Listen while reading

On the first Sunday of May, Spokane, Washington, hosts one of the world’s largest timed road races. Tens of thousands of runners, joggers, and walkers of all ages come together to celebrate spring in the city. Writer Maggie Dickmann guides us through this 40-year tradition.
Text and photos: Maggie Dickmann
Country: United States

s April comes to a close, the telltale signs of spring appear. The days get longer, the birds chirp and scour for worms, and the flowers bloom. For “the lilac city” of Spokane, Washington, it also means a favorite festival is fast approaching. The Lilac Bloomsday is a cherished event for the active community of the Inland Northwest. Athletes young and old, of all shapes and sizes, love to partake in this 12-kilometer road running race. From its inauguration in 1977, Bloomsday was a success with more than a thousand finishers. Last year more than 40,000 runners and walkers helped celebrate its 40th birthday.

Don Kardong is the man to thank for the Lilac Bloomsday race. Kardong had competed in various national races before representing the United States in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. Kardong placed fourth in the marathon and returned to Spokane where he continued his teaching career and ran recreationally.

In the fall of 1976 Kardong began to flesh out his idea for a race. The United States was experiencing a running boom, and Spokane had recently placed itself on the map by hosting the 1974 World’s Fair. Kardong suggested that Spokanites (the Spokane locals) take advantage of the renovated downtown and start a road race of their own. He shared his thoughts with a newspaper reporter who ran with it, so to speak. With the support of then-Mayor David Rodgers, the organization skills and teamwork of the local Jaycees (a leadership and training organization for young adults), and the financial sponsorship of Medical Service Corporation, Kardong set the course. The event was advertised as a chance to “Run with the Stars” because Don Kardong and Olympic medalist Frank Shorter would participate. Since then, the race has grown in popularity.

What started as a fun run quickly grew to an international sensation. Runners from all over the nation were drawn to Bloomsday nearly from the beginning, and in 1981, New Zealander Anne Audain claimed her first of seven victories in the women’s division. In 1982 Bloomsday was named by the popular running magazine Runner’s World as “one of the best road races in the United States,” and prize money was first offered to the top finishers. The male and female winners each took home $5,000 that year.

Nowadays Bloomsday entices career runners from as far away as Kenya to compete for the prize money. But Bloomsday isn’t just an opportunity for some talented runners to make a quick buck. Since its second year, the race has been a non-profit corporation, always with the goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle. The proceeds from the race are reinvested in the event, and each year a different charity is supported.

Growing up in Spokane, Bloomsday was a pivotal part of my childhood. My father was a runner in high school and university, and still enjoys running recreationally. I inherited that and ran cross-country and track at school. I fondly recall memories of sunny, post-Bloomsday barbecues with extended family. Bloomsday welcomes racers of all ages, but my parents made my siblings and me wait until we were about 9. Until then we had to be satisfied with my dad and cousins’ race-day tales: How was everyone’s time? Did Dad have to walk up the dreaded Doomsday Hill, or did he run the whole time? What did everyone think of the T-shirt design?

The T-shirt is different every year, and the final design isn’t revealed until the first runners cross the finish line and receive their shirts. My favorite is the one from 1996, which featured an illustration of the thousands of cups runners discard at water stations arranged to spell out “Bloomsday 1996.” Unfortunately, I didn’t run that year to get one of my own.

I finally got my opportunity to participate in Bloomsday in 1997, when my sister and I walked it with some friends.

As the race approaches, Spokane, especially downtown, becomes a hub of celebrations and excitement. Everyone, from children to senior citizens, is talking about the race. On the Friday and Saturday before, participants pick up their race numbers at a trade show, where health and sports organizations promote their products. I always liked going for the free samples of energy drinks, snacks, and small promotional gifts like key chains and magnets .

Everyone is a bundle of nerves on race day, whether they are running competitively in the elite heats or pushing strollers and walking with their families. As a child I was worried that I would be separated from my friends, a very likely possibility at an event with tens of thousands of participants. This year I was more with achieving my goal time. I run leisurely on a flat, grassy course and I’ve never paid much attention to my speed. How would I do when confronted with an asphalt course with multiple hills?

