Bay to Breakers’ influence extends beyond San Francisco 

Every year since 1988, the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders, the East Bay’s oldest running club, has scheduled its Tilden Tough Ten race for the very same day as Zazzle Bay to Breakers. The timing is no accident.

Click on the photo at right to see more on how San Francisco's Bay to Breakers has influenced other races.

Two years earlier, in 1986, Bay to Breakers drew more than 110,000 people to the streets of San Francisco and the event had a reputation as being a bit raucous.

“We figured, why not offer runners another option to the Bay to Breakers madness?” said Len Goldman, former president of the 700-member running club. “A little more serious type of race, with a distance that requires some training to be able to run it, and a challenging course.”

The Tilden Tough Ten became the first local race to take on the “800-pound gorilla” of Bay to Breakers. Yet this year there were many, including two 10Ks and a 5K in the South Bay.

Marin County’s Dipsea Race, now in its 101st year, began in tandem with Bay to Breakers. Its path has since diverged — partially out of necessity, said race announcer and historian Barry Spitz, who noted the Dipsea’s treacherous trails demand a more conservative approach. Attendance was capped at 1,500 in 1977, and you won’t find a costumed runner anywhere near the Dipsea.

“It’s just too dangerous to mess around,” Spitz said.

Elsewhere, however, Bay to Breakers’ innovations have evolved and left their mark.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series launched in San Diego in 1998 with the idea that marathoners might appreciate some music; the international series now features 21 events.

Public relations manager Dan Cruz said the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon wasn’t directly inspired by Bay to Breakers, but the lineage is clear.

“Each race is more than a race in its essence,” he said. “That’s why I think both races have become so successful.”

At the prestigious Boston and New York City marathons, the San Francisco race has likewise had an impact. Thirteen-runner centipedes have competed in both events, and New York finally instituted a post-race concert in 2010, 28 years after Bay to Breakers did it.

Costumes, too, have found their way to the eastern seaboard. Last year, the Boston Marathon, that sentinel of serious American road races, saw a squad of 20 local college students tackle the course with hamburger costumes suspended around their waist.

It seems Bay to Breakers is on to something.


World’s oldest footraces:

Olney Pancake Race

  • Est. 1445
  • 415 yards
  • Olney, England

Carnwath Red Hose Race

  • Est. 1508
  • 3 miles
  • Carnwath, Scotland

New Year Sprint

  • Est. 1870
  • 110 meters
  • Edingburgh, Scotland

Bemis-Forslund Pie Race

  • Est. 1891
  • 4.3 miles
  • Mount Hermon, Mass.

Clonliffe 2 Mile

  • Est. 1892
  • 2 miles
  • Dublin, Ireland

Modern Olympic Marathon

  • Est. 1896
  • 26.2 miles
  • Location varies

Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot

  • Est. 1896
  • 4.97 miles
  • Buffalo, N.Y.

Boston Marathon

  • Est. 1897
  • 26.2 miles
  • Boston

Dipsea Race

  • Est. 1905
  • 7.5 miles
  • Mill Valley

Yonkers Marathon

  • Est. 1907
  • 26.2 miles
  • Yonkers, N.Y.

Bay to Breakers

  • Est. 1912
  • 7.46 miles
  • San Francisco

Souce: Various

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Nate Seltenrich

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