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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bloomsday community keeps Von Klohe coming back, one of 77 participants to run each race since 1977

Von Klohe, 74, has competed in every Bloomsday and is only four years away from his 50th event. That has him wondering if he might make it to 60 if he can stay healthy enough. He was photographed on the overlook by the Monroe Street Bridge and the Spokane River, just below the recent finish line of the race.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dave Cook For The Spokesman-Review

This week, Von Klohe will be running in his 47th Bloomsday.

Klohe points out that there are more Bloomsdays in this century (24) than the 1900s (23). He has finisher shirts from every one of them, and knows the run’s history inside out.

Last year, he was one of 77 who has completed every Bloomsday since 1977. In 2022, those runners’ times were as fast as 53 minutes, 14 seconds (by 57-year-old Keith Lalonde) and as slow as 3:42:45. Now walking more than running, Klohe completed a virtual Bloomsday last year in 2:29:10.

Klohe remembers well the first Bloomsday on May 1, 1977, when the cost to enter was $3 and there were 1,200 finishers. As a 29-year-old, he remembers running what was then an 8-mile course in about 64 minutes.

“I was totally clueless,” he said when asked if he imagined running the race every year for nearly five decades. “I don’t think anybody had an idea in 1977 what this would become.”

With the theme “Run With the Stars,” the likes of Frank Shorter, Rick Riley, Bob Maplestone and Spokane’s own Don Kardong (a “perennial” runner himself) participated in the inaugural event. Shorter won, but the inclusiveness of the event made it burst at the seams in no time .

Klohe originally ran two seasons of track and field at Eastern Washington State College from 1965-67, but the first Bloomsday ignited his competitive juices again. It did for so many others, too, as the race quickly ballooned to 30,000 finishers in 1984, with a high of 61,298 registered in 1996.

“After the first one, the thinking then was, ‘What if I really get in shape and train, and maybe I can run my age,’ ” he said.

About five years in, he ran it in 43 minutes at the age of 34.

“That was the closest I got,” Klohe said.

Since those early years, Klohe estimates he’s walked about half of those Bloomsdays, including once when he started near Division Street so he could photograph the back end of the race.

“I loved walking with my mom, and she loved doing it,” he said. “She did it well into her 80s, and she always wanted to do it in under two hours.”

He admits that his own “obsessive compulsiveness” keeps him active through all these years and doesn’t have an end in sight for his streak. One health scare nearly kept him from the race a few years ago, but he wasn’t about to let his streak end as long as he had a pulse and legs that worked.

“About 10 years into it, I said I’d do the first 50 Bloomsdays, and then I want to ride in the press truck,” he said. “Now we’re almost to 50, so I think I’ll go for 60 now.”

He said the reasons people continue to run Bloomsday well into their later years can be partially traced to the fact every runner gets a finishing place and time. There is overriding camaraderie to the race, but there is also competitiveness.

“In the early days, it was such a creative endeavor,” he said. “One of the constants of Bloomsday is a place position and time for all runners. As the divisions grew and the age groups grew, so did the sense of community. Once you had your name in the paper, there has always been a competitive drive to improve year after year.”

As an example, he recalls having a nonrunning friend in high school take up running and proceed to beat Klohe in Bloomsday.

“If you lose to somebody by 20 seconds, you had to live with that the whole year until the next Bloomsday rolled around,” he said.

He likes the concept of trying to run your age.

“A 10K or maybe a 5K is maybe more realistic for most people, but it’s good to have some kind of goal where you aim for the future,” he said. “I may not have another 75 years, but I still have things I want to do. It helps having something on the horizon, and I find that is true with a lot of runners my age.

“It’s good for me, and its good for most of us to keep moving. You do it as long as you can, because somewhere along the line your 60- and 70-year-old self is not going to thank your 18-year-old self for some of the dumb stuff you did.”

He said the social aspects of running outweigh anything else.

“Some of us qualify as geezers, and of course geezers need a forum,” he said. “It’s sort of like a book club, but it’s walking and running together. There is definitely a social aspect, and it’s one of the attractions of keeping going.”

As a college competitor, he remembers going to practices and getting a workout plan from his coach. Shortly after , he developed his own training plans, and he journals his runs and walks on his smartphone.

“I had my training mapped out for six months or longer, and every day I had a plan for my workouts and nutrition,” he said. “It’s a little obsessive, but it’s also how you improve. I learned what I was physically willing to do to reach my goals.”

He finds new and beautiful places for his workouts and likes to return to places he hasn’t been in a while. His advice to all runners 60-plus is to hydrate and eat food in moderation.

“ But basically, I say have the single burger and not the triple-extra whammy thing. Have the small fries and have the 12-ounce brewski instead of the 24.”

Von Klohe, who has competed in every Bloomsday, doesn’t plan on stopping soon