You probably didn’t know races give medals for eighth place in age groups. They do, at least at a 7.46-mile road race in Spokane, Wash., called Bloomsday, and I got one. It is among my proudest possessions.
That’s because I’ve run Bloomsday nearly every year since 1991, missing only 1994, when I was living in Forks, Wash., Logging Capital of the World, and not again until 2013, the year I moved to Kauai. In all those years, I never earned a medal. Despite hours of training and preparation and giving it my all, I always finished out of the medals. Not this year, the 39th running of Bloomsday. Months of training in Kauai’s heat, hills and humidity, and getting my weight down to its lowest in probably a few decades, remaining focused and dedicated to a goal, paid off with a solid performance and payback as I defeated my youngest daughter (a tainted win, though, because she was sick).
Funny, though, how quickly you can lose that edge. I ran Bloomsday on May 3 and felt swift and smooth, finishing in 51 minutes, 31 seconds, about 6:53 a mile. A little more than a month later, on June 6, I ran the 35th annual Haena to Hanalei, an eight-mile race (although it actually measures out to about 7.80) put on by the Hanalei Canoe Club. I lost my focus, trained sporadically, packed on five pounds, felt slow and slug-like and finished in 55:56, about 7:12 a mile (Basil Scott tells me the heat and humidity are also responsible for my slower time). That’s the bad news. The good news is, I was 13th overall and got another medal for finishing second in my age group! It, too, is proudly displayed at home.
All that said, it’s time for a tale of the tape, a race to the finish line between two of my favorite road races in the world. They share some similarities and naturally, some striking differences.
And the gun is up ….
Both races have been around a long time, are etched into their communities and are annual highlights for runners and walkers. Haena to Hanalei, 35 years. Bloomsday, 39 years.
Bloomsday has the early lead.
Bloomsday is one of the largest road races in the world and this year, there were about 42,000 finishers. It is a wildly popular event among young and old, families and the most hard-core runners. Runners travel across the country to toe the starting line. Haena to Hanalei had about 500 finishers, but also offered a 5K and a mile race for kids. It brings out some of Kauai’s finest runners and many visitors, too.
Bloomsday pulling father ahead.
Bloomsday has three substantial hills, including the famous “Doomsday Hill” that’s nearly a half-mile long and actually has a guy in a vulture costume waiting at the top. Haena to Hanalei starts with a slight rise coming out of Kee, then tosses in two tough climbs, including Lumahai hill, a brutal half-mile. Bloomsday is flat the final two miles and offers a rewarding downhill 400-yard sprint to the finish. After the five-mile marker, Haena is downhill and then a long, flat stretch that seems to go on forever before ending near the pier.
Both maintain their pace.
Bloomsday is mostly houses, buildings and trees, although when you’re coming down Fort George Wright Drive and you can see T.J. Meenach Bridge over the Spokane River, it lifts your spirits. Haena to Hanalei is run on Kuhio Highway, next to the Pacific Ocean, in the morning. Absolutely beautiful. Unparalleled. It is one of the most gorgeous courses in the world.
Haena to Hanalei makes a strong surge.
Bloomsday has bands, nuns, veterans, dogs, and beer drinkers cheering on runners. Aid stations are manned by hundreds of young and old holding out cups of water. Haena to Hanalei has a few families that come out, a handful of volunteers at water stations and a fun crowd shouting for runners as they finish.
Bloomsday regains its big lead.
Travel time from our home in Lihue
It took me 45 minutes to drive 32 miles to Hanalei and park near the pier, then catch a 25-minute bus ride to Kee Beach. To get to Bloomsday, I flew 3,000 miles to Seattle, then drove with my brother another 325 miles to Coeur d’Alene. On race day, we drove 25 miles to Spokane and parked, then walked another 2 miles or so to the starting line.
Haena to Hanalei pulls back.
After race party
Bloomsday has a mob afterward wandering around Riverside Park, with friends and family trying to find each other so they can go to a restaurant or bar. Haena to Hanalei has a fantastic breakfast and awards ceremony as folks gather to recount the day.
No contest here, Haena to Hanalei pulls even.
Intangibles and tangibles
Bloomsday costs $18. Haena to Hanalei, $35. Both races offer cool T-shirts. Both raise money for good causes. Both races are wonderful gatherings of family and friends. For serious runners, both races are the ones that count and include year-long bragging rights. It’s neck and neck down the stretch and this one could end in a tie but there are no ties in running. A little Kauai favoritism here — bragging rights, this year, go to Haena to Hanalei. There’s just no beating a wonderfully organized event, cheery officials, an oceanside course, a bountiful breakfast and a shiny medal, too.
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org