Two runners crouched in the starting position on the corner of Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street, with fingers on their watches and bibs pinned to their singlets.
Bloomsday Race Director Jon Neill spotted the pair during an otherwise unremarkable evening trip to the post office and couldn’t help but laugh.
“For the casual observer, unacquainted with what was going on, they would say ‘what are those two doing?’ But that became the order of the day for virtual Bloomsday,” Neill said.
The 2020 Bloomsday road race, held virtually for the first time in its 44-year history, ended on Sunday – a gratifying conclusion to a tumultuous and unpredictable year for one of Spokane’s iconic events.
Despite being forced to eschew the traditional trappings and experience of race day, more than 22,000 runners participated in virtual Bloomsday, running a 7.46-mile course of their choosing and submitting their finishing time online.
“It definitely was an unforgettable year, but in the end, now that we’ve put the finishing touches on virtual Bloomsday, it was also a remarkable celebration of community spirit – and the numbers reflect it,” Neill told The Spokesman-Review on Monday.
The coronavirus pandemic initially forced race organizers to reschedule the race, held every May, for Sept. 20.
Then, as the pandemic stretched on, organizers announced in July the event could not safely be held in-person and would instead transition to a virtual event.
The initial rescheduling to September was “herculean,” Neill said, but the subsequent transition to a virtual event after months of uncertainty “was to some degree a breath of fresh air, because we knew then we had an absolute course of action that we were going to take.”
But 2020 threw another curveball.
Smoke from wildfires across the West encroached on Spokane, leaving the air quality hazardous and forcing Bloomsday to extend the deadline for runners to complete the course to Sept. 27.
Given that participants could run any 7.46-mile course and were responsible for timing themselves, Bloomsday will not name a winner this year.
Although it didn’t draw the 35,000 or more runners of a typical year, the 2020 Bloomsday saw 22,403 of the 26,132 people who registered for the race finish it. That figure is likely to increase as the organization helps people who had technical difficulties filing their results.
“With the overwhelming participation, with registrants that are greater than 20,000, that spirit and tradition of Bloomsday just was extraordinary, it’s just a great reminder of what the race means to the community and how special it is for everyone,” Neill said.
But the work isn’t over yet.
Bloomsday staff and volunteers will now scramble to mail out thousands of finisher T-shirts.
“It’ll take some time for the dust to settle on 2020. We still have a humongous effort ahead of us,” Neill said.
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