Bay To Breakers 2019, or the 108th running of the race event that’s from one end of San Francisco to the other, finished in the rain on Sunday. Sadly, this blogger wasn’t there, and after running it for a streak of 19 times between 1988 and 2007, with one miss in 1992, and only because it rained cats and dogs. But this time, not being around to run or walk it, I wanted to see what the Bay To Breakers 2019 looked like from a social media perspective. But, before we look at that, a brief retrospective is in order.
Remember When The Bay To Breakers Had Floats and 10,000 Cups Of Miller Beer?
As stated above, I go all the way back to 1988 with the Bay To Breakers. My first run time was 1:04:30 – one hour, four minutes, and 30 seconds. The reason for my great time was mostly crowd-motivation as it was being a runner: I wanted to be one of the first 10,000 finishers to arrive at the Polo Grounds and get free Miller Beer. I wound up drinking eight of them, so well-honed were my chugging skills at the time – something I learned as a student at Texas Arlington, and then Cal for planning school. But that was only part of the fun of the original Bay To Breakers.
What was called, for a long time, The San Francisco Examiner Bay To Breakers, was known for its floats. Yes, parade-style floats. There were all kinds of designs and set ups, but sadly, the floats were taken away from us, like the beer before it, because a lot of people just didn’t know how to act with drink in their system.
The main problem was the overall growth of the Bay to Breakers, and the lawless behavior that became a major problem. The race had grown to as many as 100,000 runners. Some San Francisco residents got tired of what became rivers of urine running down some streets because dudes full of drink were relieving themselves whereever they could along the 7.7 mile race route, and just off of it.
By 2009, and after problems of public urination, drunkeness, and nudity, race organizers established a policy of zero tolerance of most of that – the nudity was left alone. That caused the formation of a 20,000 person Facebook group to save the traditions of the Bay to Breakers that was led by then-new San Francisco resident Edward Sharpless.
That led to the start of a public debate about the future of the Bay To Breakers race. The problem with the floats were they were really rolling bars that poured drink, like the Roving Tiki Bar. The party scene was, well, raunchy, as I described in this 2009 video-blog:
Indeed, the tradition of cocktails were at the center of the Bay to Breakers problems – which really weren’t that until the race became a huge nationally-known event. So, in 2011, the floats were taken away, leading some to really complain that the overall fun of the event was lost. Here’s then-race-director Angela Fang talking about the changes…
And two patrons talking about how much they hated them…
The Bay To Breakers Loses Runners, Shrinks In Size
Mostly as a result of these changes, the Bay To Breakers started to draw fewer runners. Overall, it dropped from the 1980s and 1990s highs of 100,000 to 75,000 runners, and gradually settled into what it was in 2018 with 40,000 runners. I’m not sure what the crowd count was for the 2019 Bay To Breakers, but it’s a fair bet it wasn’t above that 40,000 runner mark – especially considering the rain.
Overall, the Bay To Breakers has changed with San Francisco. What was once a giant free-wheeling party that was a kind of rite of passage for many Cal students, and a symbol of life in the Bay Area has become a kind of small gathering that the country stopped paying attention to. Like the closing of the Punchline and many clubs, San Francisco’s once-fun-loving culture became as boring and buttoned-up as it is wealthy.