Why SF’s Bay to Breakers Race Is Rife With Community

In 1986, San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers race had a staggering 110,000 registered runners — cementing its place as one of the most popular foot races anywhere in the world.

San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers race is one of the most popular and well-attended footraces on the planet. It’s estimated some 18,000 runners participate in the annual 12K each year — and that’s not accounting for the bipeds who run in tandem with the race or jump in from the sidelines. The parties that spill over the race, both during its entirety and afterward, are something of hyperlocal folklore.


(I vividly remember running my first Bay to Breakers race in 2016… which I then, somehow, found myself at a  Bay to Breakers-themed sex party in the Castro a few hours after crossing the finish line. Mind you, I showered before attending; I’m not entirely an undomesticated monster. I, too, ran the event’s first-ever virtual iteration that was spurred by the pandemic; it was fine, albeit eerie.)

For the uninitiated out there, race may exist as a point of contention. Roads close for hours. Traffic becomes mind-numbing. People who flail their lack of self-control with a corkscrew, crowding the sidewalks with their undomesticated antics before noon. Costumes, many abandoned for the sake of temporary comfort, occasionally litter the city (to hopefully be reclaimed in the near future). 

Regardless, Bay to Breakers — the nearly eight-mile-long race that extends from downtown San Francisco to Ocean Beach — is a running event like no other. And one that’s uniquely San Francisco.

We got the chance to chat with Aaron Triche, the merchandising director and “chief running expert” of the affordable shoe company Zappos, which has a multi-year fiscal sponsorship contract for Bay to Breakers, on the race itself and the community it helps build. (Spoiler alert: Its “fun run” foundation v, v, [v] much has a play in it.)

Matt Charnock: What makes Bay to Breakers such a hard race to complete — even for professional runners — but also such a blasty-blast?

Aaron Triche: Comparatively speaking, I wouldn’t consider this a particularly difficult race… it’s a little over 7 miles, which can be daunting, but not as long as a half marathon at 13.1 miles. There are some hilly stretches that will get uncomfortable (like Hayes Hill), but that’s offset by the fun nature of the race – although some run it for time, It’s not an inherently competitive race, so runners are encouraged to stop, take in the scenery and the crowds, the events along the course, the costumes, all that… run/walk at your own pace and enjoy it!


MC: The running community around Bay to Breakers is really something special — what do you think contributes to it?

AT: It’s one of the oldest races in the world, and it’s built on being a “fun run.” As the years have gone on, spectators and race organizers have found ways to evolve the event and increase participation not just for runners, but spectators and residents as well. Beyond that, the running community is naturally a fun, inclusive bunch, which people come to realize as they get more involved… Bay to Breakers offers a chance to let that quirkiness out!


MC:  Any tips for people who are on the fence about running the race… and why should they, if they can? 

AT: It’s such a great place to meet new people and forge new relationships, and it’s an awesome race to introduce yourself to organized races… you can totally walk it if you want! It’s no pressure, all about fun and weirdness, the scenery is beautiful, and everyone there wants to create an awesome experience, including the participants themselves! If you plan on actually running, don’t empty the tank out of the gate… those hills can get you, so pace yourself and then take advantage of the flats and downhills

Photo: Courtesy of Instagram via [at]mooncricketfilms

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