RBR Interview: Angela Fang, Race Director, ING Bay to Breakers

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The picture located just north of these comments are from the ING Bay to Breakers. The ING B2B is one of the largest races in the world, and is one of the true rites of spring in the City by the Bay. As a former Bay area resident, I must admit to having run the Bay to Breakers a few times. I did participate in a centipede in 1980 with several of my young athletes from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, Ca. I saw it as a very plausible part of their education-they had never seen anyone fun running, nor had they seen people in all stages of dress and undress celebrating over twelve kilometers of San Francisco's most beautiful neighborhoods. Did you know that the ING Bay to Breakers was the birthplace of the Centipede ( thanks Peanut Harms, the Aggies, plus the creative moment for giving the sport the Lenichi turn, and centipede racing!)?

Now, let's face it, the ING Bay to Breakers is a mirror of the eccentricities of the dear city of San Francisco. This is a city where, like Paris, one can find at least one group protesting something new each and every day. Stay with me here!

Recently, some folks were perturbed over some new regulations about public drinking and some of the more outlandish partying that is part and parcel of the afore-mentioned celebration of spring road racing. Some folks have suggested boycotting the race, some have suggested making it free, and some have just suggested making a nuisance of themselves.

I have to admit that there are limits even to my patience. As a purveyor of sports media, I am also a huge free speech advocate, and in San Francisco, free speech is de rigeur: it is like the need for a nice marinara or pesto sauce on one's pasta. In a city where one can gather fifty people protesting the pain I inflict on live anchovies when I go fishing in the Bay, I have to admit a belief that all people have their right to protest things, but sometimes, it is just plain silly. The ING Bay to Breakers, managed well by Angela Fang and her team, is managed chaos. And that, in my mind is just, beautiful. There are places for serious runners, not so serious runners and just plain goofballs. And that, is a good thing ( quoting the formerly incarcerated now home arts media maven Martha Stewart).

Managing 70,000 runners and walkers over twelve kilometers of the streets of San Francisco is challenging at best, and an insane task on the days leading up to the event. I asked Angela Fang, after we had chatted at Running USA, to answer a few questions on the race, her view of race management, and life in my favorite city in America-San Francisco.

RBR, 1: Tell us about your first running experience?

Angela: I always ran as training for other sports, but my fondest running experience was after college. A group of co-workers asked me to be a part of a corporate challenge team. Training for and competing in the event woke me up to the joys of running as an experience unto itself. I was hooked after my first taste! Running has been a great friend in my life and I truly enjoy the process and experience of the sport.

RBR, 2: Tell us about taking over the Bay to Breakers?

Angela: It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Nine years ago, a family member approached me about making my favorite hobby my new career. I was looking for a change after a long career in the tech industry and I was thrilled with the opportunity to oversee their newly acquired event, Bay to Breakers. My previous experience, particularly managing employees and working with a wide spectrum of clients, made it an easy transition to my current role of managing a great team and interacting with our race sponsors.

RBR, 3: What was your biggest misconception about the race?

Angela: My biggest misconception about the race was there is a “typical” day in the life of planning the event. Perhaps our biggest challenge is trying to understand how to reach the tens of thousands of unpaid race participants to help them understand how they negatively impact the event. We want people to come out and have a great time, but we ask them to be responsible. A large part of being responsible is paying to participate. ING Bay to Breakers is a privately funded event with no financial support from the City of San Francisco. Registered participants pay for site rental fees, permits, medical services, road closures, toilets, clean-up, staffing, etc. We provide infrastructure for 60,000 participants and 100,000 spectators and nearly half of those “participants” did not pay the registration fee. By not registering for the race, the race “bandits” are making the task of ensuring appropriate services for everyone nearly impossible.

RBR,4: You are an east coaster, I believe, how do you like working in THE CITY?

Angela: My home, my family is in the Bay Area. I love San Francisco and feel it is the most beautiful and exciting city in the world. I adore the culturally diverse neighborhoods, the city’s incredible palate of food, museums and parks. I grew up in New York, but find the Bay Area weather perfect for year-round exploration of the miles and miles of local running trails.

RBR, 5: Your race has elite part, and bigger, shall we say, eccentric part, how do you juggle that?

Angela: ING Bay to Breakers has a tradition of exceptional champions. For example, the gold and silver medalists for the women’s 2008 marathon in Beijing (Constantina Dita and Catherine Ndereba) have run our race in recent years. Of our champions, we count Kenny Moore, Rod Dixon, Ed Eyestone and Arturo Barrios among many others. Our elite field is one of the best 12K fields in the world, year after year. The elites return to the race because they enjoy the great energy of the spectators, the fun of the costumes, and the hospitality of the city. I am a big fan of the sport and always look forward to welcoming athletes from all over the world to the race. In the past it has been fun to watch the elites stay near the finishing line following the race to cheer on the general public! Both international and domestic athletes who make running their profession are delighted to see the costumes and excitement in the crowds who finish behind them.

