SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza has played host to countless demonstrations. But this may be the first time it was used to demonstrate how a British billionaire works out.
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"That's Sir Richard Branson, everybody!" someone exclaimed, as the Virgin Group founder began pedaling a stationary bike at the top of the stairs, surrounded by local athletes and a crew of performers in red spandex onesies.
Branson admitted he's never held a press conference from an exercise bike before.
"There's always a first time for everything," he said. "I'm a Virgin, I suppose."
Though Burlingame-based Virgin America was sold to Alaska Airlines late last year, Branson says he wants to keep a foothold in the Bay Area. This fall, he's opening the second Virgin Hotel in the United States in downtown San Francisco. That same weekend, Oct. 13-15, he's announcing a "festival of fitness" under his newest brand, Virgin Sport.
"We decided that you Americans are quite fussy people, so we'd experiment on the Brits first," he said.
Virgin Sport's first event was held last month in London. Its second will be the San Francisco Half Marathon -- a 13.1 mile race filling the void left when the Nike Women's Half Marathon announced it would not be returning to the city.
The October event will be more than just a long-distance race.
"You don't have to run a half marathon," said ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes, who ran across the Golden Gate Bridge to be at the event. "You can just come out and run a 1-mile, or a 1K, just get out and move."
The Virgin Sport weekend will include yoga, high-intensity interval training, games for kids and a one-mile uphill climb dubbed the Twin Peaks Mile -- including the "Style Mile," to be run in costume.
"We want to say we have something for everyone," said Mary Wittenberg, Virgin Sport's CEO. She says it stands for Chief Exercise Officer. "You may come for the free yoga. Your friend may come for the boot camp."
Proceeds from the weekend will benefit Playworks, a San Francisco nonprofit that brings playground games like foursquare and kickball to local schools.
"We feel like we can teach a lot of life skills through play," said Playworks president Elizabeth Cushing. "Virgin is all about sport for good, so we feel like we're good partners."
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