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Security Takes Charge at Annual Bay to Breakers Bedlam

Posted by: on May, 18 2015

Found on the SFGate and written by Rachel Swan and Erin Allday

There seemed to be a lot of that sentiment on the course, where roughly 50,000 people, some clothed far more than others, were expected to race — or amble — from downtown San Francisco to the finish at Ocean Beach.

The race started at 8 a.m. with the elite runners, who finished hours before the dawdlers at the back. The top male runner, Isaac Mwangi of Kenya, finished in 35:25. The first female finisher was Jane Kibii, a Kenyan native who lives in Auburn, in 40:04.bay to breakers

A little after noon, police began announcing that the race was over and herding walkers out of the street and onto the sidewalks. Arrests were made as the lingering crowds moved into the Panhandle. Police issued citations — for public drunkenness, failure to disperse, resisting arrest and fighting — to some participants and spectators, and posed for photos with others.

There were at least 11 arrests, including three for public intoxication, police said Sunday afternoon.

Race organizers said they were doing their best to accommodate the messy, chaotic throng. They signed up extra postrace trash collectors to clean up along the way this year. And they added 200 portable toilets, for a total of 1,100, giving residents along the course some small hope of keeping their flower beds and hedges safe from racers’ full bladders.

This year’s race seemed pretty typical as far as rowdy behavior went, said Irene Santillan, who has lived in an apartment on Fell Street on the race course for 16 years. She added that police and security personnel seemed to be shutting down the race earlier, and more aggressively, than in previous years.

“It’s the same amount of crazy as usual, but honestly, the city’s got better control this year,” Santillan said. “I love that they’re cleaning it up, but I wish they’d let people hang out a little longer.”

Plenty of alcohol

Technically, alcohol is forbidden at Bay to Breakers. And indeed, among the racers at the front of the pack there were more Gatorade bottles and Starbucks cups than beer cans and paper-bagged beverages. But there was still plenty of alcohol being consumed along the way.

Police operated five “alcohol checkpoints” at secret locations, looking for runners and walkers packing bulging beer cans. All morning, police confiscated open containers and dumped the contents into the street.

“I’m doing this as a public service,” said Sebastian Joll, who was dressed up as a wandering bloody Mary bar, from which he’d been making cocktails for other runners before police confiscated his liquor.

More sobering space

Race organizers, in a nod to logic, upped the capacity of two sobering centers from 50 to 80 this year. The centers were voluntary, police said, and meant to provide racers with a place to lie down and recover before continuing the race or giving up and going home. As of Sunday afternoon, 10 people had used the sobering centers, police said.

The race certainly has a well-earned reputation for leaning more toward debauchery than innocent festivity. But among the revelers along the course were children and multigenerational families celebrating a San Francisco institution.

“It’s a family tradition and now an indoctrination,” said Rob Preston of San Francisco, who was introducing 4-month-old Nora to her first Bay to Breakers. Preston, dressed in a rainbow-knit poncho, and his wife were walking the race with their daughter.

Preston said he’s well aware of the indulgence that takes place and why some neighbors along the course complain every year. “It only takes a few bad apples to ruin the barrel,” Preston said. “But most of it’s just good fun.”

Bay to Breakers was more parade than footrace along much of the course. Some runners were decked out in Halloween-style costumes, others just went with bright rainbow colors. Some were running in bare feet, others in running shoes and nothing else. Warriors gear was common in this year’s event, naturally, along with the always popular animal costumes and superhero capes and masks.

Alex Kling, whose day job is with NASA, walked the race’s course with a pirate ship he designed that fits three people and actually floats.

“The hardest part was trucking it up here from the South Bay,” Kling said. “It’s a masterpiece of engineering.”

The run is famously freewheeling. But security along the course was serious. After the experience of the Boston Marathon bombing, no backpacks or large bags were allowed. Along the way were bomb-sniffing dogs, police officers and fleets of ambulances.

Fast runners are the exception and certainly not the rule at Bay to Breakers. Most participants ambled across the finish line through the morning and into the afternoon. Many got as far as a bar and retired.

“I’ve never actually run this race, even though I’m a runner and a triathlete,” said Rory Cleary, 34, of San Francisco, who was on his eighth Bay to Breakers this year. “It’s too much fun to drink and watch everybody instead.”