With a blare of sirens and the crack of a starting gun, Bloomsday 2018 sped away under clear, sunny skies, wheelchair racers leading the pack.
This year’s Bloomsday proved as fine as any in recent memory, with morning temperatures in the low 60s and only a few wisps of cloud drifting along the horizon. Early forecasts of afternoon rain seemed a remote possibility in the early hours – and indeed, only materialized late that evening.
The streets, which had filled as if by magic from a smattering at 7 a.m. to a nearly-jam packed throng less than an hour later, hummed with anticipation and the low rumble of thousands of tense conversations. At main intersections, pairs, or even double pairs of heavy trucks – many of them dump trucks filled with gravel – formed a protective barricade.
Organizers said roughly 45,000 registered, but only 38,187 finished.
In the half-hour between wheelchair racers and elites – perhaps the most tense period of the day, with the race underway but the vast majority of racers still held in limbo – runners stretched, milled and bounced on the balls of their feet. Yet others showed a more relaxed vibe, chatting freely and sharing in the morning’s warming sunshine.
Their backs to the sun, friends Carrie Buchard, Todd Delya and Michael Peale waited near the front of the line close to Post Street. The three were keeping an unusual tradition alive – each one was clad in a frayed bathrobe from Goodwill.
Before the race, they’d do what all good Bloomies do: throw the garments in the trees. But before then, the robes helped keep them warm – and it didn’t hurt if they were stylish as well.
“We’re actually supporting the local economy,” said Buchard behind her colorful sunglasses.
As the clock ticked down to the 9 a.m. elite runners’ start, the rippling crowd on Riverside Avenue bunched and separated, a gap of a few feet separating the front runners from the main mass. At the gun they charged out, their file narrowing almost immediately, moving at a pace that would wind most runners within a block. Within minutes, they were out of sight.
By this time, Spokane had received its first glimpse of this year’s Bloomsday T-shirt – charcoal gray, with a pattern of interwoven red, yellow and orange strands. Freed from their mountain of boxes, the shirts piled up along white folding tables at the race’s finish with some help from the dozens of volunteers
“I like bright colors, personally,” said volunteer Mike Browning. “But this one isn’t bad.”
At 73, Browning has 16 years of volunteer experience at Bloomsday. In that time, he’s handed out myriad shirts – some colorful – to tired, sweating Bloomies. It’s one of his favorite parts.
But by far, he gets the most enjoyment when it’s all over.
“And everybody’s happy,” he said.
As the race got underway, along the route the runners and walkers found their places in the crowd, some strolling, others jogging along at a dogged pace.
“How beautiful,” said Marilyn Murphy of Whitefish, Montana, standing at the edge of the Huntington Park plaza and watching the river cascading over the falls. “How impressive to see the whole group of people coming over the bridge.”
Her granddaughter, Kortney Guier, who is getting married in August, was running in a veil and tutu with five members of the wedding party, she said.
Farther back in line, as the stakes to finish under a certain time diminished, runners’ outfits and costumes became more elaborate. There were men clad in full banana suits; Kevin McGinnis, who was again painted red like the devil, with race No. 666 pinned to his chest; and groups of women donning red and gold to look like Wonder Woman.
Anthony Nance and his two friends went with a simpler look. Borrowing clothes from their wives and girlfriends, with a few quick trips to Walmart, they were decked head to toe in women’s workout wear.
“We were bored, and were just going to go with pink tank tops, but then we decided it’s best to go all out,” said 20-year-old Taylor Heline.
Nance, who had on a pair of sunglasses, a bandana around his forehead, and skin-tight yoga pants covering his legs, said they’d be happy if they passed the finish line within two hours.
Shouldn’t be difficult, he said, given the attire.
Even in a year when polls at least show voter unrest, there were fewer candidates along the route than usual, at least by the time the strollers went by.
Congressional candidate Lisa Brown cheered runners with her supporters in Browne’s Addition. She’s participated in the race in various forms over the years – as a mom with her son, as a candidate and on a Corporate Cup team.
Even if she wins a seat in Congress, Brown said come back and run in Bloomsday next year. Her opponent, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has greeted Bloomsday participants as recently as last year, but hasn’t done the race since before she first won her seat in Congress in 2004.
“This is just an example of one of the great things about Spokane,” Brown said.
After Brown, it was many miles until the next candidate was along the route cheering runners. Jennifer Fassbender, an Airway Heights Municipal Court judge running for Spokane County District Court, waved signs with her family on a bluff overlooking Doomsday Hill. Later, Dennis Cronin, a candidate for Spokane County Superior Court, was out with his supporters along Broadway Avenue.
As the last of the racers were crossing the starting line, the winners of the men’s and women’s elite races already were being announced: Jemal Yimer and Buze Diriba, both of Ethiopia.
Last year, much of Riverfront Park was closed for post-race festivities. This year, areas near the Looff Carrousel were open, including the newly remodeled Howard Street Bridge.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said 32-year-old Danielle Parks, who was sipping her coffee on the bridge.
Parks and her running partner Patrick Crosswhite were able to finish at about 52 minutes. Both avid runners, but with little Bloomsday experience, they said the course wasn’t too difficult, given the sunnier-than-normal weather.
“It was warm, but pretty,” Crosswhite said.
Buchard, who separated from her robed counterparts somewhere along the race, said parts felt hotter than last year, when temperatures reached the low-to-mid 60s. She finished in around an hour and eight minutes.
By race’s end, she was in line at the beer garden, ready to cool off and relax with a Miller Lite.
“After the race, it’s the best beer in your life,” she said. “Let me tell you.”
Finishers can expect to receive the results of their race by postcard in the coming week. Personal results can also be obtained through the official Bloomsday 2018 website, at bloomsdayrun.org.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on May 7, 2018 to note that McMorris Rodgers has greeted Bloomsday participants since joining Congress.
Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.