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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Even In Bad Times, Bloomsday Retains Its Basic Character

Some will argue that Spokane is a city with all the flavor of vanilla pudding spread sparingly upon white bread.

Except for a few special events - particularly Bloomsday.

It is 60,000-some friends and neighbors coming together to work up a horrendous pit and generate enough energy to differentiate the community from Des Moines or Topeka or any of a half-dozen Bloomingtons around the country.

And the lock-step growth of the race and the city seemed a positive for both.

But the 20th edition of Bloomsday was to be run through a city rattled by bomb blasts and sickened by senseless assaults.

It was as if some deity had clicked his giant remote control and changed our channel from The Brady Bunch to NYPD Blue.

And so my fear on Sunday morning was that, like this once-sleepy city, Bloomsday had lost its innocence.

The reasons were as plentiful as the discarded shirts hanging from the trees.

The race’s prize money had ballooned to $100,000, luring the world’s best - and correspondingly shoving some old favorites out of contention.

Word had it that the police bomb-squad truck - exercising a level of caution that seems reasonable in the current unsettled atmosphere - preceded the runners on the course.

What could be next, frisking the Dominican Sisters on Fort George Wright Drive?

And the media swarmed with unprecedented ferocity: helicopters hovered overhead, ESPN motorcycles slalomed the course only inches in front of the leaders, and Randy and Debbie broadcast on location at the starting line.

But the only hint of doomsday at this Bloomsday was the 160-foot elevation rise on Pettet Drive.

No calamity. In fact, it may have been one of the best ever.

The men’s winner, Lazarus Nyakeraka, destroyed the field.

And his story is poignant. One of 14 children, the runner with the name of a Biblical beggar chose a simple description when asked what his family did for a living in Kenya.

“Peasants,” he said. “Small farming.” Not any more, perhaps. His stunning run on Sunday earned a check for $25,000.

Long after Nyakeraka had finished and fulfilled his media obligations, the real characters of Bloomsday began streaming through the finish-line chutes.

One guy came through talking on his cellular phone; another had an eyeball glued to his mini-cam, having apparently videotaped his entire 12-kilometer experience.

Others broke from the pack - unable to withstand another second of athleticism - to order double lattes on Nordstrom’s sidewalk.

And later, as the level of fitness of the finishers waned, innumerable runners committed infamous crimes against spandex.

Over at Riverfront Park, the spectrum of Bloomsday was best measured by the fact that the DARE vans were set up within sniffing distance of the guys seeking signatures for their “Legalize Marijuana” petitions.

At the awards ceremony, nearly 150 runners who had competed in all 20 Bloomsdays gathered.

Many were asked if the nature of the race had changed because of its size, because of its international flavor, or because of the fears that some of society’s sicknesses might seep into it.

The consensus was that the experience, the true character of the race, has gone remarkably unchanged.

“Are you kidding? It’s actually better,” said one 20-year veteran who asked not to be identified because “they’re after me.”

Perhaps paranoids run faster. He wouldn’t say who “they” were, but added that the event is so well organized that the swollen field only adds to the excitement.

“We worry about that,” said race founder Don Kardong when asked whether Bloomsday had assumed a different personality.

“We try to keep the basic experience as good as we can for everybody,” he said. “We try to remember what the essence of this is - to have fun.”

As usual, runners used their t-shirts as a forum for expression.

And aside from the likes of “I’m an Idaho girl and I can kick your butt,” and “You can rest all you want when you die,” a woman’s shirt-statement may have best explained Bloomsday.

“Proud to be running in my 19th Bloomsday,” the shirt read. “A race not won by the swiftest, but by those who just keep running.”

True enough. Had the shirt been larger, she might have added that the event is not, after all, reflective of the city as a whole.

Only the best parts.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Dave Boling by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5504.

You can contact Dave Boling by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5504.