Families show up to honor Bay to Breakers racing heritage 

James “Spider” Haran of San Francisco, so nicknamed because of his leggy physique, entered Bay to Breakers history when he took first place among 37 finishers on a sunny March day in 1942. This year, seven decades later, members of his family will gather in San Francisco to honor his memory.

Click on the photo to the right for more pictures of Bay to Breakers family history.

Before Sunday’s anniversary, Haran’s son Terry, now 60 and living in Boulder, Colo., had last run Bay to Breakers around 1980. Together with his wife and seven family members otherwise dispersed throughout Northern California, Haran will run this year’s race in memory of his father and two of his sisters who recently died.

“You get a little nostalgic about things like this,” he said. The entire clan will sport T-shirts reading “ ‘Spider’ Haran — 1st place 1942 Bay to Breakers.”

Some occasions have a way of bringing people together, and the Harans aren’t the only Bay to Breakers family to recognize a former winner at the race’s 100th running.

Bob Burnett, grandson of inaugural victor Bobby Vlught, is coming from Houston to lead a group of relatives in participating for the first time.

He’d been planning the trip since before last year’s race, he said, and even made a special visit in March to lend his grandfather’s 1912 trophy to the race expo’s retrospective exhibit.

The Preston family, descendents of three-time winner Ed Preston and first female runner Bobbie Burke, have maintained closer ties to the race over the years, but saw the anniversary as an occasion to celebrate.

Eight family members living up and down the state registered — from James Preston, son of Ed and Bobbie, who celebrated his 65th birthday at the race, to his son Scott, a seeded runner, to 2-year-old Hadley.

They, too, will wear T-shirts touting the accomplishments of their forerunners.

Mary Blanchard is both a trailblazer herself and the daughter of Bay to Breakers legends. Born in 1963, she was only 5 when she first ran the race in 1968. Six years later, she famously won the 1974 Bay to Breakers in record time. She went on to win in 1975 and ’76, too.

Earlier, her mother Mary had been one of the first women to sneak into the race, and her father, John, had been instrumental in establishing the Dolphin South End Runners, The City’s oldest running club.

All told, Blanchard, who remains the race’s youngest-ever winner, has participated in Bay to Breakers some 20 times.

“It brings back great memories of my family running together,” she said. “It’s like going home when I go to the race.”

 

Grandson races in memory of two-time winner

“The genes from my grandfather didn’t flow down for running,” said Bob Burnett, descendant of inaugural Bay to Breakers winner Bobby Vlught. “The sportsmanship did, though.”

Along with his wife, daughter, niece and nephew, the 62-year-old Houston resident and avid cyclist will participate in the Bay to Breakers for the first time this year to honor the twin victories of his grandfather, who Burnett says never really talked about his back-to-back wins in 1912 and 1913.

“What’s really exciting to me is to dig more into the history of the race and learn more about the accomplishments that he achieved,” Burnett said of the race. “I’m very excited about doing this, and I know he’d appreciate it.”

 

Three generations will walk together in this year’s race

Alvin Siegal, who will turn 88 this August, is a former marathon runner as well as a philanthropist.

His stepson, Kirk Schneider, 55, is a Bay Area psychologist and author, and Benjamin Schneider, 16, grandson of Alvin and son of Kirk, is a standout high school basketball player. All were in the race last year in which Kirk ran while Alvin and Benjamin walked, but this year all three will walk together.

During his late 50s, Alvin began running marathons in his native Cleveland, as well as New York, Boston and Chicago, and ran in 23 marathons until his back began to give out at age 72.

Following a period of rehabilitation and a triple bypass in 2001, Alvin restarted an invigorating exercise regimen of daily walks with his wife, Laura, age 80.

After his first Bay to Breakers experience three years ago, Kirk told Alvin about the joy of running amid enthusiastic crowds, soaring rock bands and vibrant, eye-opening costumes.

Alvin first participated last year with his grandson, witnessing what he described as one of the most remarkable spectacles of his life when such a festive, high-spirited yet respectful crowd could participate together in one race.

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Nate Seltenrich

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