The top races in the Inland Northwest find ways to adjust and accommodate the pandemic and keep the community spirit alive.
By Taylor Shillam
The adrenaline of a public race—dynamic, energizing, uniting—is a sensation unlike any that can be produced from a companionless run. And yet, in the name of safety and solidarity, training without the company of others is exactly what local runners found themselves doing earlier this year.
In light of the mandates put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, runners local to the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area have a different season ahead of them. While the Inland Northwest races that so many look forward to each year are not likely to happen on the dates they were planned for, it doesn’t mean we must run alone. It means a time to keep looking forward, and to get creative.
This is exactly what organizers of the top local races have been hard at work to accomplish: finding ways to keep the 2020 race season intact, and to keep the community connected.
The good news is that despite the uncertain nature of this time resulting in a heightened difficulty to plan large-scale events, organizers of local favorites have taken every step not to cancel their events. The Lilac Bloomsday Run, Windermere Marathon, Negative Split Half Marathon, Coeur d’Alene Marathon and Hayden Lake Marathon events have all been postponed to late summer and fall, with earnest plans to maintain the high quality each is known for.
With a mission of inspiring health and fitness through world-class group training programs and events, Spokane-based Negative Split encourages runners to finish strong—not only in a race but when faced with life’s challenges. The organization focuses on memorable experiences, community connection and prioritizing health. With the decisions they’ve had to make in light of the pandemic, owner Ryan Hite remains optimistic and committed to the company’s core values.
“Events have been flipped upside down by the coronavirus,” Hite said, noting the difficulty the athletic and event industries have faced to adapt their schedules so quickly. He confirmed that Negative Split did the best they could to keep their events intact.
Postponing was the best way they could do so, Hite explained, emphasizing their desire to reward local runners’ efforts and progress they’ve made in training for the 2020 season.
Not taking lightly that races like the Coeur d’Alene and Windermere marathons were Boston Marathon qualifiers, Negative Split event organizers knew that making those races virtual would take that opportunity away from runners who had been working hard to qualify.
“We want to try to make sure to reward their effort and recognize that achievement,” Hite stated. “Organizers are in a tough spot,” as they do their best to shift races and provide flexibility for the local running community as much as possible. If an event could possibly be shifted or rescheduled, rather than cancelled or made virtual, that’s what they would do.
In the meantime, Negative Split saw a way to keep runners motivated and address a need in the community. They assembled a virtual run fundraiser event in May to keep runners motivated while providing the opportunity to aid local business owners.
The strategy was to give back. A virtual race would give back an opportunity to runners who had trained in anticipation for the season to begin—and making it a fundraiser would promote giving back to the community during a difficult time.
“Runners still want to be running,” Hite said, who was appreciative of the immediate positive response from the community. In the first week, they saw 400 registrations, and the numbers continued to climb. “We wanted to create something with a positive light in a hard time for a lot of people.”
With the catchphrase, “Make running viral!” Negative Split encouraged runners to join in on their May 15 COVID-19k virtual run, to unite the local running community and help support small businesses.
At a time when runners would be on the cusp of seeing their training translate into results, a virtual run offered an opportunity to stay connected despite the requirement to (physically) stay apart.
The race was simple. Participants could choose their distance: a full, half or quarter of the 19k total (11.8 miles), run it on any course at any time before May 15, and upload their results online. They would receive a commemorative T-Shirt and the chance to win one of the gift card purchases. Nominations were taken for which local businesses to support with gift card purchases and narrowed down to a top few.
For so many locals, the first Sunday in May is synonymous with Bloomsday: the 12k run that sees tens of thousands of people fill the streets of Downtown Spokane each year. While it was difficult to reschedule the event for the first time in 43 years, the determination to continue—not cancel—the event held strong.
This year, the Lilac Bloomsday Run will be held on September 20, and all registrations will carry forward to the new date. Organizers are determined to deliver the same great experience, complete with the Corporate Cup and accompanying events the Marmot March and Jr. Bloomsday, with more details on their new dates to follow.
“Bloomsday 2020 will be an event to remember,” the organization promises, encouraging Bloomies to rise up and return stronger together in the face of unsettling times. Registration for the rescheduled date remains open; more details can be found at BloomsdayRun.org.
Coeur d’Alene Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k
The Coeur d’Alene Marathon event will be held on August 23, 2020. The new August date will allow for the race to remain a Boston Qualifier for 2021 and for the course to be as identical to last year’s as possible at its popular location using both McEuen Park and Coeur d’Alene Resort.
Participants can stay after the event to celebrate top finishers, visit a photo booth and enjoy an after-party complete with a beer garden.
The event will continue to support the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation in its trail expansion and maintenance projects in the greater Coeur d’Alene area.
The upcoming Full Athlete Guide, as well as registration information, course information and travel details, can be found on NSplit.com.
Windermere Marathon, Half Marathon and 5k
A favorite among beginners and seasoned runners alike, the Windermere Marathon and Half Marathon course follows the Centennial Trail along the Spokane River and finishes in Downtown Spokane.
Rescheduled for Sunday, September 6, participants can look forward to swag bag, a complete after-party experience, and a great opportunity for a PR or Boston Marathon qualification.
Learn more about the course and registration at NSplit.com.
The Split Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k
Negative Split prioritized keeping the well-known Kendall Yards location for this event, which will now be held September 27. Negative Split remains committed to the event’s purpose of helping the underserved, keeping their pledge to support the Union Gospel Mission and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Event registration pricing will remain the same until September 8. More information can be found on NSplit.com.
Hayden Lake Marathon, Half Marathon and Quarter Marathon
The Hayden Lake Marathon, located just 10 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, is a unique course that circles the perimeter of Hayden Lake on a challenging course. Rescheduled for October 17, the race offers the opportunity for an immersive North Idaho experience, taking runners alongside forests, past golf courses, near farms and to a beautiful finish at Honeysuckle Beach.
Online registration is open now, and course maps, FAQs and registration information can be found online at HaydenLakeMarathon.org.
This year has required communities of all kinds to find a way to stay close and connected, with Spokane and North Idaho area runners being no exception. Although plans have had to change since preparations began for the 2020 race season, there will still be races held, results shown and PRs achieved. The beautiful Inland Northwest will still blossom into summer, offering unmatched scenery for those virtual races and the runners who must create their own courses. There is still a community of people anxious to feel that adrenaline rush of running together once more—ensuring the late, but not gone, 2020 race season will be that much sweeter.