Bob Wilson hasn’t done Bloomsday in 25 years, but he’s ready to conquer the 7.46-mile course again – as a walker this time, not a runner. Wilson has a good excuse for slowing down: He’s 90 years old.
“I’ve got my new shoes so I feel fine,” Wilson said last week before going on a training walk with fellow residents of Rockwood Retirement Communities.
The Lilac Bloomsday Association said 1,593 Bloomies are 64 or older, and the oldest participant this year is 94. Several senior participants said they couldn’t imagine missing Spokane’s big race, which celebrates its 29th running Sunday. Many of them even called Doomsday Hill, the dreaded incline at Mile 5 on the course, “fun.”
Mary Franklin, 72, has been a runner for 40 years. She logs 4.6 miles every other day jogging from her home to Manito Park and back.
The slim Spokane Valley native grew up on a farm, so she was never a stranger to physical activity. She said she prefers running over other activities because it burns a lot of calories in a short time. Plus, she’s addicted.
“Every year at Bloomsday I say, ‘I’ve done this long enough,’ but then I go buy a new pair of running shoes,” Franklin said.
At age 84, Larry Morse is relatively new to Bloomsday. He began participating three years ago after learning that not every Bloomie was in it for speed.
“I’m not a runner,” Morse said. “I didn’t know there were that many people walking it.”
Rand Palmer, the Lilac Bloomsday Association’s volunteer statistician, estimated that 12,000 people run the race, 17,000 walk it and the remaining 13,000 do a little of both.
Jon Holloway, 75, also has been Bloomin’ it for the last three years – after a 20-year break. Back in the 1980s, he would escort his young grandson through the race while the boy’s father tried to log a good time. But Holloway apparently was such a good coach that by the time his grandson turned 9, the boy was beating his father.
Older people can become active even if they weren’t in their younger years, said Dr. Susan Melchiore, who specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics at her Coeur d’Alene practice.
“It’s never too late, but you have to start slow with a graded program,” she said.
Melchiore said physical activity can improve longevity and reduce the likelihood of several health problems, including heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. People don’t have to be overly ambitious to gain some benefits, she said.
“You don’t have to run. You don’t have to be doing pole vaulting,” Melchiore said. “You can do regular walking.”
That said, she has an 82-year-old patient who pole vaults.
Melchiore warned older people to be aware of the same signs that younger athletes should heed, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and swollen joints.
Cecil Hannan, 79, had his own advice to offer to new Bloomies:
“You need to do some walking before you do it,” he said.
Hannan followed his own advice last week by taking a 10-mile stroll.
The Rockwood Retirement Communities resident used to run 10-kilometer races in 48 minutes and has completed San Diego’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. At Bloomsday, though, he no longer tries to beat his previous year’s time.
“My time is going the other way,” Hannan said.
Hannan and his wife, Molly, usually head to Bloomsday with another couple, but the men split away from the women once they cross the starting line. Hannan said the men hardly say a word throughout the race, focusing instead on the task at hand. Meanwhile, the women chat their way through the course.
“The wives carry their cell phones and talk to people,” he said, somewhat baffled.
Hannan said Bloomsday is a good way to stay fit, but there’s more to it than that.
“Anytime you get with 40,000 people all doing the same thing, that’s special,” he said.