THE EVOLUTION OF THE REVOLUTION
The Bay to Breakers’ universe extended far beyond a simple road race from the bay side of the San Francisco peninsula, through Golden Gate Park, to the Pacific Ocean below the famed Cliff House. We must be careful when we reflect on the history of the Bay to Breakers race that we are not myopic. The race changed the way, not only our community, but in all of America the general population’s attitude toward exercise.
There have been great athletic stars and incredible athletic teams in a variety of sports. They created a tremendous following, but mostly by armchair athletes, who viewed the athletic prowess in front of them with great admiration from a sedentary position. Those people had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bay to Breakers, or its impact on society. In fact, most of those armchair athletes never did become physically active.
The Bay to Breakers triggered an evolution of the revolution that brought the masses to a non-sedentary existence.
Suddenly health and fitness was in, and you were out of step, if you weren’t moving away from a sedentary life.
Most of these new weekend athletic warriors were not ardent fans of major league baseball, college football, or heaven help us, the country club sports of golf and tennis.
They called it “jogging”, but factually a lot of people found they could actually run at a level where they were only one step behind the pace of national-level runners.
It’s so long ago, I forget if it was the late fifties or early sixties. Len Wallach’s book of the history of the Bay to Breakers has the details, but herein I project the emotion.
At the point of origin was a lovely lady by the name of Elaine Pedersen. She was known as “Petie”. How the “d” got converted to a “t” from going from her real name to her nickname is an unknown, but not a misspelling.
LOSING MY VIRGINITY
I had read about the Bay to Breakers race, and decided that despite my lack of genetics, I would give it a try. In the entire history of distance running, there 2 has never been a world class athlete that weighed over 200 lbs. as I did. I guess I can blame my ineptness on my parents.
Nonetheless, I showed up and ran the Bay to Breakers. When the gun sounded, I thought I was being pulled forward by a vacuum, as each of the other 46 runners were there for one single purpose. Their goal was to finish in the top three, or they had registered a failure. I only wanted to go the distance. Finishing became the credo for the Bay to Breakers runner/jogger, and I had been the first.
In those days, the Bay to Breakers started in front of the Ferry Building. By the time I got to Ocean Beach below the Cliff House, not only had all the other runners finished, but the officials had pulled up stakes and headed for the barn.
It wasn’t completely a lonely finish. As I motored down the home stretch, to my right I saw I wasn’t alone after all. In the famed Playland at the Beach amusement center, on my right was the famed Laughing Sal. I note even though Playland at the Beach is long gone, I read recently that about the only remnant left was the fact that somebody preserved Laughing Sal. She would pop her head out near the roller coaster and the funhouse and project this hideous laugh. I took it personally, and maybe I should have, because my finish was so delinquent. The flip side is that I had at least one fan, Laughing Sal.
THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA
I couldn’t wait to call Petie to tell her I had just run over seven miles nonstop. Unheard of for a non-runner!
Petie said, “why don’t we try and create the first ever run for fun club?”
The first ever “run for fun” club, The Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club was born. Its birthplace was 1801 Bush Street at Octavia in a historical, landmark building, now the home of the Body for the Ages Health Center.
It’s important that we don’t isolate the Bay to Breakers, just because it is so famous as the second-oldest “road race” in America, behind the famed Boston Marathon.
In order to maintain the proper perspective, one has to think in terms also of the famed Dipsea race in Marin County in conjunction with the Bay to Breakers.
The Dipsea race is the oldest cross-country race (you run trails and treacherous steep descents, and optionally even unexplored terrain, as there is no set course). The Dipsea race starts at the flagpole in downtown Mill Valley, and ends, as does the Bay to Breakers race, at the Pacific Ocean. The Dipsea race 3 ends at the Pacific Ocean in Marin County, while the Bay to Breakers ends at the Pacific Ocean across the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
The origin of the Dipsea Race can be traced directly to the heart of San Francisco, as members of the prestigious San Francisco Olympic Club spawned its birth in the early 1900s.
The races are not competition for each other; they actually compliment each other. Significantly, the San Francisco area spawned two different types of running races, one a road race, and one a cross-country race, that completely captivated the public.
Petie was the first female to run the Dipsea race.
