It’s just before 8 a.m. and Bill Voiland is a little more than a mile into his Bloomsday race.
The ambulances, musicians and spectators are still setting up along Riverside Avenue as the 75-year-old pushes his red, four-wheeled walker down the course. His girlfriend, Julie Schroeder, walks by his side. Paramedics, police and news crews are still sipping coffee as the two walk down the vacant streets.
In an hour, thousands will pour through.
The two managed to talk their way into an early start time at 7 a.m. during packet pickup the previous day. It’s the first time Schroeder has participated in Bloomsday in 40 years. It’s the first time Voiland has participated in any race since he suffered a stroke while running in 2020.
For Voiland, who has run Bloomsday about 20 times, the goal on Sunday was just to finish before they closed the course.
“This is about the same time it takes for me to run a marathon,” said Voiland, who was traveling the roughly 7-mile course at about a 40-minute-per-mile pace. “I like to think I’m still moving on.”
The most difficult part of the race isn’t Doomsday Hill. It’s traveling down Riverside’s winding descent out of Browne’s Addition.
“The downhill I’m more worried about than the uphill,” Voiland said, as he began the descent and the walker’s wheels began to pick up speed. “I could get out of control, if it goes too fast.”
Schroeder is his backup in case anything bad happens. The two have crossed paths for years since Voiland moved to Richland in 2006, but it wasn’t until they bumped into each other at a dollar store that they introduced themselves. The couple went on their first date a year ago Sunday.
“When I first met him at the dollar store I thought he was probably younger than me,” said Schroeder, who is 63. “He just has this great energy and … he has like four gray hairs. He had a youthful demeanor, even with the walker.”
Originally from the Tri-Cities and a graduate from Richland High School, Voiland is perhaps best known for his work in Spokane as a graphic designer. His career began in 1971 when he was drafted into the Army and worked with a team of artists to create flyers, comics and even a parade float while touring bases across Europe. In 1973, he moved to Spokane and opened up a print shop, Wild Bill Graphics, with partner Doug Crabtree. There, he printed T-shirts, including for Bloomsday 1988, which he was proudly wearing on Sunday.
It wasn’t until he got a DUI in the ’80s that he took up running. It was in an effort to stay sober.
“You get an option to go through a program to get clean, and as a result they’ll drop the charges,” he said. “I was smart enough to take that up.”
“If I can run a marathon then I’m not a drunk anymore,” Voiland said in his typically sly, but humorous, tone.
By 11:15 a.m. Sunday, Voiland and Schroeder had passed Doomsday Hill and finished a celebratory doughnut. They were on track to finish on time, only now they are in the thick of the race. Bloomies surround them. Some cheer Voiland on and encourage him to finish the last mile as they jog past.
Voiland used to run the course twice in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. Once for competition, and again just to socialize. He bumped into some of the same friends and neighbors this time around, too.
Running was a meditative experience for Voiland. He has never worn headphones, he said. He just takes in the setting.
“You just kind of get in the zone,” Voiland said. “It’s just kind of peaceful.”
By his count, he has run 171 marathons since his first in 1986.
“My routine was I would print shirts during the week and then run a marathon, or 50K, and then bring shirts to them,” said Voiland. “A lot of my accounts were for running events.”
He had no intention of stopping until his stroke.
Voiland was about halfway through the Columbia River Classic, a 10-mile run along the Columbia River Trail in Richland, when he collapsed. His friends said that he was running exceptionally fast that day. They called for an ambulance immediately.
“I was real fortunate for them to be right there,” he said. “If they hadn’t been there I probably would have been a dead boy.”
But Voiland could only get around with the walker after that.
“Life just changed overnight,” he said. “I thought I would be able to recover, but the stroke has left me so that my legs don’t work very well.”
At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting everything down around the country.
He skipped Bloomsday in 2022, but decided he would give it a shot in 2023 with the walker. His last Bloomsday run was in 2019.
Voiland started training a few months back by going out for 3 or 4 miles at a time. Despite the stroke, he was still in pretty good shape, he said.
His girlfriend was impressed by his commitment.
“I like sharing this with him,” Schroeder said. “I was so excited by the fact he wanted to do Bloomsday, even though he’s not running it. It’s just doing it. He’s so tenacious.”
After 5 hours, 35 minutes, 35 seconds, Voiland crossed the finish line.
“We had a great time,” Voiland reported from a table at the Golden Corral buffet. “I didn’t even fall down.”