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A Walk/Run on the Wild Side

The Author Heads to S.F. for the City’s 101st Bay to Breakers


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

At 5:45 a.m. last Sunday, I was standing 20 feet away from a naked Elvis impersonator on Howard Street in San Francisco. That’s when I began questioning the sanity of my mission — to experience the 101st Bay to Breakers, a 12-kilometer (7.46-mile) footrace from the city’s eastern waterfront to the west-facing Ocean Beach.

I was roped into this madness by Bob Kelley, a former UCSB recreation director. He was a proud native of San Francisco, a graduate of Lincoln High and CCSF. He wore a full-body suit, a yellow jacket, and a Lincoln Mustangs cap. I wore shorts, an oxymoronic UCSB football T-shirt, and a cap from the Bus Stop, one of the city’s oldest watering holes. Elvis was one of several birthday-suited individuals.

The Bay to Breakers, started early in the last century when San Francisco was bouncing back from the 1906 earthquake and fire, is like a combination of two young Santa Barbara traditions — the State Street Mile and the Summer Solstice Parade. It is a race, and it is a colorful and whimsical celebration.

At 7 a.m. sharp, the elite racers took off. Sammy Kitwara of Kenya was well into his second mile when we reached the starting line (7:07), and I gave up all hope of catching him. Kitwara went on to win the Bay to Breakers — for the third time — in 34 minutes and change. He claimed some prize money, but he missed out on the camaraderie that is enjoyed by close to 100,000 participants — some 40,000 officially registered, the rest ignoring the futile efforts of sponsors to ban them.

After all, the course is on public streets. Who could resist walking a scenic urban thoroughfare, unimpeded and unthreatened by cars and trucks, on a sunny spring morning? Those of us who wore official race bibs — at a cost of more than $50 — could rationalize that our generosity helped ensure a safe and sanitary event. (Imagine so many Porta-Potties along the course that there were no long lines.)

The serious runners having left us behind — including a Monty Python troupe that went “clop, clop, clop” — Bob and I were content to walk with thousands of others. Research shows that brisk walking has much the same health benefits as running, and it’s easier on the joints. Going up the Hayes Street Hill, in the third mile of the race, is a workout at any speed.

Rounding a corner onto Fell Street, we heard some boos and catcalls. “Go faster or start dancing!” an onlooker urged. Heading toward us in single file were a dozen running fish-heads. They were doing their own “Breakers to Bay,” imitating spawning salmon as they swam against the flow.

The last three miles traversed Golden Gate Park. There we came upon Harry Cordellos, a living legend in the Bay to Breakers. Totally blind since his youth, the San Francisco native has completed every race since 1968 — an unmatched streak of 45 consecutive runnings. Loping along hand-in-hand with his guide, Tony Rossmann, he said he intends to run his 50th Bay to Breakers in 2017, the year he turns 80. “Not too long ago, I figured out what my name spells backwards,” Cordellos said. “Solid rock.”

At last, the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean came into view. The last stretch to the finish line went parallel to the strand. Photographers zeroed in on the finishers. With an apology to my knees, I broke into a run. My time on the course was a little more than two hours, not bad considering the pauses for photo-taking and conversations. The memories will last a lot longer.

FEATS OF FEET: The aforementioned State Street Mile will take place on Sunday, June 3. Registration starts at 7 a.m. at Pedregosa Street. Proceeds will benefit the Crime Victim Emergency Fund. For information, see sbmile.com. … Stow Grove Park will be the starting point for the Lakes of Love, a four-mile run and walk around Lake Los Carneros, Saturday, May 26, at 9 a.m. It is organized by a nonprofit club of Dos Pueblos High students to benefit the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Advance registration is available at tinyurl.com/lakesoflove2012.

PLAY IT AGAIN, DONS AND ROYALS: You’d have to attend games for 30 years to see all the soccer talent that will be showcased at Peabody Stadium on Saturday, May 26. The alumni of Santa Barbara and San Marcos high schools will be playing three matches — Over-35 Men at 2 p.m., Women’s Open at 4 p.m., and Men’s Open at 6 p.m. — to benefit the schools’ soccer programs. Ticket prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children under 13.

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