Runners enjoy lighter side

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They typically obsess over their meals, but on this day must tip-toe through flying tortillas.

They are outfitted in the most advanced athletic apparel, but in this event must endure those who eschew clothing other than shoes and socks.

And as they meticulously plan out their course strategy, they must account for the band of Elvis impersonators bound to burst out of the crowd and run alongside them (at least for a few strides).

Bay to Breakers is obviously not your typical race. But that doesn’t stop some of the most competitive runners in the world from making the trek to San Francisco every year to participate in the pageantry.

“It’s like if someone came into your office while you were trying to [work] and started smashing things and throwing all your papers onto the floor,” Bay to Breakers elite athlete coordinator Josh Muxen said. “But they love the huge crowds and the fun community atmosphere of the event.”

They also love compensation and Bay to Breakers offers the highest dollar-per-mile purse ratio of any road race shorter than a marathon in the United States. Runners have the potential to pocket as much as $40,000 for less than 40 minutes of work, as the elite women start 4 minutes, 40 seconds in front of the men and the first person to cross the finish line earns $25,000. There are also bonuses awarded both the first man and woman to complete the course ($7,000), the first of each group to crest the Hayes Street Hill ($5,000) and to anyone who sets a course record ($3,000).

This combination of prize money and personality helps attract people to Bay to Breakers, despite the fact that two of the sport’s most prestigious marathons are in staged the weeks leading up to the race. The Boston Marathon is held on the third Monday of April every year, while the 2007 London Marathon took place April 22.

“There are some races around the U.S. that people feel they have to do at least once — and from an elite perspective, this is definitely one of those,” Muxen said. “[The runners] are always looking around at the costumes, enjoying the crowd and they have the potential to make a lot of money too.”

This year’s race will feature distance runner Catherine Ndereba — perhaps the most talented athlete in the event’s history. The 34-year-old Kenyan is a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon and is a major threat to break Asmae Leghzaoui’s two-year-old women’s course record of 38 minutes, 22 seconds. The overall course record of 33minutes, 42 seconds was set by Kenya’s Ismael Kirui in 1993.

Top runners on the men’s side this year are John Korir of Kenya and John Yuda of Tanzania. Kenyan Gilbert Okari, the defending men’s champion, had originally committed to compete again, but had to back out due to a late injury.

Defending women’s winner Tetyana Hladyr of the Ukraine is not competing due to other commitments.

BAY TO BREAKERS

WHEN: Sunday, 8 a.m.

COURSE: 12 kilometers, starting at the Embarcadero and finishing in Golden Gate Park near Ocean Beach

DEFENDING CHAMPS:

Men — Gilbert Okari

Women — Tetyana Hladr

REGISTRATION: www.ingbaytobreakers.com; last day to register is Thursday

OTHER EVENTS:

» Greater Body Expo: Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. (free admission)

» Footstock: Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Polo Field, Golden Gate Park (free admission)

» Costume Contest: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Polo Field, Golden Gate Park

MORE INFO: www.ingbaytobreakers.com

melliser@examiner.com

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