This is the biggest running day of the year in Washington.
At 7 a.m. the Tacoma City Marathon, an event that grows a little almost every year, gets underway at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.
More than 2,200 people have registered.
But the main event starts 300 miles away at 9 a.m., before the tape is even strung across the finish line in Tacoma. That’s when the gun will sound in Spokane to start the 38th Lilac Bloomsday Run, the undisputed king of Northwest road races.
Bloomsday draws more than 40,000 runners each year.
Days like today are special. They are a chance for athletes of all skill levels to play together. It’s about winning and personal goals for some, for others it’s just about soaking in the atmosphere.
More than competition, they are celebrations of their sport worth attending whether you’re participating or watching.
When it comes to days like these, Washington has some good ones. Here are the five I think are best:
1. SPOKANE HOOPFEST
The biggest basketball party in the world takes place the last weekend in June each year in downtown Spokane. Parking lots and streets are converted into basketball courts and more than 250,000 players and spectators pack the town for a colossal 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
And the beauty of the event, is anybody can play. Third-graders brimming with potential, old-timers, middle-aged has-beens, seniors, tall, short, college and prep stars all hoping to win their bracket and claim a champion’s T-shirt.
Hoopfest turns 25 this summer and, according to its website, will have 456 courts spread across 42 city blocks and more than 7,000 teams.
More info: spokanehoopfest.net
2. LILAC BLOOMSDAY
Not only is Spokane home to the world’s biggest 3-on-3 hoop tournament, but it’s also home to the nation’s second largest running event.
According to runningusa.org, only the Atlanta Journal Constitution Peachtree Road Race has more finishers than Bloomsday each year.
The 12-kilometer race is famous for its Doomsday Hill that slows more than a few of the inexperienced runners to a walk.
While weekend warriors from around the Northwest flock to this race, it also draws elite runners.
Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter won the first Bloomsday in 1977, and four-time Boston Marathon champ and 1976 Olympic participant Bill Rodgers won the second. In 2008, Micah Kogo of Kenya won the race a few months before winning 10K bronze at the Beijing Olympics.
In other words, you have no chance of winning, but a great chance of sharing the course with some of the best runners in the world.
More info: bloomsdayrun.org
3. LEGENDARY BANKED SLALOM
The Legendary Banked Slalom is a snowboarding competition that debuted at Mount Baker Ski Area in 1985 and draws everybody from local youth to Olympic medalists. On the line are gold, silver and bronze Duct Tape Trophies and a coat.
The event is a slalom race in a natural half pipe, and a celebration of snowboarding history. Some argue the event played an important role in snowboarding’s evolution from fringe to mainstream sport.
In 2010, several athletes used the event as a tune up for the nearby Vancouver Olympics. Canadian Malle Ricker won the women’s pro race then took Olympic gold in snowboard cross. Ricker has won the LBS seven times, but being an Olympian doesn’t assure victory.
In 2008, four past Olympians participated and none of them won.
More info: lbs.mtbaker.us
4. SEATTLE-TO-PORTLAND BICYCLE CLASSIC
Seattle to Portland
This isn’t a race. It’s just the best known bicycle ride in the Northwest.
All you have to do to get into this 200-mile ride from the University of Washington to Portland’s Lloyd Center Mall, is be among the first 10,000 to register.
The ride sells out every year. The ride isn’t particularly hilly, making a finisher patch attainable for even novice cyclists. Most do the ride in two days, but some need only about 12 hours.
It can be chaotic at times because of the sheer number of cyclists and waves of riders still learning the sport and its rules of etiquette and safety. But the STP is worth experience at least once.
More info: cascade.org
5. SEATTLE MARATHON
I considered a few events for the final spot.
The Sound to Narrows turns 42 this summer and is brimming with history. But while it still draws about 6,000 runners each year, it’s no longer the gigantic festival it was when the race was free.
The Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon has drawn more than 20,000 competitors, but its history dates back only five years. Same with the multitude of crowd-pleasing obstacle course runs sprouting up around the region.
But the Seattle Marathon continues to draw massive crowds (usually more than 12,000 for the races of various distances) and has a history that reaches back to 1970. In 2012, the race drew competitors from every state.
More info: seattlemarathon.org