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Bloomsday goes completely virtual after initial postponement

Bloomsday runners beak from the start on Riverside Avenue, Sunday, May 5, 2019. This race this year is going virtual, after the coronavirus pandemic caused a delay in the annual May event. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Emma Epperly and Adam Shanks The Spokesman-Review

Some of its most loyal runners lament missing the inaugural Bloomsday in 1977. Now, they have a second chance to run a different first Bloomsday.

The 2020 Bloomsday will be the first that’s entirely virtual after race organizers announced Wednesday that the in-person event has been canceled due to COVID-19.

After initially postponing the race to Sept. 20, race director Jon Neill said organizers now feel a virtual event is safest. It’s the first time in its 44-year history that Bloomsday has not held an in-person race.

“There are so many individuals that always stop me and say, ‘Jeez, I wish I could have done the first Bloomsday in 1977,’ ” Neill said. “This new format … this is your chance to do the very first virtual Bloomsday.”

Bloomsday is one of several major Spokane events to be canceled or adapted due to COVID-19, including Hoopfest, which was rescheduled from June to August before being shelved earlier this month due to the pandemic.

Spokane County would need to be in Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan for Bloomsday to be held in September, according to Neill.

“Our summer was really spent structuring what that would look like for Bloomsday 2020 and ways we could operate a physically distanced road race,” Neill said.

There was initial cause for optimism in May, when Spokane County entered Phase 2, that it could reach Phase 4 in time to host the rescheduled Bloomsday. But now, every county’s progress is on pause as COVID-19 cases rise statewide.

Wednesday’s announcement was based on the “reality that this wasn’t going to work for us and putting on an event of our magnitude for 2020,” Neill said.

Those who had already registered for Bloomsday will automatically be signed up for Virtual Bloomsday.

A race number and instructions will arrive in the mail in late August or early September, according to the announcement by Bloomsday on Wednesday.

“Virtual Bloomies” can then complete the 12K between September 18-20 on a course of their choosing, according to a statement.

After completing the run, finishers can post their finish time on the Bloomsday website and they will be mailed the 2020 finisher shirt.

For an organization largely fueled by volunteers, mailing out thousands of shirts will be the “most ambitious undertaking in Bloomsday history,” Neill said.

But when they pushed back the original May date, Neill said race leaders laid out goals to accomplish in 2020.

“Always at the top of the list was the finisher shirt. It’s something that is very important to the community,” Neill said. “It’s that badge of honor, and similarly, it’s that show of community spirit that more than ever we all need.”

Edilsa Mendoza has run every Bloomsday for more than 20 years, and even went out running with her husband on the day and time it was originally scheduled this year. She was disappointed in Wednesday’s announcement but plans on running in September.

“I am glad they are doing a virtual one and we can still get our bibs and shirts. I also understand because of COVID-19 it’s for the safety of everyone, and I respect that,” Mendoza said.

Like other small businesses and nonprofits, the pandemic has taken a financial toll on Bloomsday. The race typically sees between 35,000 and 45,000 participants, but only 17,000 have signed up in 2020.

Even though Bloomsday can tout a relatively low entry fee of $25 compared to similar races, that drop in participation has hurt.

“We are going to have to streamline things, there’s no doubt about it,” Neill said. “The advantage that Bloomsday has … is that we remain very much a volunteer-driven entity, so we have a very skinny staff.”

Registration for Virtual Bloomsday is still available until Aug. 26 at