From Deadlines To Finish Lines

by Michael Bowen

They're gossiping about you at the Bloomsday office. Yes, you, Mr. Can't-Fill-In-a-Simple-Form-Correctly. Did you stop to think, even for one second, about the poor beleaguered people who have to process the entry you scrawled and posted five minutes before the deadline? Because those people have some issues with you and your ilk.

Especially if your ilk is the type that bungles the application process and then likes to complain about it. You can style yourself a runner all you want, but the Bloomie People know the truth: You're just a whiner.

Back on a cold, cloudy day in February -- back when you were pondering the completion of your Bloomsday application (due date: April 11) about as much as you were thinking about filing your federal tax return -- Rand Palmer was already crunching the numbers and processing the Bloomsday applications that some well-organized, granola-eating folks had already completed.

Palmer is Bloomsday's computer guru -- a grizzled, grinning kind of guy, clearly competent, but also a bit in disbelief about some of you Bloomie form filler-outers.

"Our biggest problem is that people don't fill in all the fields [on the registration form]," he says.

Enter Race Director Karen Heaps, she of the immaculate office and shiny new track suit, not at all looking like the frazzled manager of an athletic hornet's nest -- not yet, not when it's only late February. She leans in over Palmer's computer monitor and jumps right into the conversation.

"People don't know their own zip codes!" Somewhere between calm and exasperated, she implores a visitor to "tell people, if you're going to enter for somebody else, know their full name, age and birth date."

Palmer and Heaps, both veterans of the Bloomsday Logistics Wars, have their favorite stories. Because some of you people, far from having all your ducks in a row, don't even have most of your ducks herded into the same barnyard.

People resist the form's simplest queries. Heaps recalls asking one woman at late registration for her age. (It's printed on your tag, so it'll be clear to one and all what age group you're competing -- or just taking up space -- in.) The conversation went like this:

"We need your age, ma'am."

"Well, I'm just not putting that down," says the lady. "You see, to be honest, I'm dating a younger guy, and I just don't want him to see how old I am."

"Well, are you likely to finish in the top 25 in your age bracket?"

"Oh, no, I'm just walking."

"Then you can put down whatever age you want, ma'am."

Another memory: Nearly 20 years ago now, Palmer reports he was manning one of the lines for preregistered runners at the Convention Center the day before the race. "This guy comes up to the table, and I'm distributing [the race tags] for women ages 40-44. And he's picking up the tag for his wife." Except it wasn't to be found. The following exchange ensued.

"How old is your wife, sir?"

"I don't know."

"Well, could she be 45, so she'd be in this next line over here?"

"I just don't know."

"Could she be 39, maybe, or younger?"

The blank look continued. "I don't know."

They finally tracked the man's wife down by riffing through hundreds of application forms.

It was the least they could do, really. Race officials should hardly fault a guy for not knowing how old his wife is. Things had just been really busy at work.

Being busy -- that's a whole line of defenses, when it comes to attempts at weaseling your way past a deadline. The two most common excuses for turning in a late entry? According to Heaps, they are "I've been out of town" and "I haven't really heard anything about it."

Yeah, after 26 years, it's getting pretty hard to predict which weekend in May they're going to put on the damn race.

One thing's for sure: If y'all dither about your training for the big race as much as you procrastinate about registering for it, then there must be a whole lot of sad, overweight, under-trained people huffing and puffing their way around... hey, that explains why there are so many sad, overweight, under-trained people running, er, walking Bloomsday this year.

Instead, adopt the mantra of the weight-loss crowd: I'm filling out the form because my form is filling out.

At one point, Heaps reveals that she used to be in shoe sales before becoming the Bloomsday race director. So how many weeks do people allow themselves to purchase new shoes and train for the race? Heaps laughs. "Oh, no," she says. "The peak is the week before."

And there's nothing like having a six-week registration period to make sure that entries arrive after the end of the six weeks. Last year, of the eventual 51,300 entries, only about 28,600 had actually arrived (by mail, online, hand-delivered) by the April 12 deadline. Somewhere in the range of 4,000-5,000 runners paid the late registration fee of $25. Which leaves approximately 18,000 people -- one out of every three of us -- who sent in entries right on the postmark deadline, on the very last day.

But maybe you still have your chance. The race course doesn't figure to be as crowded this year -- just one more reason for you to fill out that pesky late entry form and get on out there Sunday at 9 am.

The numbers this year appear to be down. On April 25, two weeks after the deadline, Bloomsday 2003 had received 42,100 entries.

Maybe you're all secretly gunning for a new record: Greatest number of people to descend on the Late Registration Booth in the Ag Trade Center in the very final hour. That would be on Saturday, May 3, from 5-6 pm. Plenty of time to buy some new shoes and get some training in.

After all, the race isn't until Sunday morning.

Heaps pauses in the midst of all the deadline-day scurrying-about. There are still some gratifying things about all this logistics-wrasslin'.

"We had people in here earlier today, there must've been 6 or 8 of them, who said, 'This is my first time -- my first time running Bloomsday.' So it's still attracting people.

"One young woman was in here, her boyfriend and family had done Bloomsday -- this was last year. And they're sitting around a coffee shop, and, she says, 'They were all wearing their Bloomsday shirts. And I was the only one sitting there without a Bloomsday shirt. Well, this year I'm running it. This year, I'm going to wear my own shirt!'"

Heaps seems proud of the tradition a select few have kept alive: "Of the 26-year finishers, we have 132. We lost three this year." She chuckles, self-conscious. "I don't mean 'lost' -- they didn't die or anything, just three of them failed to finish last year."

But Bloomsday is a life-or-death matter for many folks, bringing friends and families together even when they're apart. This year, servicemen and -women stationed on Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean aren't going to let a few thousand miles deter them come May 4. They're running their own Bloomsday, organized by soldiers normally stationed at Fairchild. Of course, it's not the exact 7.46-mile distance, and all they have in place of Doomsday is a little eight-foot bump in elevation, but hey -- for them, it's still Bloomsday.

"One of the wives brought in [the battalion's] logo the other day," Heaps reports. The men and women who run this Sunday, over on the other side of the world, will receive their own special-edition Bloomsday T-shirts.

Heaps has even fonder memories of Bloomsdays past. "I was at the Road Runners Club of America convention, and this man comes up and sees my shirt and says, [in a phony accent] 'Broomsday, what's that?'

"Well, I've learned over the years not to correct people too quickly, so I just politely said, 'It's Bloomsday, sir.' "

"And he repeats, 'What's that?'

"Well, he was pulling my leg -- he'd run it for years, flew in every year from Texas.

"And he told me this great story: He's on the plane with his wife, and they're elderly, and they've run a lot of races together over the years, and he asks her, 'If you knew you were going to die and you could run just one more race, which one would you choose?'

"And she didn't hesitate. She said Bloomsday."

Publication date: 05/01/03

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.