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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘We just wanted to have some fun’: Bloomsday returns to Spokane’s streets Sunday morning for first time in 3 years

UPDATED: Mon., May 2, 2022

By Kip Hill, Colin Tiernan and Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

Skies started clear and the Bloomies were ready Sunday as Spokane’s signature road race returned for the first time in three years. 

Temperatures were already in the 50s as the first few groups headed down Riverside Avenue to the theme of “Chariots of Fire,” sweatshirts and sweatpants thrown into the trees overhead.

“It was great to see the sea of people this morning,” said Bill Fitzner, a 10-year Bloomsday veteran who ran the race in a panda costume.

Bloomsday registration lagged a bit from recent years. The total number of entrants was 29,348, race organizers said. Of those, 5,229 were virtual runners. The 29,348 participants was the lowest total since 1983.

Several attendees said they were waiting to get back on the roads.

“We just wanted to have some fun,” said Brittany Spurbeck, who crafted tulle tutus with her friend, Ashley Hansen, for their fourth Bloomsday race together. They hadn’t dressed up before.

Most Bloomsday runners commented on the sparser crowds compared to years past. People weren’t packed as tight before the starting line as they’ve been in normal years.

But participants still said it was a thrill to return to the streets after virtual events.

“It’s much quieter and smaller, but regardless, it’s just nice to have the group back,” said Katie Alhafian. Alhafian ran her first Bloomsday in fifth grade and has run in roughly 30 races since.

Runners all guessed that continuing COVID-19 fears caused some people to stay home.

“You wouldn’t expect it to bounce all the way back right after the pandemic,” said Ray Thorne, a five-time Bloomsday runner.

Multiple Bloomsday veterans said the virtual races in 2020 and 2021 were “better than nothing.” Still, everyone said the energy’s different when thousands of people fill the streets at once.

“It’s easier to push yourself,” said Sarah Forrey, who estimates she and her twin sister, Amy Routon, have run the last 17 Bloomsdays.

On Doomsday Hill, the imposing incline that brings Bloomies into the West Central neighborhood and the last leg of the race, members of the Gonzaga University men’s track team rant over from campus to cheer on alumni running in the race.

“It’s a cool event,” said Dominic Arce, a redshirt junior. “We like to be a part of it.”

Bill Robinson donned his vulture costume for a return to cheering labored runners after a heart condition almost ended the tradition last fall. Many runners gave Robinson high-fives as they crested the hill.

Another participant returning from a health scare was Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, who was running for the first time after a bout with throat cancer.

“I feel like I can actually run again,” said Beggs, who estimated he was participating in his 15th Bloomsday after running his first while at Whitworth University in the 1980s.

At the top of Doomsday Hill, the band “Big Sister” rocked out at their first Bloomsday. For bandmember Micah Thompson, though, the race has long been a family event.

His grandfather, Peter Thompson, is a perennial. His grandmother, Mary Jane Thompson, was thrilled to cheer on both her grandson and her husband from behind the band with her earplugs in.

“It’s exciting for them,” she said, with a proud smile.

In West Central, “Summit Boulevard Swank” played tunes for the 10th time.

“We thought we’d set up in the front yard and play some music and 30,000 people came by,” singer Dave McRae told the crowd with a chuckle.

The finisher shirts this year were unveiled shortly after 9 a.m.

They’re a coral color with block lettering featuring the profile of the Monroe Street bridge and the Great Northern Clocktower in Riverfront Park, among other features.

The shirts were designed by Emerald Dumas, an artist who moved to Spokane in 2009 and who has run in every race since then.

“I love the tradition of Bloomsday and for the shirt design I wanted to incorporate the iconic landmarks of Spokane but in a fun, bright way,” Dumas said in a news release.

Dumas designed the race medal last year. Zome Design in Spokane Valley printed this year’s finisher shirts, a tradition that dates back to the inaugural event. The Bloomsday runner statues were once again adorned with T-shirts of years past on Sunday.

After sunshine to start the race, puffy white clouds quickly rolled through downtown as of 10 a.m.

Temperatures in the West Central neighborhood had reached the upper 50s near the course’s finish line by late morning.

Firefighters responded to two people in cardiac arrest on the course but quickly stabilized them, said Brian Schaeffer, Spokane fire chief. Spokane Fire paramedics were stationed on bicycles throughout the course and arrived to those calls in less than a minute. In total, EMTs responded to 22 incidents during the race, Schaeffer said.

Both people in cardiac arrest were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment, Schaeffer said.

Kyle McNaught-Davis, who ran Bloomsday in a chicken costume, stood out among the crowd after the finish line on the Monroe Street bridge. People kept walking up to him and Fitzner, the panda, to take pictures.

McNaught-Davis estimates he’s run nearly 30 Bloomsdays. He said he got the idea to run in costume after going to a San Francisco road race and seeing a picture of a man dressed as a chicken passed out at the starting line.

The costume isn’t a huge impediment, McNaught-Davis said. More people cheer for you when you’re dressed as a chicken, so the fan support outweighs the excess heat.

“The good part is everyone’s yelling at you,” he said.

Even if it did slow him down and hurt his time, he wouldn’t care.

“It’s not so much for the time as the experience.”

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