Bay to Breakers, an only-in-San-Francisco institution, marks its centennial in 2011: The mobile free-for-all, known for its clever costumes, wheeled contraptions, ingenious floats, high alcohol consumption, clog of official and unofficial joggers and a handful of swift Kenyans, turns 100 on May 15, 2011. On that day, ironically, many of those signature Bay to Breakers elements will be missing, if the race organizers have their way. Will the 100th birthday still be a party?
There are official public parties before and after the race, off the course. Bay to Breakers, though, is on probation.
Over the past few years, the debauchery accompanying the 12K event escalated enough that the ING financial group withdrew its sponsorship after the 2010 running. Residents along the race course complained about drunkenness and trash, urine and damage left by spectators and runners.
For months no one stepped up to take ING’s place. The centennial race looked like it’d be a non-starter. Finally Zazzle, a Redwood-City-based website that produces custom T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise, signed up for two years of sponsorship.
"This is a test year," San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Ross Mirkarimi has said to the media. "This is a barometer year."
Bay to Breakers 2011: New Nos
The race operators don’t expect the crowds to be chastened, so they’ve issued new rules-- mostly restrictions. No floats in the race. No wheeled objects. No pets. No late or last-minute registration. No unregistered or bib-less runners. No headphones (which seems draconian). No alcohol (a rule long on the books, but rarely enforced).
All of the above will be strictly monitored by battalions of police, security guards and volunteers, they say. The 2011 Bay to Breakers also begins an hour earlier, at 7 am, and the 55,000 registered runners are assigned staggered starting times from 7 am until 8:30 am.
Bay to Breakers traditionalists, meanwhile, are determined to battle what they regard as the sterilization of a unique San Francisco spectacle. If you’re not registered, you can buy a Bay to Breakers bib on Craigslist--or, as in previous years, just merge with the runners anywhere but at the starting line, they suggest. Blogs talk about hiding beer on the run and argue that meaningful enforcement of the restrictions is impossible.
New Potty Heroes Campaign
Zazzle is also trying positive reinforcement. To persuade the rudest and crudest folks that cleaning up Bay to Breakers can be fun, Zazzle’s using strategies that could be found in a kindergarten teacher’s manual. It’s supplying encouragement: yard signs to steer people off lawns and toward Porta Potties. “Hold it! Almost there! POTTIES JUST AHEAD,” one such sign reads. The signs are free for the asking by residents.
Should you follow the signs and pee in any of the more than 1,000 Porta Potties along the route (i.e., not in someone’s flower bed or against a wall), you become a Potty Hero—no joke. In fact, a potty attendant will award you a hero’s wristband on the spot. Then you can pose next to a placard declaring “I PEED TODAY…ask me about it.”
Come Sunday, you could be dead last. You might not even reach the breakers of the Pacific Ocean. But you can still be a winner.
BAY TO BREAKERS 2011
May 15, 2011
Start: 7 am at Howard and Beale streets.
Finish: 12 pm at the Great Highway.