World’s oldest triathlon rebranded to run, pedal and paddle on

Story & Photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
July 2019

As with a rock-star’s farewell concert, finality can be negotiable.

After staging a milestone “final” event that lured a record 2,000 competitors last year, the world’s oldest triathlon did not quite end after all.

Now steered by a Sacramento businessman, the contest that the late Eppie Johnston began in 1974 has new branding. From the starting gun July 20, and for future summers, it will be known as the Great American Triathlon.

The endurance epic will again follow the American River Parkway in foot, bicycle and kayak stages. While benefitting charities, it will endure as one of our area’s great summer events.

New sponsor and organizer Ken McGuire last year lamented what he feared was the end of an era. Co-founder of Innovations Health Systems, a network of heath-centered services and facilities in the Bay Area, McGuire never actually competed in the event.

“But I felt it was too great a tradition to let die,” he explains. “People came here from all over the USA to compete. Eppie’s was a boost for our national profile. We Sacramentans talked about the great race in the same conversation as Kings basketball games and the California International Marathon. It helped charities. For all sorts of good reasons, keeping Eppie’s alive seemed critical.”

Via many meetings and phone calls, McGuire persuaded major Eppie’s supporters to keep paddling. In January, Sacramento County gave approval for the new parkway event.

Capital Road Race Management will continue to manage the race. Former volunteers have rallied and more than 20 companies have agreed to co-sponsor. McGuire’s business partner, Carmichael resident Dan Niccum, is onboard for brand development.
The new race will continue restauranteur Eppie Johnston’s philanthropic drive that raised more than a million dollars for nonprofits over 48 years.

“Our fundraising for the American River Parkway Foundation and children’s health charities is important,” McGuire confirms. “We hope to write big checks for good causes. But above all, we want to maintain a community event that defines summer in Sacramento.”


The triathlon will set a cracking pace through river stretches of Arcade, Carmichael, Fair Oaks, Gold River and Rancho Cordova. Starting line is at William Pond Recreation Area. Athletes will run a 5.82-mile route to the Guy West Bridge near Sac State, and then grab bikes to pedal 12.5 miles to the beach below Sunrise Boulevard. There is no swimming stage; instead contestants will board kayaks for 6.10 miles, braving the San Juan Rapids and following the river downstream to Rancho Cordova.

Thousands of supporters, onlookers and volunteers traditionally cheer athletes through all the stages. Après-race celebrations will include live music, food trucks and a beer garden beside the River Bend Park finish line.

Entry in the Great American Triathlon costs $40 for athletes 18 and under; $150 for adults; $110 for junior relay; $225 for adult relay; $300 for a tandem watercraft. Contestants may use rented kayaks. For more information, go to

Susan Maxwell Skinner can be reached at

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