On Sunday, May 21 at around 4:12 a.m., at a time when most people are sleeping, some students are buzzing with adrenaline as they transform into their wacky wardrobes for the day. Soon, they’ll find themselves surrounded by Super Marios, Greek goddesses and Ben Franklins on the Oval. Instead of alarm clocks, songs like “Mo Bamba” are heard blasting from speakers before the clock even strikes 6 a.m.
On the third Sunday of every May, thousands gather in San Francisco at 8 a.m. to participate in the Bay to Breakers 12-kilometer race. The annual foot race is known for its outlandish and festive atmosphere. And according to students, it’s unforgettable.
“Running down Palm Drive in my banana costume with my fellow bananas and tons of other zany outfits is an experience I will never forget,” wrote Ishaan Singh ’24. As the sun rises, hundreds of Stanford students, some of whom are drunk, dress in costumes ranging from fruits to superheroes to mermaids. They all flock to the Palo Alto Caltrain before it leaves for an early morning departure.
Before they have even begun the actual race in San Francisco, most students have already walked at least 2 miles. Those who plan on finishing the race will have 7.46 more miles to go. Even after this already busy morning, many students line up in their coordinated costumes or customized onesies ready to race.
After trekking 7.46 miles, students are rewarded at the finish line with a line of food trucks and music from live bands.
Bay to Breakers has a rich history that dates back over a hundred years. The race was created in 1912 as an effort to raise the spirits of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The race starts at the San Francisco Bay on Main and Howard Street and runs West to finish adjacent to the Pacific coast where one can see the breaking waves of Ocean Beach, hence the name of the race. Participants roam through the city, up the Hayes Street Hill, along the Panhandle, and through Golden Gate Park.
In some circles, Bay to Breakers has earned the reputation of the “Mardi Gras of the West,” with the city’s streets filled with Bay Area residents sporting costumes as they run, walk and jog the route. Some runners dress as salmon and run “upstream” from the beach to the Bay. Meanwhile others opt for a birthday suit and run the race fully nude.
Centipedes of a non-insect variety also make an appearance at the race; many groups of thirteen or more runners will run together as a pack, bound together by bungee cords. This idea caught on in the late 1970’s and Bay to Breakers has now coined itself the World Centipede Running Championship.
Bay to Breakers even won the Guiness World Record in 1986 for being the world’s largest foot race with 110,000 participants.
“I was really excited to see that this was a tradition that COVID did not eliminate,” Singh wrote. “Fun doesn’t have to be in the form of frat parties but can take form in something as unique and different as Bay to Breakers.”
Singh stressed the importance of showing up if students want to reclaim old traditions and form new ones.
“If Main Quad and the Oval had been empty at 5 a.m., I might have turned around and gone to bed for another 5 hours,” Singh wrote. Instead, Singh was met with hundreds of Stanford students dressed in costume, gathered at the Oval to begin the day’s festivities.
Some Stanford students commit to competitively running the entirety of the race such as freshman Ezequiel Alvarez ’26. Sporting a Brazilian Neymar Jr. jersey and overcoming a hamstring injury, Alvarez ran the entire 7.46 miles in just under 45 minutes, averaging 5:55 minutes per mile.
For many students, Bay to Breakers at Stanford has become more than just a race; it has become a symbol of Stanford’s vibrant spirit.
“This sort of energy — the willingness and drive to be fun, creative and make something happen — is something I feel is vitally important to our campus culture and way of life,” wrote Kyle Haslett ’25, Vice President of the ASSU Executive Team and co-leader of the “Fun Strikes Back” campaign at Stanford.
“Sure, I lost some hours of sleep that Saturday night, but now I have some great memories and even a medal from the finish line,” Haslett said. “After losing hours to problem sets and papers all year, this is a trade-off I am always excited to make.”
Alvarez shared this sentiment, writing, “It’s always helpful to have a tradition or event for students to destress during the last 2 or 3 weeks of the quarter.”
To Haslett, going to Bay to Breakers is a must before Stanford students graduate. “I encourage everyone to participate in Bay to Breakers at some point in their Stanford career, whether they make it the whole way or half a mile. The excitement in San Francisco is palpable and one of the best places to make an awesome college memory.”
This article has been updated to include Kyle Haslett’s correct title on the ASSU Executive Team.