero (adjacent to the bay) and runs west through the city to finish at the Great Highway (adjacent to the Pacific coast, where breakers crash onto Ocean Beach). The race is 7.46 miles (12 kilometers) long, and is run on the third Sunday in May.


Started in 1912 as a way to lift the city's spirits after the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is the longest consecutively running footrace in the world (other races' courses and lengths have changed over time). During World War II participation sometimes slipped below 50 registrants, but the tradition carried on and the race held the Guinness World Record for the highest participation footrace with nearly 110,000 runners from 1986 to 1994 when it lost it against the Cursa of Barcelona. That record number was partly the product of the running fad of the 1980s; currently the average participation is between 70,000 and 80,000. The San Francisco Examiner publishes a list of the first 10,000 finishers the day after the race each year.

Large numbers of participants walk the route behind the runners. Some participants dress in elaborate costumes or, though not technically allowed, wear nothing at all (except footwear), thus lending a party atmosphere to the event. One festive tradition is the tortilla toss, during which runners throw tortillas at one another to pass time (similar to balloon-batting at rock concerts). This was originated by Kinry Louie back in the early 90s. Years before the tortilla tossing started people used to throw their clothes and beach balls around up in the air as it was amusing to watch the flying clothes on television. As Kinry Louie was leaving for the race and knowing that he could not part with his clothes and didn't have a beach ball; he noticed that he had a number of bags of tortilla in the kitchen and thought that it would be cheaper to fly them like frisbees (because they were soft and would not hurt anyone) so he handed out bags of tortillas to his friends who were with him at the Bay to Breakers race and started flinging them.

Bay to Breakers is also the world's premier event for "centipede racers." Competing teams in the centipede race must consist of a minimum of 13 runners tethered together, usually in some artistic fashion. An additional runner, a floater, usually the team captain, is allowed to run along untethered to pace the team or substitute for drop out runner. Despite the novelty, the centipede race is very competitive. The centipede winners used to have better finishing records than the women's division until just a decade ago.

Other oddities are always on the scene, including traditional characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, as well as other unique characters spawned for the race. There is also a group of "salmon," runners who don fish-like hats and start at the finish line to run upstream through the participants.

The route is typically dotted with various local bands performing. At the end of the race is "Footstock", a gathering where participants and spectators can enjoy musical performances by various musical acts.


The course begins at the northeast end and runs southwest through downtown just south of Market Street. It then turns west along Hayes Street and up Hayes Street Hill near Alamo Square. This is the only major incline in the race. After the hill, the race runs along the panhandle and then west through Golden Gate Park, past the Conservatory of Flowers, all the way to Great Highway and Ocean Beach.


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