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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘The rhythm of 20,000 runners’: Bloomsday participants who haven’t missed a race in 45 years meet again

Roger Aldrich is one of a few dozen “perennials” who have participated in every Bloomsday run since it began in 1977, but one Saturday in the mid-’90s, he came within minutes of losing that title.

Aldrich was in Washington D.C. for work before that year’s Bloomsday when his Saturday night flight to Minneapolis, where he was set to hop on a plane back to Spokane, ran late. Once landed in Minneapolis, Aldrich and his traveling partner – also an avid runner headed home for Bloomsday – had just minutes to make it to the plane that would bring them home, located at the other end of the massive airport.

The duo grabbed their suitcases and sprinted through the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. They arrived at the gate just as doors to the passenger boarding bridge shut, yelling at airport staff to wait.

When passengers asked the sweat-drenched friends what was worth the rush, Aldrich answered he couldn’t miss Bloomsday. The plane broke out in cheers. They were two of about 10 people aboard planning to run that Bloomsday.

Saturday, a few dozen perennials gathered on the large stone steps north of City Hall for photos and mingling ahead of 2021’s virtual race. COVID was hardly a deterrent for the committed group.

Keith Lalonde only lived in Spokane for the first of 45 Bloomsday races he’s now run. Lalonde, the second-youngest perennial, was 12 during the 1977 race. By the 1978 race, his family lived in Colville. His mother would make the hour and a half drive to get him signed up, then make the trip again for the race itself.

“It’s kind of been a family affair,” Lalonde said.

At the early races, he remembers ending near Riverfront Park and hearing his mother’s screams of encouragement among the crowd of what seemed like thousands of onlookers.

Aldrich and Lalonde said the race’s fast growth was remarkable. While the first race had fewer than 2,000 participants, within a few years, Aldrich recalled, the race had multiplied 10 times.

“The lights on the (Monroe Street) bridge were bouncing with the rhythm of 20,000 runners,” Aldrich said. “Twenty thousand people and everybody’s feet are hitting the ground at the same time. And they said, we gotta change the route because this is dangerous.”

Rich Landers’ first story for The Spokesman-Review as a sports reporter previewed the 1977 run. The perennial said it started out mostly as a rag-tag group of people wearing basketball shoes and, before electronic tags, people would arrive sometimes an hour early just to snag a good starting spot. Though 2020’s and 2021’s virtual races to prevent COVID-19 spread are a strange blip, Landers said the most striking difference today is gender makeup of participants.

Sylvia Quinn, 84, stood in the middle of a group of seven perennial women for a photo Saturday. The group, outnumbered about four to one by perennial men, recalled their high school athletics experiences prior to the passage of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal financial assistance.

Sally Rennenbohm-Lutz, who was 17 during the 1977 race, remembered being one of few girls on Spokane’s University High School’s track team. It was with this team that she ran in her first Bloomsday race.

Perennials Dianne Bruhn, who graduated high school in 1958, and Kris Olson-Wood reckoned their girls sports teams had access to their schools’ gyms one day per week, while boys got the rest.

Bloomsday seemed to tip from a vast majority of male runners to mostly female runners in a matter of years, Quinn said.

It’s the inclusiveness of Bloomsday that Landers said makes it unique among the countless races he’s traveled to since 1977.

“It’s the sheer mass of enthusiasm throughout the city,” Landers said. “Isn’t it cool to be known as a town that gets 60,000 people running together?”

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