Remember Bloomsday? The running event that took over downtown Spokane each first Sunday in May for 40-plus years? Word is that it'll be back in person this Sunday, May 1.
For real this time. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood. Inshallah.
For the last two years, Bloomies have participated in a virtual run, patiently waiting for COVID restrictions to ease so they could participate in the regularly scheduled in-person festivities that take over Spokane's downtown core. With a readily available vaccine and COVID reportedly declining across the state and country, 2022 marks the return of the event after a two-year hiatus.
"Excited," "eager," "enthusiastic." Those are the words that Bloomsday Race Director Jon Neill uses to describe the feelings of race day organizers and volunteers.
"I have been looking forward to this day for three years now," says Neill, who took over as director of Bloomsday after founder Don Kardong passed the mantle in 2019. After decades of running successful Bloomsdays, the 2020 race was prohibited during Washington state's restrictions on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. This year's race symbolizes an end to that prohibition, Neill says.
"Bloomsday is about blooming and emergence from winter. Here we are, getting ready to take a giant step forward from the pandemic and the public health situation we found ourselves in," Neill says. "I think Bloomsday, more than ever, will signify that emergence. We're excited to be one of the first big events in the city and state — as well as to do it safely."
In case you've forgotten, Bloomsday 2020 was originally postponed until September that year due to the coronavirus shutdowns. As COVID persisted, it was clear to race organizers that the event wouldn't be able to continue at all in 2020. What was supposed to be a two-week quarantine turned into an indefinite period of COVID-related restrictions, and Bloomsday became an entirely virtual race as a result.
There was hope in 2021 — more than a year after the first shutdowns — that the in-person race would resume as usual. But COVID persisted, and most in-person events remained prohibited. Bloomsday went virtual for the second straight year.
Despite the restrictions over the past two years, Neill was heartened by the enthusiasm from runners who participated virtually. Bloomsday garnered about 26,000 runners in 2020 and about 23,000 in 2021. Even though this year's race will take place in person, Bloomsday has kept the virtual race open to runners all over the world. Runners can sign up for the virtual run until race day. About 4,000 had signed up for the virtual race by mid-April, Neill says.
Bloomsday perennial Bill Peters, 77, says he's glad that the race is continuing virtually this year. He and his wife are remaining cautious and limiting their public interactions due to COVID concerns for his grandson, who is still ineligible for a vaccine, he says.
"It's made it possible for me to continue because I would not have been able to run in the crowd," Peters says. "I would not have been able to do it because of family responsibilities. It's a really wonderful thing they've done."
Perennials are those proud few who have finished every race since the first one in 1977. Mary Fagan, 69, another perennial, describes this year's event as a celebration of health as well as the coming of spring. She'll be walking the course with the rest of the crowd this year.
"It tends to be such a big race, and I rarely see anyone I know, so it's like making new friends every year," she says. "I find great joy in the energy of Bloomsday and the people."
Neill says he wants this year's race to honor the runners and walkers who stuck with Bloomsday in 2020 and 2021. And he credits the enthusiasm of Bloomsday's brigade of more than 4,000 volunteers — many of them involved for decades — in helping bring the in-person race back to life in 2022.
"We were so fortunate as organizers and race officials," Neill says of the past two years, "and we look at this year's event as rewarding those that supported us in the two virtual years. Whether it's 10,000 people or 30,000 or 40,000, our goal is to put on the best road race the world knows."
After the Spokane area saw a population boom during the pandemic, Neill is also excited about Bloomsday becoming part of many newcomers' lives in their adopted hometown.
"Even though it seems like a short time ago that we ran in 2019, we do have this influx of new residents to Spokane," he says. "Some people think it's just a race and there's a start line and finish line, but it's so much more. It's a mascot vulture at the top of Doomsday [Hill], and 20-plus bands that line the course, and it's Spokane's reunion, and post-race parties, and the way that it just takes over our town like a major road race international." ♦
To register for the in-person or virtual race, or catch up with all things Bloomsday 2022, visit bloomsdayrun.org. The trade show is at the Spokane Convention Center Fri, April 29, 11:30 am-8 pm, and Sat, April 30, 9 am-6:30 pm. The race starts at 9 am on Sunday, May 1. The involved streets reopen at 1:30 pm, and the post-race party takes place at 2 pm on Main and Stevens in downtown Spokane.