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The First ‘Across the Bay’ Race

A Celebration of Running

As the 37th running of the Across the Bay 12K goes virtual for the first time in its history, Run Local got together with the race’s founder, Dave Rhody, for a behind the scenes look at how it all came together. Listen to our Run Local Pod and enjoy his written words and photos below. You can join us for a virtual ‘Celebration of Running’ and register to run the 37th Across the Bay 12K or 415K at race415.com.

Thank you to our community for staying safe and continuing your passion for running and the places we love.  

By Dave Rhody, Across the Bay Founder
Our course maps were hand drawn, the tear-off entry forms on the bottom of our 8½ x 11 flyers looked like checkerboards and the entry fee was $10 which included a ‘finisher t-shirt, fresh fruit at the finish line and a free beer at the Houlihan’s post-race party. The ticket for the ferry ride back to the start was an extra $3. It was April 1st, 1984.

We called it ‘Houlihan’s to Houlihan’s 8-Mile Bay Race’. Described as a run from San Francisco to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge, the start was in front of Houlihan’s on Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf, the finish on the other side of the Bay in Sausalito, just past the Houlihan’s Restaurant at Bridgeway and Princess. Three years later we reversed the course, and 20 years later, when Houlihan’s went bankrupt, we kept everything the same, renewing our loyalty to Edgewood Center for Children & Families, but renamed it ‘Across the Bay 12K’.

The irony of starting a new enterprise on April Fools Day wasn’t lost of me in the long months of preparation. The unknown territory of government permits, problem-solving, training course monitors, the details large and small that had to be factored into the race day production timeline seemed endless. I didn’t think of the random prize drawing until the night before the race; a couple friends and I stayed up until 1:00 AM writing the numbers 1 thru 2,500 on small squares of paper so the announcer could draw a number matching the bib#’s of the prize winners.

When Houlihan’s General Manager, Linda Bullard, asked me to help manage the first Houlihan’s Race, I took the offer very seriously despite having zero experience as a Race Director. April Fools Day was, however, the last thing on my mind that Sunday morning in 1984.

Kathy Henning, who would marry me seven years later, had agreed to help Sandy Tuinzing manage race day registration on the Wharf outside Houlihan’s Restaurant. Kees and Sandy Tuinzing were already a few years and a couple hundred races into Total Race Systems, finish line management, timing and registration, so I knew Kathy would be in good hands. Just before 6 AM my best friend, Ken Meyerhoffer, and I took off from the Wharf in my old Datsun pick-up loaded with a hundred cones and a five-gallon bucket of powdered chalk. Ken had hired me a year earlier to work with him at City Sports Magazine, where I was a errand boy and circulation manager, my transition job after waiting tables at Houlihan’s. We became good friends. Though we had both run plenty of road races, neither one of us had every set-up a course before.

In those days we marked the course, cones at intersections, chalk arrows at turns, supported later by monitors with orange flags. Runners were responsible for familiarize themselves with the course in advance, from the maps and narrative we provided. Other than the block in front of Houlihan’s where we started and a short side street, near the Sausalito Ferry Terminal where we finished, we did not close roads or cone off entire traffic lanes. Pathways through Aquatic Park, the Great Meadow at Ft. Mason, along Marina Green, the shoulder of the road through the U.S. Army Presidio and East Ft. Baker, the west walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the wide sidewalk along Bridgeway into Sausalito served as our course, with runners cautioned to be careful of traffic and ‘stay to the right’.

Working as fast as we could, Ken and I stopped at every turn and intersection, hopping out of the truck to strategically place the few cones we had, hoping they wouldn’t be knocked over before race time. We scooped up the powdered chalk with soup cans; their tops carefully squashed so we mark turns and confirm intersection straight-aways with large, sweeping chalk arrows.

We had underestimated the work and the time it would take. Kees and his crew were setting up his finish line truss-and-chutes in Sausalito when Ken and I got there. We had a half hour to get back to the start. We knew Houlihan’s managers, Linda Bullard and Pete Sittnick, were ready to announce the start from restaurant rooftop. Our worry was that we wouldn’t get back in time to run in the race.

We made it back to the Wharf ten minutes before start time. I don’t remember where or how we parked the truck. I fought my way through a mob of runners on Leavenworth St., alongside Houlihan’s, in time to witness Kathy Henning in event mode, one of my most enduring memories of Kathy in action.

The registration tables were overwhelmed with runners trying to sign-up at the last minute. Word had gotten out that Joe Montana who had led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl victory a year earlier would be handing out awards at the post-race party. Feeling bad for leaving Kathy to handle the mad rush, I wanted to help but knew I was supposed to be up on the roof to say a few words before the start.

 As I turned the corner to the elevator, I saw my 4’ 10” blonde warrior jump on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “Would you #*^% runners just get in line!”

It was the last time Kathy let race day pressure get to her. For the next thirty-two years, she made sure we were ready, for a registration rush, a volunteer shortage, bad weather and thousand other potential race morning crises.

From Houlihan’s rooftop, overlooking Jefferson Street packed curb to curb with runners, I thanked them for being there, rushed back down to the start line, wished Ken a good race, and got up to the start line just in time for the gun.

I don’t remember any of the details or the feelings of running the course that day. My pace, my legs, breathing, what Crissy Field hill felt going up to the Bridge or what Conzelman Road felt like coming down from it on the north side. That run from Houlihan’s/Fisherman’s Wharf to Houlihan’s/Sausalito blended in with the fifty previous times I had already run it. In 1981 and ’82 I would finish a lunch shift waiting tables at Houlihan’s, change into my running shoes, run to Sausalito, have a few beers (Houlihan’s staff on both sides of the Bay often partied together) then run home to our apartment in the Haight.

While the Ferries made a series of roundtrips to get all 2,500 runners back to Fisherman’s Wharf, Ken and I picked up the course in reverse, grabbing the cones on the fly and brushing away our chalk arrows. When we made it back to Houlihan’s/Fisherman’s Wharf for the second time that morning, we were both sweaty, tired, dehydrated and smiling from ear to ear. I had just enough time to shake hands with Joe Montana before the awards presentation. 

Houlihan’s took up the top floor of the Anchorage Shopping Center. At the center of the Anchorage is a multi-level courtyard with a small built-in stage at ground level. With broad stairs leading up to the balcony level on all sides, it’s like a small amphitheater. Houlihan’s General Manager, Linda Bullard, who had enrolled me in her plan, developed the race as one of her many strategies to enhance sales and bring new customers to the restaurant and bar; she was an inspired promoter. As is usually the case, the bar was the big moneymaker. So, of course, the postrace party in the Anchorage had beer and wine pouring stations in every corner to help the overflow from the maxed out barroom upstairs.

That was it. I was hooked. I was blown away by the start. Two-and-a-half thousand runners taking off together to experience my favorite course. The fact that the whole plan worked so well. No one got lost or injured and every face I encountered at the finish and postrace party was lit up with satisfaction. Our ‘Celebration of Running’ tagline seemed to have been an accurate forecast. It took days, maybe weeks for me to realize that I had found a way to make a living from one of my life’s greatest passions, running.

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