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Number of Bloomsday finishers shrinks for seventh straight year, lowest since 1985

UPDATED: Mon., May 7, 2018, 9:32 p.m.

Runners hard to the finish line during Bloomsday, Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Runners hard to the finish line during Bloomsday, Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Turnout for Spokane’s signature road race continued on a downward trend this year, with the lowest number of finishers since 1985.

Preliminary estimates showed 38,187 people crossed the Bloomsday finish line on Sunday, marking the seventh straight year that participation has declined.

That figure, which is subject to change because of counting errors and potential disqualifications, would represent a 32 percent decline from the 56,156 people who finished the Bloomsday course in 1996, the all-time high.

Bloomsday founder Don Kardong said it’s far from the only running event that has seen participation fall in recent years.

“Sometimes the numbers are up and sometimes they’re down, and we don’t really know why,” Kardong said. “That’s true locally and nationally.”

Since the inaugural Bloomsday in 1977, the race grew in popularity every year before reaching a plateau around 1988 and then peaking in 1996. After a slump through the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the number of finishers peaked again at 51,303 in 2011. It has fallen every year since.

Last year marked the first time the number of finishers dipped below 40,000 since 2004, and some believed the cold and foggy race-day weather might have deterred people from showing up. But the weather Sunday morning was warm and sunny.

“I don’t think race-day weather makes a bit of difference,” Kardong said. “By the time we get to that point, people have bought their tickets and they’ve decided they’re either going to run or they’re not.”

The official number of finishers last year is significantly higher than previously reported. Of 42,986 people who registered for the race, 39,371 crossed the finish line. Last year’s preliminary estimates put the number of finishers at 38,748.

Kardong said he expects Bloomsday’s popularity to surge again in the coming years, once construction wraps up downtown and in Riverfront Park.

“I think that will really help,” he said, because “people get excited when they come to see downtown.”