When I registered for Bloomsday, I predicted that I would run it in one hour and 12 minutes. Unfortunately for me, due to a clerical error I was placed with the second to last color group, which consisted primarily of walkers, not runners. Because of the vast numbers of participants, the simplest way to keep track of the race times is via a computer chip on the back of the race bib. I wasn’t allowed to start in a faster color group than the one to which I was assigned; if I did, my time would not be recorded. So for the first two miles (approximately 3.22 kilometers), I had to spend a lot of time and energy zigzagging my way through the walkers. I preferred to look at the situation as an added challenge and just another part of the Bloomsday adventure. Ultimately I achieved my desired goal, finishing the race in one hour, 12 minutes, and 22 seconds.

Starting with a slower group was fun though, because those racers don’t take themselves too seriously. In the lilac color group, you’ll find the most jovial participants whose main goals are simply to finish and have fun doing it.

B.J. Bower, of Spokane, has participated in 12 Bloomsdays. He used to run, but now prefers to walk. “The older I get, the flatter my feet get, so the harder it gets,” he says. “I try to do more hiking and biking. The pavement isn’t very good for my knees.” (The constant pounding from running for an extended period of time on the hard asphalt can pose a serious hazard for athletes, particularly in the knees, shins, and back.) Besides, by walking the course he gets to enjoy more time with his son and mother in-law, who also walk the course.

The Bloomsday organization encourages racers to have fun. It’s marketed as a family event, and bands and cheerleaders line the course to keep spirits high. Plenty of Bloomies don silly costumes to add to the merriment. For instance, Karen Edwards constructed a dress from past years’ bib numbers. This year she finished her 24th Bloomsday. Like Bower, Edwards anticipated some aches and pains throughout the race. When asked why she continues to put herself through the hardships, she said because it’s a great time for her to catch up with old friends. “Once a year I see Don and I tell him what I’ve been up toin the past year. And now I just can’t stop.” Edwards finished the race this year in two hours and 50 minutes, and expects to be back next year.

From the fastest, most competitive Bloomies to the fun-loving walkers like Edwards and her friends or Bower and his family, Bloomsday provides an opportunity for a community to come together to enjoy a healthy activity.

Fact Box:

● 42,740 participants crossed the Bloomsday finish line in 2016

● 61,298 Bloomies finished in 1996, setting the record high for the event.

● Don Kardong completed the 1976 Montreal Olympic marathon in 2:11:15

● Frank Shorter won the first Bloomsday. He also won the gold medal for the marathon in the 1972 Olympics, and the silver medal in the 1976 Olympics.

● 92 people have completed every Bloomsday since its start in 1977.


The Lilac Bloomsday Run

The Lilac Bloomsday Run takes place on the first Sunday of May in Spokane, Washington. It is one of the largest timed road races with tens of thousands of runners, joggers, and walkers of all ages. Last year over 40,000 people participated in the 40th edition of the race.

From the very beginning the race attracted international attention and has runners from as far as New Zealand and Kenya. The race is a non-profit corporation whose goal is to promote a healthy lifestyle. The proceeds from the race are reinvested in the event, and it also supports a different charity each year.

I grew up in Spokane and my father was a runner in high school and university. I inherited his athleticism and love of running and fondly remember watching the race when I was a little girl, but I was not allowed to participate until I was 9 years old. My first race was in 1997 and I walked it with my sister and some friends, says Maggie.

This year, when I registered for Bloomsday, I predicted that I would run it in one hour and 12 minutes. Unfortunately, due to an error, I was placed with the second to last color group, which consisted primarily of walkers, not runners. At first I was disappointed and upset that I had to zigzag around the walkers.

But actually, it was fun starting with a slower group, because those racers don't take themselves too seriously. The lilac color group has the most jovial participants whose main goals are simply to finish and have fun doing it. And ultimately, I did achieve my goal of finishing the race in one hour, 12 minutes, 22 seconds!



Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

The Lilac Bloomsday Run



Grammar in Use

Below you will find PDF documents with the Grammar in Use.

Elementary: Good Luck

Advanced: Idiom: Up in the air


Bloomsday run

Summary Vocabulary

Discover its sights, sounds, and tastes:

Travel and learn!

If you want to learn English TeaTime-Mag recommends: