River of runners taking over SF 

click to enlarge Bay to Breakers
  • S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Tens of thousands of runners are expected to join the roving Bay to Breakers party from the Financial District to the Great Highway, so expect to see even more wild wigs and crazy costumes than usual today.

San Francisco will be cut in half this morning by a 40,000-strong footrace that will undoubtedly include the costumes, banners and all sorts of zany gear -- and no gear at all -- that give the race its particular flavor.

In past years, that Bay to Breakers flavor has included people dressed as stormtroopers, pink gorillas, ducks and fish -- and sometimes nothing at all.

While much of the same is expected this year, organizers of the event in its 103rd year have a few provisos (some might call them wet blankets): no alcohol, no wheeled objects and no bags except for clear ones no larger than a piece of binder paper.

Also, all runners must have their race bibs on.

The race will begin an hour later than usual, at 8 a.m., a block off The Embarcadero. It ends 12 kilometers (7.46 miles) later at Ocean Beach.

The course begins at Main Street and runs down Howard Street to Ninth Street. It then jogs along Hayes Street until it swerves onto Fell Street at Divisadero Street. Once into Golden Gate Park, the course follows John F. Kennedy Drive. The last short leg takes Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Lincoln Avenue and finally the Great Highway.

Everyone who makes it that far will receive a finish medal and a shirt.

New race owner the Wasserman Media Group has increased security by 20 percent this year and will provide more portable bathrooms as well.

At the finish line, the Finish Line Festival will be held until 1 p.m.

The race, first called the Cross City Race, started in 1912 in an effort to lift The City's spirits following the 1906 earthquake. According to organizers, Bay to Breakers is the world's oldest continuously held footrace and one of the largest.

Clothing now less optional at race

When Bobby Vlught beat 139 other runners in the 1912 Cross City Race -- which would later be rechristened Bay to Breakers -- he was wearing shorts and a tank top, modest attire compared to some later runners.

The anonymous, albeit exposed, members of Bare to Breakers have created a race-day tradition all their own. The first nude runner came in 1978 when a nurse named Leslie Josephson crossed town sans clothes.

Unless you count the yellow polyester ball caps with two naked cartoon runners on them, these racers are stark naked.

But since 2009, when a ban on nudity and some other festive activities went into effect, the group has faced more than gawkers and the usual mouths-agape runners in the race.

"Nudity's always been banned," Police Chief Greg Suhr said Tuesday at a media event for the race. "I'm gonna ask for people to keep their clothes on."

Suhr was among city leaders -- from Mayor Ed Lee to supervisors London Breed and Katy Tang -- warning nude runners that they are not welcome. The racecourse runs through Breed's and Tang's respective districts.

While the warnings mostly came across as tongue-in-cheek -- "If you're going to come unclothed, don't forget to wear your sunscreen," Tang said -- they were backed up by a sterner warning from Suhr.

"I'm the rules guy," he cautioned.

Way before Supervisor Scott Wiener's 2012 citywide nudity ban or the race's own ban in 2009, a group of bare runners won a legal battle that for a time let them participate in the event au natural.

That precedent was set in 1993 via a lawsuit that came after a group of nude runners was arrested when entering Golden Gate Park without a permit for nudity. They eventually became the Bare to Breakers, according to the group's website.

Represented by the aptly named William G. Stripp, the group of eight arrested runners had the case dropped and ran nude up until the nudity ban.

"It would appear that the prohibition of public nudity has an exception for parades and for ... Bay to Breakers," said Stripp, who now lives in New Mexico.

But since race organizers have banned the clothes-less, no such exception will be in place.

Ban or not, according to "the official webpage of the most ultimate nude 'streak' in the world," there will be someone, somewhere, without clothes on at today's race.

They won't be hard to find. Just look for a ... yellow cap.

103rd annual Bay to Breakers

When: Today, 8 a.m.

Where: Starts at Main and Howard streets, then bisects The City and finishes at the Great Highway

Distance: 12 kilometers (7.46 miles)

Post-race: Awards ceremony, 10:30 a.m.; concert, 11 a.m.-noon

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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