Bay to Breakers bans backpacks after Boston bombings

Photo by Greg Moreno / Special to Xpress
Photo by Greg Moreno / Special to Xpress

When Bay to Breakers officials announced that this year’s race would now include backpacks to its list of banned items, Bob Hearn didn’t mind. The 47-year-old software company CEO wasn’t going to bring a backpack to the race anyway. He plans to run the race just like he did last year: wearing only a silver sequin G-string and a hat.

Instead of carrying a backpack, Hearn pins a Ziploc plastic bag with his car keys and a folded trash bag to the bill of his hat. The large trash bag has arm and head holes cut out so he can wear it after the race.

Even though he runs the race almost nude, Hearn is there to compete, running the Bay to Breakers for time, “which means a backpack would be impractical,” he added.

Hearn has run many races including 89 marathons, but only runs Bay to Breakers in a G-string. He does it just for fun. Like Hearn, many runners are there to compete and have fun. The 102-year-old race is a costume clad party spanning 7.5 miles from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach, with around 30,000 registered runners plus another 30,000 coming just for the party.

Over the years, race officials have attempted to crack down on the massive party by banning alcohol, pets, floats, shopping carts and all other things with wheels.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, where two pressure cooker bombs hidden inside backpacks exploded near the finish line killing three and wounding hundreds, Bay to Breakers officials announced that this year’s May 19 event would prohibit runners from having bags, backpacks and containers larger than 8.5” x 11” x 4”. Officials also warned that they would be strictly enforcing the registered runners-only rule on the race way, ejecting all people without a race bib.

“You will be hard pressed to find a bag that small,” said Rich Pasco, coordinator for the Bay Area Naturists, a nudist organization, referring to new bag regulation.

For 15 years, Pasco, 62, has run the race naked, wearing only a backpack. In it he keeps a pair of shorts, t-shirt, wallet, car keys, a water bottle and a camera. The last five years, he’s run it naked with his wife, who also wears a backpack.

“It’s not like we have too much stuff,” he said. “It’s just there’s not many bags made that small.”

Pasco said that the backpacks allowed in the race are small, basically the size of two reams of paper. Good luck finding a bag that size or smaller at the sporting goods store, he added.

Footraces around the country, such as Bay to Breakers, are banning backpacks and tightening security in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“It’s good to have more security,” said Ben Franich, president of the Gator Triathlon club at SF State. “Something like a marathon is hard to secure.”

Bay to Breakers spokesperson DeeDee Taft said it will be difficult to enforce all the rules because the race is spread out over seven miles, but said everyone involved will do their best to enforce them.

Around 1,500 volunteers will be working and they’re all encouraged to be on the look out, added Taft. Private security will be enforcing the new and old rules along with more than 3,000 other people from various city agencies who will also be helping in an official capacity.

“Basically, if you are not a registered participant and you are on the course you will kindly be asked to exit the race course,” Taft said. “And if you are sporting an extra large backpack, it will most likely be searched and you will also be asked to leave the race course.”

The San Francisco Police Department has been in collaboration with the FBI terrorism task force and have been in contact with Boston police, all in an attempt to help better secure the this year’s event according to Albie Esparza, spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department.

Additional officers are assigned to the event. Some will be in uniform, some plainclothes and some will even be in costume on the race way.

“We want it to be a safe one for everyone, and for people to live life normally and go to Bay to Breakers like the years before. We are still going to air on the side of caution,” Esparza said, adding that safety and security is their rule.

Esparaza said the police will not be enforcing the rules or bans set by the Bay to Breakers people — that’s the responsibility of the race officials.

Franich plans on competing in the Bay to Breakers for the first time. The added security won’t damper his race day either.

“It wont take away from the race, if anything it might make it more competitive,” Franich said.

While the Boston Marathon was devastating, it hasn’t deterred Franich from participating in foot races.

“I’m more worried about a knee injury or a dog attack than a terrorist bombing,” he said.

After he finishes the race, Franich will double back and run to the party.

SF State apparel and design major Annmarie Bustamante, 21, loves Bay to Breakers. She likes to party and dress in costume. Last year she dressed as octo-mom wearing overalls and carrying baby dolls. The race day usually falls on or near her birthday. In previous races, Bustamante walked with friends in the “back of the pack” crowd, drinking beer out of thermoses and water bottles.

She said the new rules sound awful. This year, Bustamante plans to compete for the first time. She’s going to dress either as a sexy Mulan or a sexy Xena warrior type character and hopes to finish the race in under an hour and a half.

“It will be so hot running, I don’t want to wear much,” Bustamante added. “I want to breathe.”

Many people understand the reasons for tightening security for races, but fail to see how prohibiting runners from carrying backpacks will protect them.

“It seems strange,” Hearn said, referring to a backpack ban at a costume and party race. “There are so many giant costumes, it’s not like you’re protecting anybody by banning backpacks.”

In a way, Hearn and other scantily dressed or nude runners are doing their part to help out security by running in full disclosure.