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50,661 Bloomies cross finish line

Mon., May 3, 2010

Women’s champ Lineth Chepkurui sets world record at event’s 34th edition

Some elite runners made good money during Sunday’s brisk Bloomsday run in downtown Spokane. And dozens of Corporate Cup runners went home with a trophy.

For others, the 34th Lilac Bloomsday Run was less about awards and more about annual traditions of bringing together families and fitness.

Jerry Litzenberger, a 65-year-old consultant from Snohomish, Wash., returns to his roots each year to run Bloomsday. He grew up in the West Central neighborhood, which is the course’s homestretch. His sister and 94-year-old mom still live there.

“Running through the old neighborhood is lots of fun,” said Litzenberger, who finished the race in 1 hour, 35 minutes. “And over the years, it’s evolved into a family event.”

Ann Howard, Litzenberger’s sister, watched for her 6-foot, 4-inch brother in the stream of runners flowing down Lindeke Street. Her nephew and his wife were also running. The cheering section, meanwhile, included four generations of Litzenbergers. Past Bloomsday T-shirts were proudly displayed on the fence.

Jerry Litzenberger ran in the inaugural Bloomsday in 1977. He’s run nearly every race, “except a few in the 1980s,” he said.

Sunday’s race also brought together more than 100 Bloomsday “perennials” – those who’ve never missed a single race, along with several thousand people who’d never done the race before.

Bill McElroy, a 78-year-old Bloomsday walker, was one of about 60 perennials who met and started the race in a group. “The youngest in that bunch is 46,” said McElroy, “and a lot of them are still good runners.”

His knees no longer let him run, McElroy said. “Still, I keep doing. By now, it’s really easy to do.”

Among the first-time runners was Colleen Nolan-Dahlstrom. As a middle-school student living in Spokane, Nolan-Dahlstrom watched the first Bloomsday run snake through downtown in 1977. She thought the event was nice, but no big deal.

After moving to Southern California in 1988, it remained no big deal until three years ago when Nolan-Dahlstrom, who’s 48, started running seriously. She and her husband, who stayed home this weekend, hope to run a marathon or half-marathon in each of the 50 states.

“So today was a great day for me, to have a great run and finally compete in Bloomsday,” she said after finishing in about 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Watching her run the race Sunday was Pam McMath, her longtime school friend and a Spokane resident. It was McMath, back in 1977, who went downtown with Nolan-Dahlstrom to watch that first Bloomsday race.

For some Spokane residents, watching Bloomsday has evolved into its own tradition.

Sue Thompson has lived in the West Central neighborhood since 1983. She was thrilled when the Bloomsday course was altered to pass by her Craftsman-style house on Broadway.

“This kicks off the summer for me,” said Thompson, who likes to entertain.

Guests arrive on Friday night and stay through Monday. Some park travel trailers in her driveway. Others sleep on her floor.

“They call my home the airbed hotel,” Thompson quipped.

Sunday starts with a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and evolves into a relaxed day of people-watching. After the wheelchair athletes and elite runners, the stream of sweating humanity passing by Thompson’s house continues for hours. Across the street, a band provided live music.

Doomsday Hill – the bane of many runners – was Tyler Konsonlas’ favorite part of the 7.46-mile course. “It was a little challenge,” said Konsonlas, 19, who ran Bloomsday with his dad and two teenage brothers. Konsonlas is training for a marathon later this month. “Last week, I ran 16 miles, so this is a nice warm-up.”

After the race, Theresa Gabel stretched aching leg muscles and displayed her new light green T-shirt. Bloomsday is Spokane’s signature event, said the 49-year-old Chattaroy resident.

“I love the crowd,” she said. “And I love the fact that we’re crazy enough to do the same thing every year.”

As runners passed through Browne’s Addition, crowds yelled encouragement, bands played rock ’n’ roll, and onlookers raised mimosas in salute.

Cindy Fine, who lives near the Riverside Avenue route, stood in awe, coffee mug in hand, as the runners passed.

“I thought I owed it to myself to see this in person at least once,” said Fine, who has lived in Spokane more than 20 years but never watched Bloomsday before.

Her reaction? “I’ll do it again next year, if the weather is just as nice.”

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