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Bay To Breakers History: From The 1906 Earthquake To Streaking To Centipedes

This year's Zazzle Bay To Breakers 12K Foot Race represents the 100th running of a race that has become a San Francisco institution. The race began in 1912 as one of many civic events meant to boost morale after the devastating 1906 earthquake that ravaged the city. The "Cross City Race" was held on January 1, 1912 and included 218 registered runners.

Since then the race has grown to record levels. In 1986, the race reportedly had 110,000 participants and was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records that year as the largest foot race in the world. This year the race includes 55,000 registered runners, but it's safe to say there will be a huge contingent of unregistered runners that join at any point along the race.

One of the more interesting aspects is the centipede division of runners. In 1978, race organizers began handing out prizes for a newly-formed centipede division, first created by the U.C. Davis Aggies Track Club. To qualify as a centipede, the group must consist of at least 13 runners one floater who runs alongside, substituting for runners who lose a shoe, drop off the pace or need to make a pit stop.

The organizers of Bay to Breakers have gone so far as to develop competitive guidelines for centipedes, purported to be adopted by the "International Centipede Congress long, long ago":

  1. Each centipede must consist of at least 13 runners plus one floater who runs alongside, substituting for runners who lose a shoe, drop off the pace or need to make a pit stop.
  2. There is no limit on length of fun runner centipedes.
  3. A centipede may be made of any material that an organization, school or club deems appropriate. However, try to keep it light, flexible and well-ventilated. Allow at least four feet between individual leg segments.
  4. Twinkie feelers on the head of each segment are required.
  5. The final segment of each centipede must wear a stinger of appropriate design and toxicity.
  6. Each segment must be filled with a registered centipede athlete - each runner must register individually.
  7. During the entire competition, all required body segments must be present in the centipede body. If a segment is to be exchanged, the replacement must give the centipede's official password to exclude unauthorized participants.
  8. To re-enter the centipede, a displaced runner must catch up with the body and resume his original segment, which the floater has been occupying. The official password and secret acknowledgment must be repeated each time. If the floater makes a permanent substitution, no other substitutions are allowed.
  9. A Lenichi Turn, a 360-degree turn made famous by two Eastern European centipede runners (Oscar and Igatoo Lenichi) in the 18th century, must be executed at Lindley Meadow in Golden Gate Park just beyond the 6-mile point. The Lenichi Turn must not interfere with other runners.
  10. All centipede members must start together, at the start line, as well as cross the finish line with connection intact.

Only in San Francisco....