Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bloomsday for $3.49!

Yes, you read that right! Bloomsday only cost me $3.49! I will be happy to explain:

If you aren't familiar with Bloomsday, it's an annual 12K (7.46 miles) race held in Spokane WA on the first Sunday in May that generally attracts about 50,000 participants. The course runs through downtown and the surrounding areas, over the glorious Spokane River, with Doomsday Hill as the famed steep incline. There are the crazy people who finish the race in about half an hour, and then there are the rest of us ordinary folks who sign up for the experience of burning leg syndrome, shortness of breath, and general regret of inducing our own physical misery. Not to worry, it's all in the name of fun and tradition.

Unlike other races, T-shirts are distributed upon finishing the course, making Bloomsday unique. Due to this, the T-shirts have become a badge of honor of sorts. The Bloomsday Association holds an annual contest for the T-shirt artwork. They have certain specifics like only so many colors, no bigger than a paper of 11x14, etc. G got word of the contest and, being the art extraordinaire that she is, was enthusiastic to submit a potential winning design. She let her creativity run wild, and while exhausting her ingenuity, her poster didn't meet the strict contest parameters. Of course, I let her send it in anyway. She put in hard work, who am I to shoot down her hopes. While the T-shirt committee didn't select her design, they did send her a letter of acknowledgement with a complimentary race entry. (Imagine her excitement when she read the salutation, "Dear Artist.") She decided that 7.46 miles was a bit far for her little legs, so she let Mom use her free race entry.*

T-shirt Artwork submission by G: Runners feet across the bridge at Riverfront Park. 

The last and only other time I participated in Bloomsday was about twenty years ago. I grew up watching the race on TV and seeing many classmates sport their prized T-shirts at school the following day. I don't remember exactly when my interest surfaced, but I began asking permission yearly to participate. My mom quickly said no because, "it's seven miles!" a distance certainly to far for my ability. If so many of my friends and classmates finish it, why couldn't I? After admiring the 20th anniversary Bloomsday T-shirts in 1996 which were blue with trampled white water cups, I asked yet again to sign up. Finally she allowed me enter that year, 1997, with my aunt and uncle only because they were walking and, therefore, a safer pace which I might possibly survive.

If I recall correctly at that time, all 50,000 people started at once (it's now partitioned in assigned waves). The enormous force of thousands of runners thrusting forward was similar to a panicked mob exiting a burning building. Because the throngs of people were lined up for several city blocks, it took about 15-20 minutes to reach the actual start line after the gun went off, which means your own race time was not in sync with the official clock. I also remember the parking situation as a big headache. We must've parked halfway across the city, walked to the starting area, waited like upright packed sardines for the race to start, pushed through hoards of runners for another a half mile to the starting line, and were finally off! I don't remember much about the course itself other than climbing Doomsday Hill and seeing the iconic vulture at the summit. I do remember obtaining my shirt with extreme disappointment! The shirts were skin-dulling beige with a swirly design and stick figure runners (the design is kept a secret until race day). They were not nearly as cool as the water cup design from the year before. At least I was able to say I completed a Bloomsday.

Years went by and I didn't have the desire to do it again, mostly because the crowds are such a headache. And the parking. Parking is a disaster. But last year I wished I participated, and this year G gave me the opportunity to enter! It's the 40-year anniversary of Bloomsday; perhaps I just get the itch every twenty years. But what about the crowds? And the disastrous parking situation? I talked to a few veteran racers who explained the more streamlined process: the city bus line offers exclusive Bloomsday routes; groups are spaced out in assigned waves; and there are little computer chips in the race bibs that track your actual start and finish times! Except for the 7.46 miles holding the risk of spontaneous human combustion, it really couldn't be easier.

Yes, yes, Jennifer, but where did you spend the money? Well, in the days before Bloomsday, I was required to pick up my race packet at the convention center downtown. Traffic was obviously congested (50,000 people, remember?), but I caught a lucky break when a metered parking spot directly across the street was waiting for me. I expertly parallel parked, pulled out my wallet to insert change when, to my surprise, there's over an hour left on the meter! I happily skipped across the street to the convention center, obtained my race packet, and proceeded to the city transit booth where I purchased my Bloomsday bus pass for a whopping $1.50 round trip. The remaining $1.99 was spent on Cliff BLOKS Energy Chews because I knew I was going to run out of fuel somewhere within those 7.46 miles. FYI the energy chews were quite helpful by giving a good pick me up when I felt sluggish.

The big day went smoothly. I parked my car at the mall, hopped on public transportation, and was deposited two blocks from the start area. (And it was the same easy return process.) My arrival to the start area, however, was quite early and I regretted being a lone runner. With 50,000 people there, I was sure I could find someone to chat with and help alleviate my boredom. The lucky folks were a jolly older couple who kept me company until start time. It was his 25th Bloomsday and her 15th. I pointed out that their years put together make 40, matching the anniversary of this year's annual race.

As far as the race itself, I had no fancy goals, except to simply finish the damn thing! I thought it would be great to accomplish it in under two hours but wasn't going to kill myself in order to achieve that. Yet, with focus and concentration, I finished in 1:40! While I was training, I would pace a slow jog and count using this pattern: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10--10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, 2-2-3-4-5..., 3-2-3-4-5..., up to 10 and repeat for three sets. Then I would walk for one or two those same counting sets. I used this technique during the race which gave me something to concentrate on besides my aching legs and sweating forehead. In a sense, it was like meditation in motion. I did walk most the hills and inclines (the course is full of them) to save my knees. The last mile and a half was the toughest. By then I was exhausted, plus it was a hot day. I'm pretty sure I left a visible sweat trail similar to slug slime. I suppose if I ran too fast, my sweat would've flown off onto the unsuspecting runners behind me. See, a slower pace was good for everyone!

As I crossed the finish line over the Monroe Street Bridge and made my way to the T-shirt distribution table, I couldn't help reminiscing about my disappointment of the design from nearly 20 years ago. The 2016 design were much more pleasing. However, I did think that G's design would've been cuter :)

My $3.49 pocket change was well spent. I had fun challenging myself and felt good about accomplishing a city tradition that seemed intimidating and daunting. Running has never been a strong suit for me, but pushing myself to practice and "go the distance" paid off. And, you betcha I wore my badge-of-honor T-shirt the next day!

Climbing Doomsday Hill

The crowd on Doomsday Hill (Photo Jennifer Miller)

From upper left: The throngs of runners waiting for the race to start; me smiling on the TJ Menach Bridge before ascending Doomsday Hill; Doomsday Hill ummit Vulture; my lovely T-shirt. (Photos Jennifer Miller)

*I am not suggesting that others submit artwork for the possibility of receiving a free entry. I did not know my child would receive it. I am simply telling my story and experience.

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