RBR, 6: Your team has revitalized the race, with numbers coming up and sponsors coming on board. Tell us about the challenges there.

Angela: Our goal is to have a safe, world-class event which shows the uniqueness of San Francisco. The sponsors of the race, like me, truly enjoy the spirit and energy of a world-class sporting event. As the race approaches its 100th anniversary, we need to be prepared to accommodate all the paid participants. Our biggest hurdle, without a doubt, is getting out the message of registration and responsibility. In the past, we have asked people to register for the race, but many continue to think it is a civic event paid by the City of San Francisco, which is in no way true. Our loyal sponsors, like the organizers, love the race and want to keep the culture and fun alive. ING Bay to Breakers is a privately owned event and registered participants and sponsors are what keep the event alive, year after year.

RBR, 7: There seems to be a bit of groundswell against controlling the bachnalia that sometimes goes on at ING Bay to Breakers? What is the real truth on new rules?

Angela: Our goal is to have a safe, world-class event which shows the uniqueness of San Francisco. We are working with the neighborhoods of San Francisco, local civic leaders and the office of the Mayor, along with all the major city services including the Police and Fire Departments, to promote respect among runners, spectators and the community at large. I continue to note that ING Bay to Breakers is a 12K Race, not a civic parade. The race is funded solely by registered participants and sponsorship – this includes all city services (e.g., Porta Potties, dumpsters and clean up) provided along the course. Without the loyal support of our registered runners and sponsors, the phenomenon that is Bay to Breakers would not exist.

Tens of thousands of unregistered participants have come to enjoy this tradition every year. They jump in from the sidelines and clog the course with homemade floats and strolling parties. Their large numbers greatly impact the city services we put in place to accommodate registered runners and walkers. We have announced new race policies developed in coordination with city officials, neighborhood residents, runners and spectators to insure the health and safety of our participants and the future of this event. We urge them to show their support by registering for the race. We are also asking participants to leave their alcohol at home. For those who wish to enjoy a beer or glass of wine in celebration of the race, we will provide, as usual, a beer and wine garden at Footstock, the post-race festival in Golden Gate Park.

RBR, #8: What do you want to tell the masses of runners, centipedes, joggers, and strange characters fromsome well known and obscure bits of literature?

Angela: The allure of ING Bay to Breakers is the chance to be a part of something which is unlike anything else in the world. I watched the great Henry Rono finish the race two years ago with a guy dressed in a Spiderman costume, enjoyed the cheering thousands at the top of Hayes St. Hill, and always smile thinking of the clever centipede costumes along the course. The people of San Francisco are extremely passionate and protective of Bay to Breakers. For those individuals who register and support the event, I would like to say “thank you.” To those who have enjoyed the event in the past without registering, now is the time to help keep the race strong and register for the event. It is the voice and attitude of San Franciscans which make the race unique and it is that same collective effort which will keep the race as a part of our culture. By registering for the event and being responsible, ING Bay to Breakers will see 100 years as just the beginning of the race’s legacy!

Final Editorial Comments: In the 500 races that I have run or walked in my life, I have NEVER run in a race where I did not pay to participate, if it was part of the structure. I remember paying for 15ks that we used as training runs. That is just common courtesy. Common sense would tell most Bay area residents that, if the Governator is about to furlough 20,000 government employees, and is sending IOUs out for tax refunds, California has some issues.

Race Directors, for years, have paid for most of their services, and many at overtime. It is no easy thing to direct a race of 500. So, consider for a moment, trying to juggle 70,000 runners and walkers.

In my old age, I still find ways to have fun. Surely, my friends in the Bay Area can pay their entry fee into the ING Bay to Breakers this year and it should not cause that must disruption to the fun and frolic of the ING Bay to Breakers!

Note that California Track & Running News, one of the publications that I publish, is a proud media sponsor of the ING Bay to Breakers.

For more on the ING Bay to Breakers, watch http://www.caltrack.com

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To make a statement, I propose that we do not attend the b2b, but instead congregate ELSEWHERE in SF.

This will accomplish 2 things
1) Reduce the numbers on the b2b route.
2) Increase visability elsewhere, ie not on the b2b route.

Perhaps the police will then realize that they can not be EVERYWHERE in SF, at the same time.

It would be in their best interest to have us at the 2010 b2b, instead of us running havoc elsewhere.

I know its a tough decision to not be at the b2b route, we might feel we're missing out. But look at the big picture (ie preserving b2b in the future) If we don't stand up and make a VERY loud statement / BOYCOTT this year, we may loose our battle.

Who's for meeting at Dolores Park ?
Who's for meeting at Chrissy Field ?
Who's for meeting at Glen Park ?(not a bay or breaker to be found, the ultimate b2b boycott statement)

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