Petie was the first female to ever run the Bay to Breakers.
DEFYING THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY
I know I’ve heard of some women who walked the Dipsea trail and the Bay to Breaker streets of San Francisco in yesteryear, before Petie ran it. A walk is not a run. Those women did not legally participate in either race. The official federation on long distance running in the United States forbid women from running more than 800 meters (a half mile or two laps around a high school track).
In those days, all runners took a physical as part of their entrance process to participate in the race. Petie got a male to take her physical for her (guess who?), and she officially entered the race under the name E. Pederson, hiding her female identity.
The running federation wasn’t trying to be sexist, or anti-progress of female recognition. Nonetheless, those were the days when the feminist movement was emerging. For over 50 years, the official running federation was guided by the medical community that said a women running long distance, through the jolting of her body, could affect her childbearing abilities. The uterus could descend, or as they said, “fall out.”
When the urge beckoned her, Petie could run “out of her skin” as she did when finishing second in the famed 26 mile Boston Marathon, despite being the oldest female entrant. She went the distance, with her uterus intact.
By today’s standards, even for a female, Petie’s times were modest, but she could motor the Bay to Breaker’s course running at about 8 ½ miles per hour or at a slightly less than seven minute per mile pace. When she did train, she could keep about a seven minute per mile pace, for a full 26 mile marathon, but Petie never pretended to be anything other than a “fun” runner. She 4 usually finished in the middle of the pack of male runners, even in her first race.
Upon being interviewed on the completion of her history-making run, Petie told the reporters “I’m sorry I have to cut this interview short, as I have to go back up the course before nightfall and find my uterus.”
Petie was not some hardcore feminist with an ax to grind. Petie had spirit, charisma, boundless energy, enthusiasm, and simply made life fun.
A TOUCH OF NOSTALGIA
Ok, so I was romantically involved with her for 14 years, but maybe the true blessing is we didn’t “break up.” Our friendship never dwindled. Our relationship shifted to her becoming “family,” and everybody always seemed to enjoy Petie’s presence. I loved her then, I love her today, and I will love her tomorrow.
Want to know the significance of modest Petie’s physical endeavors at both the Dipsea and the Bay to Breakers? An argument could be made that it was the seed of the multi-billion dollar running boom in America. Nike produced shoes, not only for the jogger/runner, but the Nikes became the shoe of choice for all of America during their non-working hours.
A guy by the name of Bob Anderson and his editor Joe Henderson, came by Petie’s and my office. I recall sharing with Petie and the others, that Anderson’s newsletter The Long Distance Running Log would make much more sense if it was named Runner’s World. The magazine was born, the bible of the “new sport.”
The Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club then merged into the newly formed Dolphin South End Running Club (the DSE), whose motto seemed to capture the new attitude of the part-time weekend runner, “slow down and taper off.” The DSE became the second oldest “run for fun” club in the U.S., and the New York Roadrunners Club followed.
Paradoxically, Sunday, May 14, 2006, was the 40th anniversary of the DSE Running Club. Good things last.
The year following my solo effort in the Bay to Breakers, we committed the entire Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club membership to run the Bay to Breakers. The entrance skyrocketed from approximately 47 to 164 runners with the participation of the Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club.
The authorities at the sponsoring San Francisco Examiner were startled. Was it an accident, or something to build upon?
The Examiner sports writer Walt Daly contacted the Medical Center to talk to “that woman named Petie.” We met with the Examiner to discuss the destiny of the race.
As they say, the rest is history.
BIG, ENORMOUS, AND HUMONGOUS DOESN’T EQUAL THE “LARGEST”
The Bay to Breakers is the largest participant athletic event in the world. Other athletic events brag about their size, but there is only one “largest.” One year it had 103,000 entrants, and now it averages about 80,000, if you include all those that sneak in and don’t pay the entrance fee.
Today, elite runners start in the front. If you’re in the back of the pack, the lead runners can actually finish the race before the back of the pack crosses the starting line. However, when I ran my first Bay to Breakers, I was the only runner, who had no dreams of wining the race. Today about 79,950 of them have zero chance to win, but they come from all over the nation for the thrill of participation.
