Tens of thousands of runners and revelers took part in the 102nd Bay to Breakers race Sunday, under clear skies and the watchful eyes of an expanded police presence.
From elite Ethiopian distance runners to people dressed as hot dogs, nearly 30,000 registered participants and many other unofficial entrants took off from Howard and Main streets, heading 7.46 miles to a fog-free Ocean Beach.
The first competitor to cross the finish line was 23-year-old Tolossa Gedefa Fufi of Ethiopia, with a time of 35:01 – the slowest winning time since 2003, and only the second time since 1984 that a winner took longer than 35 minutes to finish. Ryan Hall, 30, who was trying to be the first American to win the race since 1986, finished second in 35:40.
The winner of the women’s race was Diane Nukuri-Johnson, 28, of Burundi. She crossed the line in 40:12, a scant two seconds in front of 27-year-old Adrienne Herzog of the Netherlands.
Some elite runners blamed this year’s slower pace on a change in the course, which required more turns in Golden Gate Park toward the end. But Nukuri-Johnson, running the race for the second time, said the alteration didn’t lessen her enjoyment.
“I love it. I’m definitely more relaxed when I come here,” she said of the wacky race. “It’s fun to meet the (non-elites), too – all the people in costumes. But at the same time, we’re here to compete.”
As always, though, the Breakers was less about the race than the party.
Alcohol was officially banned, but that didn’t stop Sean Afshar, 21, of Berkeley, who paused at the corner of Howard and New Montgomery Street with three friends to mix Smirnoff vodka with orange juice.
“You know, they say that every year,” Afshar said. “But you can say that Sean Afshar says go for it!”
On the dreaded Hayes Street Hill, Jimi Paschal, 50, and her friends eased the pain of aching calves by blasting DJ music, flipping burgers and handing out free Jell-O shots to passersby. A crowd of at least 100 swirled around the house.
The crew spent almost $1,000 this year on their party – including $400 on food and nearly as much on Mardi Gras beads to toss on runners. Their bash is now a 12-year tradition.
“When we first started this we had to beg people to come. Now we’re turning them away,” said Renee James, another organizer.
David Minor stood outside his house on the hill, spraying water over the heads of the revelers. He’s done it for the last nine races.
“I don’t do it for the serious runners since I don’t want to distract them, but I turn it on right after they go by,” Minor said. “It cools everyone down as they’re climbing this big hill.”
Even authorities got in on the fun.
One American Medical Response paramedic broke company rules and rigged his ambulance to blast Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” from the vehicle’s PA system.
“You know, sometimes you just gotta keep the people happy,” the paramedic said as revelers whooped, hollered and danced around him.
A larger-than-usual police force also stood guard throughout the route, extra-vigilant after the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Large backpacks were banned for the first time this year. Police were taking no chances – even the elite runners had their belongings checked, and officers on the police scanner were heard looking for “someone in a gorilla suit” who had abandoned a pack near the start of the race.
The race announcer asked runners at the starting line to be just as vigilant: “Remember: If you see something, say something. And please, use the 1,000 Porta Potties along the route.”
Meanwhile, a seemingly endless flow of racers continued to pour through city streets, though the number of registered runners was down slightly from last year.
Michael Costa, 53, sipped his Starbucks coffee downtown and watched the costumed runners trot by.
Peter Weir came from even farther away. The 50-year-old Australian marveled at the diversity of San Francisco as he leaned on a railing near Moscone Center, where his wife was participating in the American Psychiatric Association conference.
Miles to the west, runners who had completed the race stopped to take photos. Some made a right turn into Golden Gate Park, while others brought the party to the beach.
Down at the breakers, where temperatures were in the 60s, the beach was packed. More than one naked runner further communed with nature by dipping their feet in the surf.
Along the Great Highway were lines for bathrooms and T-shirts. By far the longest was the ID check for a 21-and-over wrist band.
You cross the finish line, get your free coconut water, and walk a few more steps and voila – you’re drinking beer in the middle of the Great Highway beside decorative shrubs and potted palms.
The place was packed by midmorning – but quickly thinned out as the party moved to Golden Gate Park, or back home for a hot bath.