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Spring blooms big time

Mon., May 5, 2008

Maybe spring was just waiting for Bloomsday.

Under cloudless skies, more than 43,300 people completed Spokane’s annual road race and civic party, about 3,000 more than last year, said Jerry O’Neal, a race official and spokesman. Given the occasionally snowy spring, Sunday’s sunshine left everyone elated.

“This is one of those benchmark days,” O’Neal said. “Who could predict?”

Temperatures had neared 50 degrees by the time the 7.46-mile race started, and sweat shirts were draped in trees before most people started running. It reached the 60s by midday, prompting more people to seek extra water or rest at the aid station, O’Neal said.

There were no serious injuries, said Bloomsday medical director Dr. Bob Lutz, adding, “By far and away, the majority of injuries we saw were heat-related dehydration.”

About a dozen Bloomies were taken to emergency rooms, he said. All but one, a woman whose heart rate was slow, were treated and released.

It was the 32nd race, and in many ways it fit the classic pattern: A pair of Kenyans led the field of elite athletes, while a brigade of moms and dads pushing strollers brought up the back ranks. Thousands of runners and walkers passed along the streets in between, some hurrying to finish in under an hour, some trying merely to finish, some wearing the goofy outfits that have become a tradition, from Spiderman to Uncle Sam to a young man in a tight-fitting French maid’s outfit. The Doomsday Hill vulture – a fixture for 11 years – returned.

Many have developed a long relationship with the race. Don Hand, a 70-year-old from Harrison who walked and ran with his wife, Annie, 64, finished his 20th Bloomsday on Sunday. He has vivid memories of years when the weather wasn’t so welcoming.

“I came here one year and it was snowing,” he said. “Today is beautiful.”

Randall Harris, 14, of Spokane, has almost as much history with the race – though maybe not such a good memory from his early years.

“I was in a stroller before I was 1,” Harris said, flushed and happy after finishing. “And I was registered when I was still in my mom’s stomach, so technically I’ve done it 16 times.”

There were some firsts in this year’s race. The choir of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes performed on the steps of the church on Riverside, singing African numbers and spirituals that seemed to give the runners a jolt of energy.

“This is the first year we decided to come out and sing for Bloomsday,” said the cathedral’s director of music, Max Mendez. “We thought it’d be a fun thing to do, a bit of outreach for the cathedral.”

Mendez’s choir was the first of several musical acts – from rock bands to African drumming – along the course. As runners moved into Browne’s Addition, they were surrounded by music and spectators on balconies. At one party, a man repeatedly shouted: “Does anybody need a beer?”

Several miles into the race, atop Doomsday Hill, Karen Bowerman bounced between tables lining the course. Bowerman, working her 30th Bloomsday, encouraged her 253 Premera Blue Cross co-workers while they filled thousands of water cups.

“I hope you all have sunscreen; it’s torture,” Bowerman yelled. “Who would’ve thought two weeks ago we’d had snow?”

Nearby, Spokane’s Bill Robinson relaxed in a camp chair while his one-woman “pit crew” helped him slip into the oversized yellow feet he wears with his turkey vulture costume.

A market research consultant, Robinson regularly haunts the hill. He keeps cool inside his billowy bird suit with fans and duct work.

Alongside the course, three female spectators, standing on log guardrails, cheered for wave after wave of huffing, crimson-faced runners, walkers, limpers and stroller-pushers.

“Congratulations! Welcome to mile marker five,” the women said in unison. “Only two and a half miles to go. And it’s all downhill from here.”

Annie Trunkle-Smart, of Lind, Wash., took up her favorite sideline post and through a blue megaphone playfully chided runners.

“Come on, people. Remember this is a race. Move those buns,” she shouted, breaking into a hummed rendition of the “Rocky” theme song.

Jokingly, a male runner wondered aloud: “Is my chest supposed to hurt like this?”

A few blocks up, Scott Armstrong of Renton, Wash., had finished the race and sat watching. A veteran of the annual event, he was surrounded by friends and his wife, Jamie, who’s pregnant with their first child, a boy.

“Next year, we’ll be strollering him,” Jamie Armstrong said.

After the race, runners lolled about on the grass in Riverfront Park, drank water and ate ice cream. At a table at Rock City Grill, sisters Erin Turner, Janna Tangedahl and Amy Elliott were gathering with friends and family. The sisters – two from Montana and the other from Seattle – meet annually in Spokane for the race.

It’s mostly social, Turner said, “but there’s a little in-house rivalry.”

O’Neal, the race official, predicted early in the day that the number of finishers would be up from past years. For one thing, the number of registrants was up by about 3,000 over last year – and then 2,000 people registered late. And the sunny day made it likely that a higher percentage of registrants would show up and finish, he said.

“It’s one of those days,” he said. “It’s so nice everyone comes.”

Nice or not, a lot of people come to Bloomsday year after year. Ken Bridgeman, 64, ran his 27th race Sunday. He said he started running because it helped his persistent back pain, and it’s become an important part of his life.

“They’re going to have to drag me out of here for me to miss it,” he said.


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