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With Bloomsday postponed, diehard Bloomies still take to Spokane’s streets Sunday morning

Krystal Cogswell wore past race numbers as she ran the Bloomsday course on Sunday in Spokane. Bloomsday has been postponed to Sept. 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The throngs of cheering fans, live music and ceremonial T-shirts all looked a bit different Sunday with the official Bloomsday postponed, but diehard Bloomies still marked some milestones.

Rich and Nancy Gustafson traveled from Seattle on Saturday so that Rich, who turned 80 on Sunday, could finish the course.

“The best part is I got to start right at the starting line with the elite runners,” said Rich Gustafson, who estimated he’d run 15 or 16 of the races in Spokane. “Otherwise I would have been in an orange shirt, back about five blocks.”

Family members were kept aware by fear of exposure to the coronavirus and other health reasons, Nancy Gustafson said, but in the past her husband has completed the race with their daughter, Kristi Lin, and her son, Steven.

“I was sorry that I couldn’t be there for the race,” Lin wrote in an email. “Yet I ran with (him) on FaceTime for part of the race.”

The 12-kilometer road race that has become the unofficial kickoff to spring in Spokane over the past 43 years will instead take place Sept. 20, with large public gatherings currently prohibited under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order. A dedicated band of runners and their supporters went ahead with their own observance Sunday, as groups of three or four racers, walkers and longtime Bloomies at a time held their own unofficial version of the event on a blustery, balmy May morning.

“It was windy but a beautiful day for a run,” said Herman Schreven after finishing the race just after 9 a.m. along with other members of the Spokane Distance Project, a local men’s running group.

Schreven said the group decided they didn’t want to interrupt their routine, and members were among the hundred or so “finishers” who’d collected souvenir T-shirts from Joanne and Pat Maguire at the intersection of Monroe Street and Summit Parkway. Those shirts made no mention of the Bloomsday race, instead proclaiming for the wearer that “I still ran” on 5-3-2020.

Don “Sandal Man” Aslinger finished his fourth Bloomsday in the unconventional footwear inspiring his nickname.

“It was a little bit warmer than usual,” Aslinger said, adding that it was also strange running the race on the streets of Spokane as cars rolled by.

Others tried to keep the spirit of Bloomsday as close as possible to the real thing. Joe McManus and his wife, Marilyn, wore gloves and handed out filtered water to Bloomies cresting the dreaded Doomsday Hill on Sunday morning.

“I decided we have that water unit in our house,” said McManus, who ran every Bloomsday until he was permanently sidelined by a foot injury six years ago, motioning to the water cooler. “I just got three bottles of water on Friday, and we loaded that up in the back of the car and drove here.”

McManus estimated they’d handed out water to about 100 runners, walkers and cyclists in about an hour and a half Sunday morning, and about the same number had politely declined.

“We’re not even touching it,” McManus said. “If anybody came by and I would have said, if you have a problem, we would have shut down.

“You’d be surprised, people really appreciate it,” he added.

One of those appreciating the refreshment was 70-year-old Mary Naber, part of Spokane’s Flying Irish Running Club. She stopped for a quick swig at the top of the hill in the midst of another Bloomsday race.

“I’ve run it every year that I’ve lived here, since ’84,” Naber said. “I missed two years because I was in Japan.”

Naber said she started the course downtown Sunday morning not knowing what to expect but anticipating she wouldn’t be alone.

“I thought I was going to be myself, but I just knew there would be other people out here,” Naber said. “You don’t want to miss this.”

Some fans also lined the course, trying to re-create the atmosphere of the rocking block party Bloomsday has become over the past several decades. Angel and Darby Meegan played music out of the back of their hatchback at Pettet Drive and North West Point Road, shouting encouragement to runners and waiting for their friends.

“We live in Peaceful Valley,” said Darby Meegan. “Our friends said they were running in on Friday, so we were like, let’s just go play music like people do.”

Taped to the side of their car window was a sign reading, “The Kenyans never started, so you can say you beat them.”

“That’s my favorite is yelling at the people that the Kenyans have already finished,” Darby Meegan said.

Rich Gustafson arrived at his hotel room to find an official finisher T-shirt waiting for him as a birthday present from race organizers. He may be the only person with one of the 2020 shirts for the postponed race, he said.

“I beat my time last year by I think about 30 seconds,” Gustafson said. “I feel great, truly. I was in a lot better shape than I thought I was.”

Gustafson said if he and his wife aren’t on their planned cruise in September, he’ll be back in Spokane to run the official Bloomsday.

To Aslinger, the runner who finished 2020’s unofficial Bloomsday in sandals, the spirit of the runners and spectators showed resilience in the face of a global pandemic.

“You can take the Bloomsday away from the city, but you can’t take it away from the people,” he said.