At 7:03 a.m. on Sunday, I breathe a sigh of relief and turn to face my friend.
“Wow, I’m really glad that train ride ended before I had to join the group lap dance.”
If this distinct sense of gratitude resonates with you, then you’ve probably experienced Bay to Breakers. Despite the fact that the 12-kilometer race tends to take a top spot on Stanford bucket lists, most of my freshman friends and I had no idea what we were truly getting into when we suited up in rally and raced to catch the 6 a.m. Caltrain on Sunday. But fear not! Everyone’s Bay to Breakers experience is different, but the following stages may help you mentally prepare for next year.
Stage 1: Wake up call
If you took a power-nap to recharge after Frost, your alarm is likely to go off any time between four and five in the morning. You feel refreshed, recharged, calm even. So naive. You don your fourth choice Halloween costume from last year (the one that just barely missed the Halloweekend cut) and head out to meet up with friends to begin the race-day festivities. If your roommate isn’t joining in on the fun, be warned: trying to pull up those rainbow fishnet tights without waking up the peaceful sleeper five feet from you may prove harder than the race itself.
Stage 2: The Caltrain
Assuming that you made it to the train station still conscious, ticket in hand, you’ll crowd into a train car with a couple hundred of your closest friends. Despite the fact that there are literally hundreds of empty seats in adjacent cars, everyone you know will insist on cramming into a single car, which in turn will reach a sauna-like level of heat. You will try to maintain your balance while dancing along to the Spotify playlist blasting from a portable speaker, though you’ll probably fall a few times. Eventually, you’ll make a break for it and squeeze past your co-passengers to another car, where you can finally catch a breath of air that doesn’t taste like sweat and Juul vapor.
Stage 3: The long wait
After navigating through the city to find the starting gates, you’ll hop in line with the pace-appropriate group and wait for about an hour before the race starts. You may start to feel more comfortable with the madness as you snack on a free Clif Bar sample, but be warned: this is more likely than not the stage in which you will see your first (but definitely not last) set of genitalia for the day. Hundreds of unique costumes demonstrate the creativity and innovation of Bay Area residents, but despite the infinite options for fun and unique outfits, some runners prefer to go un-costumed. In my experience, the best course of action is simply to avert your eyes and try not to think about it as the countdowns and starting guns commence.
Stage 4: The beginning
It’s finally here! You trot along with your corral and enjoy the view of the city. You feel great. You could run this whole thing. Nothing can stop you! One foot in front of the other, that’s all. Seven and half miles isn’t that many anyway. You’re going all the way.
Stage 5: Mile two
You did not go all the way. You told yourself you’d take one tiny break to pet a costumed dog on the side of the road, and then you never made it back to your jogging pace. You remind yourself that finishing – even at a 19-minute-per-mile stroll – is the goal, and besides, the dog was dressed as a lion. A lion. Worth it.
Stage 6: Hayes St. Hill
Nothing I can say will prepare you for this part. Just grit your teeth and bear it. If you believe that your legs will last the whole way up, then they will. Probably.
Stage 7: Mile five
You feel like you must have traveled at least three miles since the four-mile marker by the time you hit the fifth. By this point, the people who actually trained for the race are walking back with their post-race goodies in hand. Their toned calves mock you as they pass. You focus on the promise of food just past the finish line. Also, the t-shirt pick-up is at the finisher’s expo, and how will people know you did Bay to Breakers if you don’t snag the shirt to prove it? Use the dogs playing in Golden Gate park as a distraction (this tactic is also helpful for avoiding accidental sightings of the aforementioned genitalia).
Stage 8: Post-race expo
You did it! Only three short hours after the first starting gun, you have officially Broken the Bay, or whatever. Use your newly-acquired t-shirt as a makeshift bag to carry all the free protein bar samples you can get your hands on. You’re going to need the extra energy for the final leg of the race: the walk to the Uber pick-up location. Though your legs feel like jello and you’re pretty sure you heard “Eye of the Tiger” more times than any person should have to in a single day, the pure joy of plopping down in the passenger seat of your Caltrain-bound rideshare is almost enough to make you want to do it all again next May.
Contact Jackie O’Neil at jroneil ‘at’ stanford.edu.