Thursday, June 11, 2009

Part 5 - I Forgot About the Naked People

A pedestrian overpass loomed ahead of us, stretching from one side of the street, over to the other. It was jam packed with spectators of all sorts; regular people, police officers, firemen, TV crews with huge cameras hanging over the size. So I knew we had made it to the front.

I looked down and saw the rubber mat that would register our chips starting our official time for the course. An old Journey song was playing over the loud speaker and the crowd collectively sang (screamed is more accurate) along. We sounded amazingly good for having never practiced together!

Then I saw the first instance of the “Holy Rollers”. There are small groups of people that camp out at various locations on the route holding big signs and shouting messages of “salvation” over bull horns. I am very glad that they have the right in this country to state their opinions publicly and I also admire them greatly for standing up and taking action for what they believe in. In fact, this small group was right in the middle of the road. They put themselves right smack dab in the middle of the sea of crazy people. And there were A LOT more of us than them. They must be very brave. (Of course, a lot of confidence comes with knowing you have the Lord on your side!) More power to them! I mean that sincerely.

That does not mean I agree with what they are saying and I can’t say I enjoyed starting a significant running event listening to how “You are going to hell! You must change your sinning ways. God hates what you are doing and you will spend eternity burning in damnation and great suffering unless you turn to Jesus now.”

So I turned to my friend Jesus Gonzales running next to me…. Just kidding.

I never understood these groups. What am I doing that God hates so much? Getting outdoors and sharing a healthy activity with my fellow humans in a spirit of good will and sportsmanship? Promoting a vegetarian diet so we’re not contributing to animal suffering? Staying fit? I mean, are they talking to us???

Then I saw the naked people.

I forgot about the naked people and therefore I hadn’t warned Kris about them. Just as I stepped over the starting line a couple walked in front of me naked as the day they were born. I thought “Ewe!!!!” Not because they were naked. But because they were naked, sweaty and there wasn’t much room to stay out of their way. I really didn’t want to bump up against their sweaty nakedness! Ewe!

The good news was that they were young and fit. So it wasn’t a terrible shock. But I felt really bad for the guy. Poor kid. He looked young and like he was in his prime. But his ‘mister’ looked like a little ‘master’. It was tiny!!!! I thought, “Wow. He either doesn’t feel insecure about his body or he has over come it. And look at him now. Walking around with tens of thousands of people to see! Good for him!!!”
But more on the naked people later.

Part 4 - The Longest Mile

The walk to the corral was is where the real fun started. Lot’s of people were in costumes. Some were groups that dressed in a theme. It was slow going since there were so many people but people watching made the time go by fast!

Then there was the tortillas! As you get closer you start to see things flying through the air. It sort of looks like a bunch of giant pieces of popcorn popping over the streets of San Francisco. As you approach the ‘popcorn’ these objects begin falling down around you. That’s when you discover they’re tortillas!
Some people write messages on them. (Some messages weren’t very nice.) But mostly people just threw them up in the air or back and forth. People who participate in Bay to Breakers (or actually come to spectate) better not be easily irritated. This is not a place for them. It’s crowded, it’s noisy, you’re going to have your feet stepped on and be bumped into a lot. And you are definitely going to be pelted several times by flying tortillas!

I was pelted in the back of the head, the side of the head and in the face! I had so much fun! Each time I was hit I would just giggle! There was something very funny about it. I think it was the utter surprise. You’d be chatting with your friend or just watching the people as you worked your way to the start and then BAM! You’re hit in some random place with no sense it was coming.

I picked up a tortilla and tossed it as hard as I could to my right. It immediately veered straight up then cut hard to the left and nailed this guy smack in the side of his head! Oops. I wasn’t aiming there! A cheer went up from my new Organic Athlete buddies behind me.

“Way to go!”

“Nice shot!”

When I looked behind me I saw the homeless man was still walking with us. I was concerned for him. He’ll never make this! He’ll hurt himself! Is he delusional? Then I chuckled at myself. Most likely, he’ll walk until he gets bored and then he’ll meet up with some buddies in a nearby park or something.

We found the sign for our corral. So we turned left and kept heading toward the start. As we got closer, the crowd became thicker. It was harder and harder to stay with the group. Soon it was only Kris and I in the large crowd.

I could hear an announcer but not make out what he was saying and the cheering intensified. I could tell we were almost to the start. I kept looking for the rubber mat on the street that would mark the official starting line. But mostly I just saw tortillas.

Part 3 - You Can't Start Here

I knew it didn’t matter when we start. There are so many runners at B2B that they had to use a corral system. When you register you have to indicate your running pace. They put you into corrals based on how fast you will be running. They start the fastest corrals first, then the next fastest and so on.

We were in the next to the slowest corral. We would not be starting for well after the start time. Even when your corral is opened, it takes several minutes for everyone in the corral to work their way to the start line. That’s why they need the chips. I checked my watch when I crossed the start line and it was 8:38. Everyone had a 38 minute head start on me.

