Tracing its roots back to 1912, Bay to Breakers is one of the oldest continually run foot races in the country. It’s also undoubtedly one of the wildest, capturing the zany spirit of San Francisco like no other athletic event.
But the 7.46-mile race is about much more than donning a costume and swilling beer beyond the ever-growing watch of the cops. Here are seven reasons you should run the Bay to Breakers, from its fascinating history to the chance to see its speedy centipede runners in action to the downright insanity of it all.
1. It’s some of the best people-watching, guaranteed.
Not only do the runners (both registered runners and bandits) get into the spirit with seriously amazing, creative, wild costumes—everything from superheroes to pop culture icons to SF-centric inspiration like BART cars—the fans who line the streets really get into the action, too. Most dress up, some offer drinks to runners, and others just invite anyone and everyone to impromptu dance parties along the route. There’s still plenty of time to take in all that action as a participant (think of the current $70 registration fee as $10 per mile, which is a pretty sweet deal for all that entertainment).
2. It’s got one of the coolest mascots around.
The grinning, neon-pink gorilla that always leads off the pack of runners, officially named Ape Hashbury, is one popular dude. Case in point: Just try to get a selfie with him along the route.
3. You’ll be running in the footsteps of San Francisco history.
Bay to Breakers has been in existence for over 100 years, and the wackiness that has ensued in that time tends to overshadow the race's more somber history. Following the 1906 earthquake, as San Francisco began to rebuild from the rubble and ashes, officials thought that a race across the city could be a way to lift the spirits of locals. So, on New Year’s Day in 1912, 186 runners competed in the 12.1-kilometer Cross-City Race through downtown, which college student Bobby Vlught won in 44:10.
The race was eventually renamed Bay to Breakers, and in 1986, about 110,000 total participants, including registered runners and bandits, earned it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Footrace. One fact many people don’t know: Women were not allowed to compete until 1971, despite SF’s history as a progressive city.
4. You can carbo-load by snagging a tortilla mid-air at the start.
No one quite knows how the infamous tortilla toss got its start, and though race organizers aren’t fans of this quirky tradition, it’s still going strong. To see it in action, head to the starting line at Howard and Main streets (just follow the crowd) and look for all the flying discs.
5. Your birthday suit is an acceptable costume.
Also nicknamed Bare to Breakers, Bay to Breakers is one of the exceptions to San Francisco’s two-year ban on public nudity. In recent years, race officials have focused on making the race more family friendly, but you can still count on seeing plenty of below-the-belt bits (though we can’t vouch that running naked would be very comfortable, and where are you supposed to put your race number anyway?).
6. You may get smoked by a centipede.
Centipede running , in which groups of runners are attached by ropes or bungee cords, got its start at Bay to Breakers in 1978. The tradition has been running strong ever since, with several centipede categories, including elite teams who blaze through the course at blistering paces: just over a five-minute mile for the winning men's teams in recent years.
7. You can run the course backwards if you want.
Looking to make your Bay to Breakers experience even more memorable? Check out the ranks of runners who dress up as salmon and run the course backwards by “swimming” upstream. This zany group is always a spectacle and a crowd favorite, stopping to flop around at various points of the race.