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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘This is Spokane’: Bloomies make the best of virtual race on Sunday

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 20, 2020

At the top of Doomsday Hill on Sunday morning, runners streamed by, grabbing water and shouting their thanks.

Joe McManus and his wife Marilyn set up their own little water table, encouraging Bloomies who decided to stick with tradition.

“They are really appreciating the water with the sun coming out,” Joe McManus said with a smile from his walker, parked behind the table.

Everyone was smiling and cheering each other on despite the unique circumstances that led to a September Bloomsday.

Last year, Bloomsday brought 35,000 people to the streets of Spokane on the first Sunday in May.

This year, the event went virtual with people participating all over the world and in Spokane on the traditional course.

Floyd McComas, 79, has run every Bloomsday. He was determined to make it this year, despite COVID-19 causing a postponement.

As he headed up Doomsday Hill with his running partner Mary Naber, the pair said they were happy to see so many people out and about.

A few hundred people ran the traditional course Sunday morning.

“People who are going to do it are going to do it,” Naber said of the unique circumstances.

The 2020 race pivoted, allowing runners to race wherever they want in the world during a several-day period, record their time and submit it online.

Organizers planned the race to last for a few days, to be flexible for runners.

Due to hazardous air conditions last week, organizers extended it even further.

Despite delays, bad air quality and the shift to a virtual event, the McManus family knew nothing would stop them from completing Bloomsday.

Joe McManus ran every Bloomsday until 2013, when a foot injury permanently sidelined him. But as a longtime runner and coach, McManus knew he could still be involved. For the past six years he has been the gear guy, coach and cheer section as his wife, daughter, granddaughter and now great-grandchildren run the race.

“If I can’t do it, I definitely can stay a part of it,” he said with a smile.

The McManuses have been involved in Bloomsday for so long, they know many of the runners. Marilyn McManus greets them by name as they pass the water table, sometimes even passing messages from one runner to another.

The pair set up a water table on May 3 for Bloomies who decided to run on the traditional race day and decided they couldn’t miss the official race day, either.

They drove up from Ephrata with their Culligan home water machine and donated jugs from the Moses Lake Culligan.

“We know this is where it would be nice to have water,” Marilyn McManus said of their location on top of Doomsday Hill.

Their granddaughter, Tashia McManus, clearly agreed as she stopped and chugged three cups of water.

“I’m feeling okay actually,” she said with a laugh. The 29-year-old has completed every Bloomsday since she was born, except for one a few years ago when she gave birth on May 3.

A few minutes after Tashia passed the table, her 10-year-old son Kaiden ran up, chugging water before heading off to catch up to his mom.

Joe McManus estimated that about 400 runners had passed by 10 a.m.

Bloomsday board member Stephen Jones was driving the course checking on runners Sunday. He stopped to chat with the McManuses, who remembered him for his signature fuchsia running shorts from the 1970s.

“He would take off, and all we would see is pink ahead of us,” Joe McManus said, laughing.

Jones said the first person to log a time when the virtual run opened Friday was a Bloomie in Sweden.

“ You can tell that this is so important to their lives,” he said. “You see people you know would not be doing anything like this if it wasn’t for Bloomsday.”

The event certainly has become a tradition for mother-daughter duo Sheilah Murphy and Katherine Smith.

“We do it every year. It’s a tradition,” Smith said. “I got to keep on doing it. You have to do it. I love Bloomsday.”

Smith has completed Bloomsday 37 times and continues to walk it at 78 years old.

The pair take about 2½ to 3 hours to complete the course and enjoyed the tradition despite the lack of typical Bloomsday atmosphere.

“I thought it was good that they were continuing it, to allow people to have the option,” said Smith of moving to a virtual event.

“We so appreciate it very, very much,” Murphy added.

Moments later, Christie McKee and Ladd Bjorneby walked across the TJ Meenach Bridge and looked up at Doomsday Hill.

The pair worked together for years at Lutheran Community Services and started walking Bloomsday together two years ago. Despite a different race format, they were excited to be outside.

“Might as well enjoy what one can in this year, when the normal isn’t going to happen,” Bjorneby said. “So you make do with what you got and enjoy it.”

McKee, who has been completing Bloomsday on and off since the ’80s, agreed.

“It’s good to be outside. It’s beautiful, but I do kind of miss the celebration,” she said.

Other runners were able to help bring the celebratory spirit, cheering and clapping as they passed, keeping the community spirit alive despite the pandemic, McKee said.

“This is Spokane,” she said. “Bloomsday is Spokane.”

The Sunday morning crowd was much larger than Saturday’s, when small groups of runners were staggered on the Centennial Trail, so spread out they were hundreds of feet apart.

Air quality continued to significantly improve Sunday, and runners have until Sept. 27 – next Sunday – to complete their Bloomsday course and receive a finisher T-shirt.

At the usual finish line on Sunday morning near the Monroe Street Bridge, race director Jon Neill cheered for finishers.

“It has been a great day,” he said. “I came down here to cheer on those that wanted to keep their tradition going and finish right here at the traditional finish line.”

While the last few months of adapting plans and then eventually moving virtual have been stressful, Neill said the Bloomsday board has been able to roll with the punches.

“We’re so fortunate to have clean air and blue skies, and go figure from a week ago, we didn’t have this, and now we’re able to go outside and exercise,” he said. “I just think that the timing of virtual Bloomsday couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Alex Dratch and Nadine Burgess couldn’t agree more. After blowing out her ACL earlier this year, Burgess was excited to complete the course, slow and steady.

The pair crossed the finish line and did their signature handstands, while laughing and posing for a photo. Burgess owns Spokane Gymnastics and is famous for doing handstands all around with world with Dratch.

“It’s our thing,” he said.

Despite physical injuries, pandemic problems and wildfire smoke, the pair were thankful to have stayed the course.

“Just like everything, we’re so tired of Zoom in virtual, but that’s what they have to do to keep everybody safe and just to have something,” Burgess said. “And even though it’s not crowds, and what the usual experience is, it’s still awesome.”

S-R reporter Maggie Quinlan contributed to this story.

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