Chinese New Year: Many are getting a running start to the Year of the Ram 

click to enlarge The Chinatown YMCA sponsors the San Francisco Chinese New Year Run, which is its biggest fundraiser. - COURTESY YSFCHINATOWNRUN.ORG
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  • The Chinatown YMCA sponsors the San Francisco Chinese New Year Run, which is its biggest fundraiser.
It’s perhaps the only race in the country in which participants dress up as a single zodiac animal.

This year, on March 1, they will dress up as rams, the zodiac animal for this Chinese New Year.

The San Francisco Chinese New Year Run, in its 37th consecutive year, has drawn between 1,500 and 1,800 runners and walkers each year for the past five years. It is unique not only because participants are encouraged to look like the zodiac animal whose year it is — and can win a prize for best dressed — but also because it is the only city-approved race with a course solely through Chinatown, the Financial District and downtown.

“It’s because of the tradition, because of what we’ve been doing in the past,” said Andy Chu, associate executive director of the Chinatown YMCA, which puts on the race yearly as its biggest fundraiser that brings in up to $35,000.

Having about 1,800 participants “is kind of like the sweet spot,” Chu said, explaining that having too many more could require closing city streets for more than 3½ hours and cause permitting issues.

“Yes, we want some new runners, we want maybe 100 more,” he said. “We want it to grow, but it’s a small run that can’t be too big. If someone is not going to run this year, we want to replace them with someone and add a little bit.”

The 5-kilometer and double-loop 10-kilometer runs used to be called the Chinatown Marathon. The races start at 8 a.m. at Grant Avenue and Sacramento Street. the course heads north to North Point Street and loops around The Embarcadero, then cuts west around The Embarcadero, then cuts west and ends at Kearny and Sacramento streets.

It has grown over the years primarily through word of mouth in the community. Last year, 75 percent of participants came from the Bay Area and 18 percent were age 30 to 39, another 18 percent were 40 to 49, 17 percent were 20 to 29, 16 percent were 10 to 19, with the remaining age groups below 10 percent. Some professional runners use the Chinese New Year run as a practice for marathons.

“It will never be like the Nike Marathon or anything like that, but we are always trying to solicit new sponsors,” said Monica Lai, membership and communications director for the Chinatown YMCA. “The YMCA has national recognition, but we do have a hard time doing this race because of limited resources.”

Prospective participants can sign up for the race at

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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