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Bloomsday’s first race director looks back on event’s early days

Doug Kelley, the first Bloomsday race director, stands amid the runners sculpture outside Spokane City Hall. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Doug Kelley, the first Bloomsday race director, stands amid the runners sculpture outside Spokane City Hall. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

This Sunday will mark the 34th annual Bloomsday Run. In the group of about 49,000 will be Doug Kelley, who helped organize the first race in 1977 and in 1982 became the first Lilac Bloomsday Association race director. Kelley is now a regional account executive for Avista Corp.

Q. I gather you don’t run in every Bloomsday. How many will this one make, for you?

A. I have run more marathons than Bloomsdays. I think I am only at about a dozen Bloomsdays. … I am entered, but also hurting. It could be a game-time call.

Q. Do you enjoy the event, the crowd and all?

A. Bloomsday is always special. There is a huge flow of emotion at the start, followed by crushing fear for the first mile. I enjoy seeing so many other runners at the finish who I may not see anywhere else. And I love the camaraderie of rehydrating at various locations afterwards.

Q. What’s the worst part of Bloomsday?

A. The first mile is always worst for me. Going to full race pace after standing around for 20 minutes and then trying to stay safe and not get tripped up in that mile is a challenge.

Q. How did you get involved, back in the late 1970s, when there was no Bloomsday yet?

A. I was a member of the Jaycees and Don Kardong came to the Jaycees one meeting and said he had this idea for a road race in Spokane but needed an organization to help bring it to fruition. Don and I became co-chairs of the event from the standpoint of it being a Spokane Jaycees project. We prepared a project guide at the end and submitted it for a national Jaycees competition and won a second-place for events. Bloomsday still has that project guide. We called it the Bloomsday bible.

Q. Was it hard to organize what was then a loose, massive road run into something with a board and a budget?

A. It was not hard, but there was a disconnect. Road racing was fairly new, and the concept of taking over downtown, and organizing an event that you had no idea how many participants would enter, was an interesting process. My favorite memory was an early meeting when we decided to write on the entry form, “limited to the first 500 participants.” We thought we were marketing geniuses and that restriction would get people to hurry up and enter. (They ended up with 1,400 registered runners that year, of whom 1,198 finished.)

Q. What caused the biggest headaches back then?

A. The worries switched each meeting as things moved along. We would resolve one issue, only to move on to the next. The biggest hurdle early on was simply getting the city officials to come to the same vision: that having a run start and finish in downtown was a good thing. The city traffic official at the time commented in a meeting, “I can’t keep all the lights green for you that long downtown.”