San Francisco's annual ING Bay to Breakers might be known as much for its nude participants as its elite runners, but a group of world-class athletes will be competing for cash prizes in Sunday's 12-kilometer race.
One of the few American elite runners will be Bay to Breakers rookie Scotty Bauhs, a Danville native who holds the world record for the youngest person ever to run a mile in less than four minutes and a 10,000-meter race in less than 28 minutes.
Bauhs, 24, set the records as a student athlete at California State University, Chico. He ran his first road race when he was eight years old but never ran Bay to Breakers because it interfered with track, he said.
"Growing up in the Bay Area, it's the king of road races," he said. "I'm excited to come out and join the party."
The winner of the race will receive $25,000, and a $5,000 bonus is awarded to whoever reaches the top of the Hayes Street hill first. Bauhs said his parents will probably be cheering for him on the hill.
Many of the elite runners, who are marathoners and half marathoners, said Bay to Breakers is like a sprint for them.
But at 7.45 miles long, it's longer than most of the races Bauhs runs. He said he feels prepared, though.
"I've always tried to prepare myself for longer distances than what I was racing," Bauhs said. "I'm trying to use this race to prepare for my shorter ones."
Bauhs recently ran a fast 10 kilometers on a track. He expects the energy required to be a fast 10K will be about the same as the slower 12K he will run today.
"I'm not really doing something I've never done before," he said. "I've run every day this year."
Bauhs will have some tough, experienced competition, though. Among them will be last year's winner, 23-year-old Sammy Kitwara of Kenya. Kitwara set the world record in the 12K at 2009's Bay to Breakers.
He will be trying to defend his title against Tilahun Regassa, a 20-year-old Ethiopian who beat Kitwara at a half marathon in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.
In the women's pool will be Kenyan Lineth Chepkurui, 22, who set the women's world record for the 12K at another race this year. She will be competing against Kenyan Emily Chebet, 24, who was the 2010 world cross country champion.
The top runners love the costumers and enjoy the festive atmosphere fostered by the other participants, according to Josh Muxen, the elite athlete coordinator for Bay to Breakers.
"One of the reasons the elite athletes participate is because of the uniqueness of the race," he said. "There's something for everyone."
They also love the natural beauty of San Francisco - despite the agonizing run up the Hayes Street hill, Muxen said.
"They look at (the race) as a great opportunity," he said. "They go home and tell everybody about it."