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Race gets help from radio club to keep color groups moving

For the second straight year, Bloomsday organizers got logistical help from the Spokane amateur radio operators club. Using radio frequencies, club volunteers beamed live video from the Marne Bridge back to Jeffrey Reed, Bloomsday start director, who was stationed more than a mile away. It’s Reed’s job to manage the staggered starts from 9 a.m. on, and to get roughly 50,000 people on the course smoothly and efficiently.

“The bridge is the race’s one big pinch point,” Reed said. The start director has to know whether to hold up or set in motion the next group of runners depending on what’s happening at the bridge.

Video from the camera is transmitted to a 6-inch monitor inside Reed’s booth near the starting line.

This year’s race went smoothly, Reed said, noting that every group started exactly at the preset, staggered start times. “It helped to also have wider start lines this year,” Reed said.

Water at the ready

Spokane Valley firefighter Paul Hammersley was filling buckets at a water station with a fire hydrant hose as the start of the race neared. The station, staffed by firefighters, had 10,000 cups of water ready for runners and walkers.

Shortly after 9 a.m. the first wheelchair contestant whizzed by.

“Hey, hey! Go get ’em kid!” Hammersley called out.

Losing track of time

Several RFID tags, the orange radio-frequency strips inserted into shoelaces that are “read” by sensors, were lost along the course. Along Riverside, one runner said he saw three within the first two miles. The tags are used to accurately establish each person’s start and finish times.

Bloomsday Race Director Don Kardong said runners who lost tags need to contact if they want an accurate race time. Race officials will try to use video or photos taken along the course to track locations and arrive at an approximate total finish time.

The one interruption to an otherwise problem-free run was a single wheelchair racer crashing in the first three miles of the course. That did not back up any of the runners set to start behind the wheelchair groups, who are the first to start the race.

Harmonic encouragement

The choir of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral serenaded runners along Riverside Avenue with the African chant “Siyahamba,” translated as “we are marching in the light of God.”

One of the best finishing tunes along the course Sunday was “Don’t Slow Me Down,” performed by a local band right at the finish line. (The speakers at the finish line, most of the morning, blared out “Celebrate.”)

Offer of cruel refreshment

When runner Dave Turner crested Doomsday Hill, a cold beer was waiting for him.

A friend, Allison Collins, handed him a Coors Light. The beer – part of a joke – was intended to slow him down, Collins explained.

Turner and his girlfriend, who is Collins’ co-worker, compete against each other. Both expected to finish Bloomsday in under an hour.

But the girlfriend worked back-to-back shifts at Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar on Saturday. She needed an edge, Collins said.

They’ve found their market

Eleven-year-old Maddie Bacon advertised a different kind of drink.

“Doomsday lemonade,” she called out. “Twenty-five cents.”

Her 5-year-old brother, Jack, is also part of the operation, which started when Maddie was a preschooler. Sales are brisk.

“We usually have to refill the six-gallon containers three times,” she said.

Professional high-fiver

Trish and Jeff Luce sat in lawn chairs on Mission Avenue, watching their 20-year-old son, Matthew, who is autistic, slap hands with runners.

It’s a tradition he’s kept for about five years. Some of the runners recognize him and detour to “give him five,” his parents said.

“This is something he likes to do,” said Trish Luce. “He’s been talking about Bloomsday for about a month.”

“He’ll be there until the last walkers finish,” said Jeff Luce.