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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Bloomies celebrate 43 years of Spokane’s featured road race on a warm May morning

UPDATED: Sun., May 5, 2019

Runners high-five the Doomsday Hill Vulture during Bloomsday 2019 on Sunday, May 5, 2019 in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Runners high-five the Doomsday Hill Vulture during Bloomsday 2019 on Sunday, May 5, 2019 in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Kip Hill and Rebecca White The Spokesman-Review

Celebrations of all kinds brought more than 35,000 people to the streets of Spokane on Sunday for Bloomsday’s 43rd running.

The race’s most thankful participant may have been 73-year-old Paul Schafer, of Spokane, who was treated to a chorus of “Happy birthdays!” from his fellow Bloomies thanks to a sign on his back that said “It’s my birthday today.” As he walked with his longtime friend Gary Stauffer, of Spokane, through Browne’s Addition, he paused to offer his gratitude for the well-wishes, over and again.

“I told him a long time ago, this is his birthday party,” said Stauffer, who came up with the idea for the signs plastered to the back of their T-shirts. “You’ve got 40,000 people coming to your birthday party.”

The sun peeked out of the clouds around race time at 9 a.m., and the warm weather (temperatures reached the mid-70s) may have boosted turnout, despite early indicators that this year’s race could see fewer runners, joggers and walkers than in years past. Organizers said Friday that about 37,500 people had signed up for the 2019 race, which would continue a downward trend of participation seen in past years.

But Riverside Avenue was jammed once again with a patient horde waiting for the starting gun to fire. Among them was Nicholas Heiner, who took the opportunity of a Cinco de Mayo Bloomsday to don a taco costume for the 12-kilometer race. It was the second time Heiner, who said he’s run in 15 Bloomsdays, wore the outfit for the run.

“It was a little more difficult,” Heiner said of running in a cloth taco shell, “but a lot of fun.”

Anne Keith, of Bozeman, who finished Bloomsday in about an hour and 15 minutes, competed in a tulle skirt her sister made for her, because “(we) don’t want to take themselves too seriously.”

Keith, the youngest of three sisters, was the only one to run Bloomsday and first to finish. Her sisters walked.

“I’m going to keep running till I can’t,” she said.

Keith said they had hoped to make it a family tradition, but she hadn’t run Bloomsday in six years. She thinks Montana’s altitude and mountains prepared her for the race, especially Doomsday Hill. She said other runners considering the race – or still in it – “should just keep their head down till they see the vulture,” referring to the costumed mascot at the top of the race’s feared incline.

Emily Weiler, of Missoula, was running her 19th Bloomsday. She wore the work shirt, handkerchief and bright red lipstick of an iconic character from WWII, Rosie the Riveter, as she waited for her race to start on Main Avenue on Sunday morning.

“I just found it, and thought it would be fun,” Weiler said. “I could run in it. A lot of costumes are tricky, but I felt comfortable.”

Others wore items with sentimental significance. Taylor Renee Potts and her husband, also named Taylor, wore shirts stating they were running for Donny Potts, the husband’s father, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 6, 2017.

“He ran Bloomsday every year,” Taylor Renee Potts said. “We run Bloomsday now, but we didn’t before.”

“I think he had every single year since it started,” Taylor Potts said.

Jacob Mayfield, a 28-year-old Army veteran from Spokane, also ran in honor of someone else. He carried an American flag across the finish line to remember his best friend, who died Thursday.

Mayfield left Spokane just hours after the race, flying to Pittsburgh to help his friend’s widow and her children prepare for the funeral. Mayfield had served with his friend in Afghanistan.

“I just wanted to do something to represent him today,” Mayfield said.

Bloomsday is a family affair for many. Jenna Hoff finished Bloomsday just a few minutes before her dad, Tom. The 11-year-old from Spokane has competed in Bloomsday for four years, and finished the race in about an hour and a half. Her dad has run Bloomsday for about a dozen years.

She said the Otter Pops along the course help keep her motivated, but she only had one, and gave it to her dad when she couldn’t finish it. She said her mom was also in the race, but finished several minutes behind them.

Jenna said she didn’t train at all for Bloomsday, but plays softball and basketball, which keeps her in shape.

Michelle Grover and husband Kyle have run Bloomsday together for four years, and have been married for three. She said this year was the first they finished together, because Kyle usually finishes the race a little faster. This year he waited for her.

They estimated it took them about two hours to finish the race. The Coeur d’Alene couple trained by walking their dog, an 8-month-old German wirehaired pointer named Winnie.

Browne’s Addition residents continued their tradition of cheering on Bloomies at the race’s start, before the lactic acid kicks in and the sweat starts to pour. Most racers were still in a good mood when they reached Kris Herda’s friends and family, who stood in front of condos facing the Spokane River on Riverside Avenue and high-fived passersby with a little bit of snark.

“My favorite comment is to tell them they only have six more miles left,” said Herda, as he paused between cheering on runners. “They don’t laugh back sometimes when I say that.”

The group held signs intended to make Bloomies chuckle. Messages like “Smile … Remember you paid to do this” and “You run better than our government” elicited some laughter from passing joggers and walkers.

“Half of them we’ve had since the start,” Herda said. “We just added two this year.”

Close to the first mile marker, Katherine Corrick sat outside her fourplex in her pajamas, waiting for her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter to make it to her home. She had mini-doughnuts waiting for them, some much-needed carbohydrates for the hills to come.

“The people are just so friendly,” said Corrick, who runs Bloomsday but was sidelined by a foot injury this year. “Somebody just yelled out, ‘Hey grandma!’ I guess I am a grandma.”

The heat rose in the morning, prompting some medical issues for finishers. Leah Edwards, a registered nurse in charge of the medical tent at the race’s finish line, said that by 11 a.m., medical personnel had treated between 20 and 25 cases of heat exhaustion. A couple of runners had been pulled off the course due to dehydration symptoms, but they had recovered.

Michele Anderson, public safety communication manager for Spokane, said the Spokane Police Department didn’t respond to any major incidents related to Bloomsday. She said 10 people were transported to the hospital and emergency personnel responded 29 medical calls.

Bloomsday race director Don Kardong, who is retiring after this race, said 35,233 out of 38,541 people who entered completed the race, which is slightly fewer than how many people normally participate in Bloomsday.

Those who finished were treated to T-shirts this year that included a Bloomsday course map on a light red background. Father and son Nicholas and Lochlan Hargreaves, both of Spokane, proudly sported theirs as they walked back up Sprague Avenue after completing the race together.

“It was warm, but it wasn’t too hot,” Nicholas said. “It was just right. Just right.”

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