Sydney, Australia, has their version of the Bay to Breakers, and they call it the City to Surf Race. For years the winner of the City to Surf race was honored as a guest participant of the Bay to Breakers, and vice versa. Petie headed the committee annually to welcome and entertain the Australian runner. Both races had grown in such stature that the winners were now world caliber athletes.
Here’s a bit of trivia that should not go unnoticed. In our Cathedral Hill Medical Center Joggers Club, which subsequently merged into the DSE Running Club, the average educational level of the membership consisted of over 85% college graduates, and 55% with Master’s degrees or better. These were obviously not the fun loving beer drinking armchair fans that cheered the 49ers at the old Kezar Stadium.
Also of note, another reason the Dipsea race is not competitive with the Bay to Breakers is because it has a major limitation. Today most entrants are allowed in by lottery, and the course restrictions limit the entry list to 1,000 runners.
The Bay to Breakers was my first non-major sport effort, as previously I thought if you weren’t playing football, basketball, or baseball, you weren’t even an athlete…at least until I made the first fateful run as a runner/jogger in the Bay to Breakers. That was a rude awakening.
The Bay to Breakers event triggered my interest in fitness, and more specifically was the foundation for my interest in heart health. Suddenly in those early days, jogging, aerobics, and heart health became synonymous. I then added weight resistance training, nutrition, a drug which miraculously became a supplement, and my Body for the Ages Total Commitment Motivational Philosophy,
Subsequently, I reversed my heart disease from death’s doorstep.
I wrote a 412-page hardcover book, Body for the Ages, complete with testimonials from University of California cardiologists, and 49er Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh. The book explicitly shows others how to tackle heart risks.
I even have the U.S. patents and the medical record to prove my heart health success.
The Bay to Breakers had subconsciously triggered my thought process into heart health.
The Bay to Breakers was the eye-opening foundation that led to the current Body for the Ages Health Center, a first of its kind wellness center in San Francisco.
THE UNIVERSE MAKES A SWEEPING IMPACT
The Bay to Breakers universe extended beyond the streets of San Francisco. It included the Dipsea Race, Elaine “Petie” Pedersen, and created a consciousness of the benefits of aerobics for heart health, all of which materially contributed to a change in our society, all for the good.
These early events were the legacy which created physical activity for the masses. In sequence came the concept of aerobics, even in public gyms while running in place. Then came weight resistance training, bike clubs, Pilates, and today yoga is everywhere. There would be no yoga in the United States had jogging not created an environment in the minds of the masses to become physically active. Athletic endeavors for the masses is a little like a marquis at the movies. The marquis changes, but the underlined spirit continues.
It would be almost sinful to finish this epistle without a special note about Elaine “Petie” Pedersen.
Petie contacted bone marrow cancer in her early sixties. She had a bone marrow transplant in a famed cancer center in Houston, Texas. We never 7 stopped being in contact with each other, even when both of us got married to others.
Petie was so excited after her transplant she decided to run again. She kept telling me how she was going to run the Bay to Breakers and the Dipsea race again. She had built back up to running ten miles on the roads in preparation for the Bay to Breakers. This was a miracle in itself because she was always an inconsistent trainer.
She then focused on running the steps of her ten floor apartment in Houston. Keep in mind that the Dipsea race has over 350 steps near the beginning of the race. Then suddenly she was running the ten floors nonstop two times, then four times, then finally seven times, and then inexplicably back to five, four, and three times. She could barely do it three times.
Petie’s transplant had failed. Her dream of running the Dipsea and the Bay to Breakers again would never materialize. She died. Elaine “Petie” Pederson (1937-2000).
Her memorial services were in Sausalito. I don’t know if the turnout was for Petie alone, or perhaps it was a tribute to the running movement generated from the early days of the “fun runners” participation in the Bay to Breakers and the Dipsea. Regardless, Petie did her last gig to a standing room only crowd, and there was even those outside that could not get in. It seemed like every runner/jogger who were part of the overall movement that brought exercise to the masses showed up for her memorial services. They came from all over the United States.
Her Cathedral Hill Medical Center shirt that she wore in the original Bay to Breakers was present.
Her wishes were granted, in that she was cremated…and her ashes were spread over the Dipsea trail.