Bay to Breakers, the time-honored footrace that snakes through San Francisco every third Sunday in May, may be widely known for its zaniness and, in recent years, misbehavior.
But race organizers are hoping that changes instituted last year will continue to recast the race as one that celebrates the race’s fun-loving spirit while also respecting neighbors and the city.
Organizers of the annual footrace and Supervisor Christina Olague, whose district includes the infamous Hayes Street hill as well as the 7.5-mile course’s Fell Street section, met atop Alamo Square this afternoon to speak about their expectations for this Sunday’s 101st running of the country’s wackiest footrace.
Olague said she has always supported the race from the sidelines and expects this year’s race to be even better than last year’s because of ongoing coordination with neighbors to strike a balance between safety and fun.
Police plan to focus their efforts on ensuring that traffic flows smoothly around the course and that participants and observers have fun–within reason.
“We will enforce fun and restrict the things that detract from fun,” such as public drunkenness (and public urination), Deputy Chief Denise Schmitt said this afternoon. “It really is about the spirit of San Francisco and capitalizing on all the positive energy that comes to town.”
Tom Sweeney, the legendary doorman of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel who will be running his 36th Bay to Breakers on Sunday, said the race is great for the hotel industry because it attracts participants from across the country and around the world.
“People fly in and stay at our hotels, so the race is an important event for us,” said Sweeney, a San Francisco native who ran his first Bay to Breakers in 1972 and became hooked on the race because of the finish line’s proximity to his home.
He has run the race in his signature doorman’s uniform seven times, but with 44 uniforms, he said, getting one sweaty hardly interferes with his professional appearance.
For Sweeney, an avid marathoner, the race is a stroll around the block.
For Ken Byk, the race is “a healthy reminder to celebrate life.”
Byk, 54, had often run in medium-distance races and, despite a family history of heart problems, said before that Bay to Breakers in 2010 that he had never considered his heart health.
But as he crossed the finish line, he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest, losing his pulse for 20 minutes.
One nearby runner, Dr. Ruth Rodgers, a medical doctor and anesthesiologist, quickly responded and successfully resuscitated Byk.
“There’s no better place or time it could have happened,” he said.
“Something told me to get to the finish line.”
After undergoing surgery and learning he has coronary artery disease, Byk slowly returned to training, lacing up his running shoes for the first time about three months before last year’s race and using a heart rate monitor to adjust the intensity of his workouts.
When he takes to the starting line on Sunday, he and about a dozen friends will don special T-shirts Byk had printed as a reminder of his unlikely return to the race after his death-defying experience.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said in one of the orange Bucknell shirts, a nod to the running outfit he wore the day he returned from the dead.
Patricia Decker, Bay City News