Producing a Perennial

by Jessica Sheets and Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ob Barbero, who teaches math and coaches track at Mount Spokane High School, has run every Bloomsday since the race began in 1977.

Barbero began running in middle school and ran at West Valley High and EWU as well. He used running as a way to help him through college; whenever he would hit a block in his studying, he would go for a run. He became a teacher specifically so that he could coach, he says: "Running directed me towards what I wanted to do in life."

Asked to reflect on how running has changed over the 30 years of Bloomsday, Barbero starts talking about "the old guys who got all this started.

"I remember going out to Hatch Road just to run a road race, back before the running boom, and some guy would say 'Go!' and put his stopwatch on the hood of a car, and the first guy back would check his time and then shout out the times as everyone else finished."

You could run into Spokane running legends back then, too. "I remember one race where we ice skated on five miles of icy roads," Barbero recalls, "and then at the finish, there's Gerry Lindgren holding the stopwatch."

With that kind of casual running background, you can understand why Barbero might have been a little skeptical when it was announced in '77 that Don Kardong was inviting everyone to "Run With the Stars."

"I remember the first year, and my brother Rick said they were going to have a road race downtown," Barbero recalls. "And I said, 'No way. On a Sunday? No way.' And then I go downtown that first year and there were 1,200, 1,500 people down there."

Over the years, organizers have changed the Bloomsday route, in an effort to improve the running experience for everyone. But long-timers like Barbero still fondly recall the finish line in Riverfront Park.

"The first couple of years, the finish was out by the Clock Tower," he says. "When you came into the park, you entered by the Flour Mill, and then it crossed over to the underpass on Washington. Well, it was wall-to-wall people in that final stretch, with people screaming and yelling -- like a tunnel full of people."

That kind of festive atmosphere attracted big names in the running world -- like Jim Ryun, the first high schooler ever to run a sub-four minute mile, and the world record holder in the mile run from 1966-75.

Flash-forward a few years, and Bob Barbero is running with Ryun right here in Spokane.

"That was 1980. They brought him in as a guest speaker at Bloomsday. And back in high school, he was my idol," Barbero recalls. "That was only the fourth year of the race, so the elite numbers -- you could get those and run with the front-runners. I was running in the low 40s [minutes] then. I ran with him the first five miles. But he wasn't too talkative."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne of Barbero's best memories from 30 years has to do with a post-race celebration that got a little out of hand: "the water fight at the Onion," he says, chuckling. One year in the early '90s, the servers at the downtown Onion served hungry Bloomsday runners while occasionally utilizing the water guns they wore. It was just after the race and the runners were hot, hungry and tired -- what better way to lighten their spirits than with a little squirt? Eventually the fun escalated and turned into a full-blown water fight. Pitchers began to be used as weapons. In the end there was water everywhere.

"Water was dripping from the ceiling," says Barbero.

Although his sons are now in their mid-20s, Barbero can still remember the first time he ran Bloomsday with them.

"Back in the early '90s, Mike and John were in fourth and fifth grade. We went out together early in the race, but first I lost one of them in the crowd, and then the other ran out front and I lost him. I spent about five miles running back and forth trying to find them. And I'm thinking, 'I left home with two kids -- I gotta come back with at least one.'" He laughs. "Well, we got stopped near the top of Doomsday, and I found one of them, so I'm thinking, 'At least I'm at 50 percent.' So as we get farther down the road, it's, 'Oh my god, what am I going to do?' And I'm thinking about all the things I should have done, and all of a sudden I hear, 'Hi, Dad' -- and it's the older one, Mike. He had caught back up to us.

"And then at the end, they got all competitive and ran up ahead, but at least I could keep them in sight."

Two boys running with -- or without -- their father: It's what Bloomsday is all about -- different generations getting fit and having fun.

Any goals for the 30th running, Bob? & r & "Just to finish," says Barbero. "I had back surgery last year, so I'm just trying to get back into shape. I'm hoping to crack into the 50s [minutes], but I've got some owwies that are bugging me."

Barbero, who's 54, realizes that his body is slower to recuperate now. "I go out and get hurt on a slow run, and I think, 'What's that all about?'

"I've gotten into the 39s, but that's been I don't know how many years ago. Now that I'm older, I get all these nagging injuries. With my kids on the track team, I can go out with them on their easy runs, or even on their medium days -- but whereas they bounce back right away, it takes me several days to recover after a workout like that."

Barbero ran Bloomsday last year with the race's founder, Don Kardong. "He had knee surgery and I had back surgery," says Barbero before cracking a joke: "We figured between the two of us we'd at least get one decent time."

Yeah, pretty decent: They ran the course in 63 minutes.

Not bad for a guy in his mid-fifties who's run every Bloomsday since he was 25.

"The things that keep you going," says Barbero, "are the memories of the races when you felt so strong the whole race that you just felt you could run forever. I don't know if that will ever happen again."

Bob Barbero's times may have slowed -- but just as long as he keeps running, he'll always be a perennial.

Jessica Sheets, a student at Gonzaga University, was Bloomsday's college intern. Ann M. Colford contributed to this report.

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