by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & isten up, Bloomies. Things are different now. You don't have to get there early and sit on the pavement for two hours. Everybody's starting (in waves) on the same street. There is no merge point (at Riverside and Sprague or anywhere else on the course). Even runners in the same color-coded group will each have a slightly different starting time. Your personal race clock doesn't click on until you jog across those black rubber mats -- and it doesn't stop until you cross the mats at the finish line, just north of the Monroe Street bridge. But make sure you cross both the start and finish lines -- otherwise, Bloomsday officials have all manner of torments lined up for you.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & aking all this possible is Bloomsday's newest fashion frill. Yes, our civic endurance contest is featuring some new jewelry this year -- the absolute acme of ankle adornments, the stylish new Velcro-Wrap Strap With Embedded Timing Chip Thingie. (I'm told it's being worn at all the best races.)

In fact, Bloomsday may have to give up its "largest individually timed road race" claim: On April 23, in Vancouver, B.C., more than 45,000 people finished the Sun Run 10K while wearing these same ankle accessories. (There is no truth to the rumor that, for those with unpaid parking tickets, the timing chips will be secretly transformed by the Bush Administration into home-detention anklets.)

Of course, with timing chips, that means there'll be no more excuses about how you got held up at the start, and no more subtracting 15 or 30 minutes from your recorded time. Those electronic chips won't lie about finishing times the way your next-door neighbor does every year.

This time, everybody begins their run on Riverside Avenue. After the early starting times for the wheelchairs and the elite women, 9 am will mark liftoff for the elite men, Corporate Cup and Second Seeds. And after that, waves of roughly 5,000 runners each will move through a series of gates, gradually approaching the timing mats on the starting line (on Riverside between Lincoln and Post).

Bloomsday's starting-area coordinator, Tom Jones, uses a Panama Canal analogy to describe how waves of runners will be moved gradually forward as they approach the starting line timing mats -- much like boats moving through locks in a canal.

"After we clear Wave 1," he explains, "the barriers will be let down for Waves 2 and 3." Long restraining lines of volunteers at the front of each wave, their arms literally interlocked, will do their best a) to imitate civil rights marchers and the way March Madness teams show their unity in the closing seconds of close games, and b) to keep thousands of antsy runners behind them.

The strollers and assisted wheelchairs in the Red Group (the 10th and final wave) won't start until approximately 9:50 am -- but then they don't need to get in line until 9:20, either.

"If you're in green," says Jones, "and your son is in orange or blue, and you're late arriving, then feel free to move back and join him -- just don't go ahead" to a different-color-coded group that's closer to the starting line, "or you'll be disqualified."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ow, the electronic mats create quite a magnetic field. Local TV stations have been advised not to use any power cords or radio transmissions within a hundred feet of the starting area. Anchorpersons in particular have been warned not to conduct interviews near the starting area; if they persist in using cell phones or headsets in the restricted area, their heads will explode. (Nah, just kidding. But they will be exiled to the weekend morning news in Tulsa.)

There will actually be three sets of 30-foot-wide timing mats, creating double redundancy: If the first mat doesn't pick up the signal from your timing chip, then the second one will. And if the second one doesn't, then... oh, just be sure to jog across the damn mats, OK?

The electronic reception only extends up to about waist height -- so wear the timing chip around your ankle and not around your upper arm or neck, because that would just look stupid.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he entire course has been shifted forward by a quarter of a mile. Moving the starting line of a 12K race, of course -- follow me carefully here now -- also has an effect on where the finish line is located (not to mention everything in between).

For example, with the course shifted forward, you won't reach the five-mile marker at the bottom of Doomsday Hill anymore. No, now five miles is up around where the Vulture is. Just think: You conquer the worst of Doomsday, and your reward is... you still have two and a half miles to go.

The 10K mark (6.2 miles) is now after you make the turn east onto Broadway.

And that long stretch when you're peering ahead to see our faux French chateau of a County Courthouse and wondering how much longer can this thing go on? It's going to go on well past the Courthouse for another quarter-mile. But at least after you hang a right at Milford's, turning south onto Monroe, it's a nice 200-yard downhill dash to the finish.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he finish area (which isn't actually on the Monroe Street Bridge but just before it) will look different too: No finish chutes! (Well, they'll set up chutes so they can hand-time the elite runners and wheelchair competitors -- but those guys will be long gone by the we mortals finish up.)

After crossing the timing mats, first you'll stroll across the Monroe Street bridge, basking in the glow of your athletic triumph and reeking in the sweat of your athletic exertion. Then volunteers -- in about 10 booths on the bridge, and in four more along Spokane Falls Boulevard -- will implore you to strip off that lovely charm bracelet on your ankle, urging you to surrender it in anticipation of receiving the ultimate token of Bloomsday accomplishment, a brand-new T-shirt. (Apparently this T-shirt will have some sort of logo or design on it, but who really pays attention to such things?)

Finally, you'll be ushered along Spokane Falls Boulevard, past the library and Nordstrom and City Hall into Riverfront Park, where they're gonna party into the wee hours of the afternoon as only a crowd of exhausted, predominately suburban middle-aged white women with mortgages know how to do.

Spokane's soccer moms, however, will stand tall and stand proud. Because just think: This year, if they walk or run faster, they'll be pulling themselves up by their own ankle straps.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
  • or