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The first time I ran across the City in the Bay to Breakers road race, a man wearing snowshoes passed me.

This year, I invested nearly $500 - in air fare, hotel bills, car rental and my $17 late registration fee - to earn a race T-shirt I will wear only to sweat in. And, I convinced two friends to enter it with me.And they say runners are healthy.

Organizers say about 70,000 people ran with me in Sunday's version of Bay-to-Breakers, the famous 7.5 mile event that is officially recognized as the world's largest footrace in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On race day, the Human Wall, a mass of Nikes topped with t-shirt slogans, began forming two hours before the starting time of 8 a.m., appreciating the outrageous costumed runners in the crowd. The elite runners, a world class field, were stationed ahead of the pack.

Arturo Barrios won the race and drove home a new BMW for his trouble, with a time of 34.30, breaking Utah runner Ed Eyestone's course record of 34:32.5, which was set in 1986. The women's top finisher, Jill Hunter, turned in the 52nd best time overall, with a time of 39.18.

Alvaro Palacios, former Deseret News marathon champion, turned in the top Utah time at 36.46, finishing 12th in his first try at the course.

But the Bay to Breakers phenomenon, is about more than just sneakers and sweat. This isn't a personal best kind of race. This is the world's largest party weekend, boasting a massive pre-race, carbo-loading Pasta Feed and the post-race Footstock Festival in Golden Gate Park.

This year, the Human Wall at the starting line was clothed in garbage bags, as runners huddled against a light rain. Beach balls were batted around until shortly before race time, when tortillas filled the air. Runners mugged as television cameras panned the crowd, and pelted the radio announcer during his live broadcast. After all, there wasn't much else to do but compare training stories and worry about the Hayes Hill.

Organizers say about 12 percent of the entrants dress in costumes, with another 5 percent competing as linked, 13-member centipedes. This year, fun-loving centipedes included foot doctors dressed as a "pod squad," a team of spine-tingling vertebrae, and a "au naturale" set of runners dressed only in mud and running shoes, carrying a banner stating: "Go Organic."

"The Dolly Parton lookalikes came back this year, some men in their gold lame, looking oh-so-sexy," said race spokeswoman Abby Witchell. "I saw several Nordstroms shopping bags, and a land shark."

The youngest entrant in this year's race was one-year-old Laura Abbott. The oldest was Steve Coglietto, 94.

But most of Sunday's runners fit into the 26-to-40-year-old crowd.

"The first one I ever ran there were really some guys who did the whole schmear on cross country skis," said Don Remington, a Salt Lake runner and veteran of four Bay-to-Breaker races. "And they didn't have rollers or anything."

"Ten years ago, I took the first one very seriously. I got all keyed up." But when his usual eight-minute-per-mile time stretched into 20 minutes at the first-mile marker because of all the people in front of him, that's when he knew it wasn't a serious race.

Remington says every time he earns a new Bay to Breakers t-shirt, he will wear it in the Salt Lake Memorial Day Classic race, where he'll find a dozen or so other Utahns who are also sporting their new prize. And his best costume to brag about was the centipede runners he spotted with an accident victim, followed by medics and then the attorneys.

This road race-cum-party actually boasts some pretty serious history. First known as the Cross City race, the event was staged in 1912 to generate enthusiasm during the city's reconstruction following the 1906 earthquake.

Following the same course, this year's race also celebrated the city's rebirth after the October earthquake centered in Northern California.