Jon Hansen didn’t have to travel all the way up from Salt Lake City to Spokane for Bloomsday this year.
He didn’t have to in 2020 either, as the COVID-19 pandemic rendered the 12k race a virtual affair for the two years now. Registrants were allowed to submit their times from wherever they could run the 7.46 miles.
Still, Hansen – a former Spokane resident – was among those who chose the traditional local course. The 31-year-old ran alongside around 20 fellow members of the Flying Irish Running Club to clock a personal best for his seventh Bloomsday.
And while larger-scale gatherings and some traditions were forgone – he took to the course Saturday morning instead of the customary first Sunday in May – Hansen said he was eager to make this year’s Bloomsday “as special as possible.”
“It’s one of my favorite races of the year. I don’t think I’ll ever miss it,” said Hansen, a Bloomsday ambassador. “Typically, I think there are about 50 people from Utah who come for the race, but I bet I was one of the few people who came up both years from Utah – especially during a pandemic. But it was something I had to do.”
Hansen was one of the 22,301 registrants for the 45th annual Bloomsday.
Rebranded Bloomsday Worldwide, the second virtual Bloomsday featured participants from at least 22 countries. The 2020 edition, then postponed to September with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, drew approximately 26,000 participants, said Race Director Jon Neill.
“When we look at it as an organization, we are astonished with the participation we received for our virtual event,” Neill said. “It’s certainly an on-your-own race, go find your course and do 7.5 miles wherever you can do it, but the fact that we have 15,000, 20,000 – last year, 26,000 – it’s amazing that we received the numbers that we did for our events these past two years.”
Neill said Bloomsday’s global reach, which was apparent last year, led to the rebranding of the remote event from “Virtual Bloomsday” in 2020, Neill said.
According to race data, Bloomsday Worldwide has tallied 300 international finishers to date, from countries such as Canada, France, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 11,732 of the 20,715 finishers in the United States are from Spokane County. Runners have until Monday to submit their times.
“I think our participation numbers speak to that the tradition must go on, the streak must continue and they must add another Bloomsday finisher shirt to their closet,” Neill said.
Neill described the 2020 edition of Bloomsday as “kind of an experiment,” saying the experience provided a blueprint for organizers to work from with planning out Bloomsday Worldwide.
With this year’s Bloomsday, Neill said distributing thousands of running bibs was challenging due to the sheer volume . He expects a similar endeavor when volunteers prepare and mail finisher t-shirts over the next couple of weeks.
Bloomsday and its associated events typically enlist 4,500 to 5,000 volunteers. With the race virtualized amid COVID-19 concerns, Neill said Bloomsday Worldwide has had about 500 volunteers.
“We’re looking forward to bringing back the whole 4,000 to 5,000 volunteers, but for virtual Bloomsday, we’ve had to scale that back,” he said. “Certainly, it’s not without a great deal of energy because the volunteers that we’ve utilized this past year and this year have certainly ensured the success of our race.”
With race results still coming in for Bloomsday Worldwide, Neill said organizers have already begun planning for 2022.
Organizers are hoping the race returns to a live format next year and are planning accordingly , Neill said, contingent on an improved public health situation.
As to whether there would be a virtual component in a post-pandemic world, Neill said that will be a discussion this summer with the organization’s board of directors.
“There’s been a lot of outpouring of support for the way that we’ve presented and built out our virtual race,” he said. “It affords an opportunity for those that once lived in Spokane, love doing their Bloomsday, love receiving their finisher shirt and now they can do it even though they live in Rhode Island, for example, or Spain, or France or as far away as Australia. There’s certainly a fun piece to doing that and expanding the participation potential.”
For his part, Hansen said he couldn’t see why there shouldn’t be a virtual component with future Bloomsday races.
“I think as a whole, I don’t think you could ever replace the energy and enthusiasm from the main event, but in the respect of expanding the brand name of the race to other states, I think it’s a great idea,” he said. He added, “Whether you charge, like, half the price or go from there, I don’t see how it could be a negative for people in other states to run the course that might not be able to travel to Spokane otherwise, to feel connected to the race.”
“I think our participation numbers speak to that the tradition must go on, the streak must continue and they
must add another Bloomsday finisher shirt to their closet.” Jon Neill Race director