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‘It felt like the first Bloomsday’: Race director sees bright future for Spokane’s signature event after more than 21,000 cross finish line

UPDATED: Wed., May 4, 2022

Runners make their way up Doomsday Hill on Sunday during Bloomsday.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Runners make their way up Doomsday Hill on Sunday during Bloomsday. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Bloomsday organizers are basking in the orange glow of their post-pandemic race, yet looking ahead to reconnecting with past runners and cultivating a new following to Spokane’s seminal event.

There were 24,119 people registered to run and walk the course Sunday. Race Director Jon Neill said 21,107 crossed the finish line on the Monroe Street Bridge.

Another 5,227 people had registered so far to run a “virtual Bloomsday.” Of those, 2,228 sent in results. They are coming from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. People can still register and run their own 7.46-mile course until the May 8 deadline.

“Having more than 20,000 runners on the streets of downtown Spokane in the first year back after a pandemic is amazing in and of itself,” Neill said. “We’re thrilled.”

It was the same for runners and volunteers, including those handing out the coveted finisher shirts.

“We certainly think we hit a home run,” Neill said. “It was fun to see all of that color.”

The prized finisher shirts are expected to be among the best recruitment tools for next year’s race.

Neill expects Bloomsday participation to swell beginning next year as more and more people return to being comfortable at large-scale community events.

The number of Bloomsday participants has risen and fallen across the years. From more than 1,000 during the first run in 1977, about 30,000 runners in the rain and snow of 1984, and the peak of 61,298 in 1996.

Reaching the numbers of the 1990s will be a challenge. Even before the pandemic, the number of runners had slipped below 40,000. It’s a similar trends at races across the country.

“This year we kind of reintroduced what Bloomsday was,” Neill said, ticking off a list of race staples including sweatshirts in the trees, live music along the route, the choir at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, the Doomsday Hill vulture, the taunt of donuts, West Central sprinklers and a nail-biter finish for first place.

“It felt like the first Bloomsday in so many ways,” Neill said.

And yes, the shirts. Everywhere, the bright orange shirts pulled over sweat-soaked tees and tanks for selfies and bragging rights.

Race organizers are debriefing this week. But Neill said it’s mostly an acknowledgment of what went right in year he described as a hybrid event.

Neill said organizers will determine later whether to again offer a virtual option.

“We want to be flexible and adapt to the market,” he said. “We’ll see where that takes us.”

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