Running in the 'Meda: Inside Bay to Breakers

Running in the 'Meda: Inside Bay to Breakers

Marty Beene

The author at Bay to Breakers in 1978.

I ran my first road race in 1978. At the time, the Bay to Breakers ("B2B") was unique because of the "huge" number of runners - about 12,000. While 12,000 was a lot at the time, that number was dwarfed by the following year's participation of 28,000. Why? Because in 1979, the organizers had this unusual idea to include a free T-shirt for the registered runners. From there, the B2B took off, at times including well over 100,000 participants. Despite what many people think (when they think of the Hayes Street Hill), I view it as a relatively fast course because there's a lot of downhill. So, for those of you running it on Sunday and hoping for a fast time, here's my best advice.

1. Like any race, you don't want to start too fast. In the old days, you had to start fast to escape the bandit runners joining the race from side streets and clogging the course during the first half mile. Now, with chip timing and stricter time-based starting corrals, people feel more at ease starting where they're supposed to start, so there isn't that problem. However, the first mile is slightly downhill, so if you start a little faster than your target overall pace, that should be okay.

2. The second mile actually goes slightly uphill, so you should expect your time to be a little slower. But don't slow down just to "save something" for the hill coming up - there's plenty of recovery time after the hill.

3. The Hayes Street Hill itself is certainly challenging, but don't let it psych you out. My approach to running the hill is to be sure to keep running at a (merely) solid effort. There's no need to charge up the hill, but you also don't want to fall asleep and run slower than some people walk. Remember: "What goes up must come down." You may be climbing now, but the race ends at sea level, so you get to run back down, and a significant part of the rest of the race is the kind of downhill you can run very, very fast.

4. Once you crest the hill, you have two blocks of steep downhill; take it easy on your legs. Unfortunately, you have some more uphill coming up as you turn onto Fell Street, pass the three-mile marker, and run along the Panhandle. But it's a slight uphill, and you have more downhill coming up, so now is the time to start pushing the pace.

5. Once you enter Golden Gate Park, just after you pass four miles, you have some ups and downs. This is when you can start trying to run as fast as you can. You'll run a little slower on the ups, but you'll make that up and catch your breath on the downs. For this first mile in the park you should be thinking ahead to the really fast part of the course, which starts just after the second highest point on the course, a little before Crossover Drive. (That's right, it's only about 10 feet lower than the top of Hayes.)

6. Once you make the slight left-hand turn to see the Crossover Drive overpass, it's time to boogie. You have about two and a half miles to go, and you can run this final third of the race at top speed. Really. As fast as you can run, do that. The only downside of running as hard as you can down the hills toward the ocean is that your legs may feel like Jell-o when you reach the flats of the Great Highway. But you will have more than made up for any heroic sprint you could have otherwise mustered over the final 100 meters (i.e., work hard for 33 percent of the course, not just 0.8 percent).

7. The new course jogs left, and the seven-mile point is at the end of the left-hand jog. As soon as you take a slight right onto Martin Luther King Drive, you can start your final kick because you have less than a half mile to go. Then, there is the final right-turn onto Great Highway, so you should sprint at that point, although if you ran appropriately hard over the previous two miles, you won't have much of a sprint left in you.

8. If it's not too cold, circle back after you finish to watch the other runners finish. It's great people-watching (as long as you aren't bothered by the occasional naked person).

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. He plans to enjoy the cool weather Sunday morning; afterward, he can be reached at