So to make it fair, they lay special mats across the road that you have to cross to get on the course. When you step on the mat, it senses your chip. So the race’s computer knows when you officially enter the course. At the finish line there is another set of mats which tells the computer when you officially complete the course. So everyone’s time is tracked from the time they reach the start line to the finish. So the computer can tell who ran the fastest etc.

Of course, when you register you put in info like your name age city, state etc. So all that information is associated with your chip. So the race organizers can rank you by age, gender and so on. Pretty neat.

While we were waiting for the last two people show up a homeless man walked up to our group and just stood there. I think it was Kevin who said, “Hi. You running today?” Just to be friendly.

The guy said, “Yeah.”

So he just hung out with us. He fit the stereotype of a homeless person. He was dirty with long greasy hair. He wore a long tattered coat that was too hot for the current weather and he had old 1970s style tennis shoes with no strings and the shoe tongues were flipped out over the toes of his shoes. I thought, “He’d kill his feet if he tried to run in those shoes!”

People were making small talk with him and he was pleasant. He hung out with us for a long time. We finally decided to give up on the last two and take a pre-run team picture. As we started all moving into position the homeless guy started to line up with us. Someone kindly explained the picture was for ‘official’ team members only. He was cool with it.

We snapped a couple shots for the Organic Athletes website and we started walking toward our corral. Each runners bib was color coded to match which corral they were assigned to. We were assigned to the green corral which we thought was very appropriate. J

Part 2 - Race Day

I slept surprisingly well that night for being in a different place and being riled up about the race the next day.

Our hotel was about a mile from the meeting place. So we walked to get a decent warm up. Along the way you could see other runners heading in the same direction. They would come from behind us or from the side streets. But you could see a definite pilgrimage toward Howard Street.

We passed a few other runners on the way and a heard one woman mutter to her girlfriends “I am SO hung over.”

I know the Bay to Breakers is considered a big moving party. But why would you party the night before? I can’t imagine running hung over! I said as much to Kris and he wisely commented, “I doubt she’s running today.” True. There are a lot of people who walk the route.

We allotted more time than we thought we’d need to get to the meeting spot because I was paranoid about showing up late. I mostly didn’t want to show up late because I have never met any of these people before and I didn’t want to make a bad impression. We were to meet at an intersection near the start line. Meeting time was 7:00 am and we showed up at 7:07. Damn.

And no one was there. Damn! Oh no, that was good. We could say we showed up at 6:45 and no one would be the wiser!

So Kris and I kept our eyes peeled for any one in a green Organic Athlete singlet. I wasn’t nervous about no one being there because I knew there was no way we would be only ones of the whole group to show up. I just figured the OAs were on ‘Vegan’ time.

Kris and I kept scanning the intersection. Kris spotted one first.

“There’s one,” Kris said pointing to the traffic signal twenty feet away.

At first I didn’t see him. Then he turned and I could see his singlet peeking out from the opening of his jacket. He didn’t see us. So I walked right over and tapped his arm.

He was as tall as Kris so when he turned and didn’t see anyone his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“Hi!” I chirped.

He looked down toward the voice.

“We’re running with you today,” I smiled and pointed to my Organic Athletes bike jersey.

“Oh great." I thought I was the only one here.”

“No, I and my husband Kris have been here for a few minutes.”

I introduced Kris, and our team mate introduced himself as…”Chris”.

I almost yelled, “Oh! You’re Chris with a “C” too!” But I knew he wouldn’t understand. (It’s a family thing.) So I just smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.”

Our team mates started showing up by one or twos. I noticed one lady wasn’t in running gear. She was hauling a HUGE backpack. It looked like a duffle bag. I was introduced to Jane and told she was schlepping our extra gear to the after party.

“You’re our sherpa! Thank you so much for doing that!”

“You’re welcome,” she said as she pulled out everyone’s race packets. She handed me mine I and went through it carefully to make sure it had my name, the correct bib number and chip. Everything was there and everything was perfect! Then Kevin handed out the matching singlets we’d run in. I had ordered an extra large. I figured they were made for runners. So a large in regular clothes had to be at least an extra large for a runner’s build. But something happened with the order and they couldn’t get my extra large (the factory probably ran out of material or something). So they brought a large for me instead. I was worried that it’d be too tight. But I figured I’d only be running for a couple hours so I could manage it for that long.

I changed in to the large. OMG!! It was big!! Not too big. But I had plenty of room! I am so used to athletic clothes being cut so slim that I usually have to buy the largest size. I was shocked! But it was great! I’d be able to run in comfort!

Everyone put on their gear, clipped their chips and pinned their bibs. We were ready to go. So we waited. And waited. The race was supposed to start at 8 am. We still had to walk to the starting corral. But we were missing two teammates.