I Survived Hayes Street Hill

By Sal Citarella

For the benefit of Gazette readers in the Middle Atlantic States, this can mean only one thing: I participated in the Bay to Breakers (B2B or BetaBreakers), and I want you to understand that everything you have ever heard about this event has probably been understated. It is no myth. This was the 93rd running, the race having begun in 1912.

I will tell you all about it. OK, you think we’re all gay, out here. The only alternative lifestyle I chose is the absence of humidity and mosquitoes.

I had run the event once before, in 1972. I had not done it again, because I considered it too big even then (2,585 finishers). But this year, having returned to the area, and being past the point where I can race, I let myself be talked into participating.

If the logistics of most big-city marathons are almost prohibitive, how about a field of 60,000 to 80,000, for a mere 7.5 mile run? There is no reliable count of total participants, and I suspect the local media has an interest in inflating the numbers. Registration gets you a T-shirt bearing “I Survived Hayes Street Hill,” but bandit runners coming in from every side street by the thousands is the norm. People drop in and drop out all day long. Guinness’s has certified it as the world’s largest footrace.

Like Boston, Baltimore and other harbor towns, there is no direct way for many to get to SF. Most people have to cross water. I took the ferry and the ride was worth it for its own sake. The early morning sun rising over the hills was outstanding. It’s a fact that there are men in San Quentin prison who killed to see this view.

Fortunately for me, I have a friend who lives in a downtown condo just 10 minutes walk from the start, so we had a good position and stood in place for only half an hour. There are seeded positions for the stars, but I could at least see the starting line and to my surprise, we could shuffle immediately from the gun. The pre-start time is used for tossing tortillas. I don’t know the origin of the custom, but as another runner commented, ‘they’re carbo rich, biodegradable and no one gets hurt.”

I didn’t race, but I’m pleased that I did run the entire course and moved slowly up through the throng at a reasonable Geezer pace. The race goes cross-city from the downtown financial district in the shadow of the Bay Bridge (that’s the working man’s bridge, not the more scenic Golden Gate) to the Pacific Ocean on the city’s west side. Hayes Street is the one significant hill that takes on all the local mystique of Heartbreak.

In addition to a first class race going on somewhere up front, there was a costume competition, centipede competition (13 team members linked by a common costume), and, yes, Virginia, there were naked runners.

The race instructions stated unequivocally, that naked running was not allowed. The SF newspaper gave the police position as that they would not attempt to eject naked runners from the field, but anyone so running must cover up upon finishing, or face arrest.

Since I actually ran the race, instead of walking, socializing, and taking advantage of the numerous opportunities for beer, cocktails, even champagne along the way, I missed most of the color. Traditionally, there are several groups that run pushing cocktail bars, or at least kegs, for the full course. I wore my Boston Hash House Harriers shirt, but did not see the antics of any of the local H3 chapters.

There were at least a dozen naked male runners that I saw. Some butts were firmer than others, but I didn’t turn around to check out any other attributes.

I saw several naked men running abreast, but alas, I saw no naked running women’s breasts. They were there, but I missed them.

For many, the highlight of the day was Footstock: live music, freebies and schlock-for-sale. While I was waiting at a prearranged reference point for my friends, I finally got my award. There was a young woman waiting around the immediate area dressed in a snug, brief, Wonder Woman costume. Actually, it was body paint. She was naked as the day she was born, but no one would admit it. Two police (one male, one female) walked by and never turned an eye.

Her nonchalance fascinated me, so I hung around with my shades on, observing for the sake of this report. Every time some man asked to take her picture, or have one taken with her, her face would light up with a pleased smile. Some men took very tight close-ups.

Reluctantly, I finally went to the beer garden with my friends. Identification was required. This caught me by surprise; in an environment where some didn’t even wear shorts, we were expected to have wallets? I guess it was self evident that I was past puberty, 18, 21 or whatever the requirement was, but not yet senile, so they let me in. To my surprise, the first beer was free. Each time I went to the table, I approached a different attendant and that first one was free! Was this a great event or what?

Finally, it was time to go. I had purchased an overpriced muni pass for the special return trip busses, but that line was as long as you might expect, so my friends led us to another part of the city system. We used the time honored technique of getting on by the back door, so my unused ticket really paid for all of us. I think it was fair.

I watched the TV coverage later in the day to see what had actually gone on up front. Two dozen Elvises in white jumpsuits briefly took the lead. Once the three Kenyans separated themselves, though, you couldn’t even see the rest of the field on TV.

The winner was Benjamin Maiyo, in 34:50 with James Koskei, who had won the previous three years, in second at 35:01. The women’s winner was Russian Albina Ivanova, in 39:56.

Now, I state the following merely to put my experience in perspective. The results website gave my position as 2,189th of 45,000 official entrants, in 1:08:43 gun time. I wish I had turned around! What in hell were the rest of them doing behind me? Apparently, I wasted my day.

Editor’s Note: Sal wrote this in 2004. Since May 15 was B2B day, he thought it would be fun to reminisce.

Categories: Features

1 reply

  1. has always been on my bucket list…someday…


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