Loud cheers and applause filled the air as a fatigued John Easterbrook of Fair Oaks made his way across the finish line first for the second consecutive year Saturday at Eppie's Great Race.
The 50-year-old was one of roughly 1,800 who participated in the annual triathlon in its 40th running held on the American River Parkway. Another 230 youngsters took part in a duathlon that includes running and bicycling.
"I train for this all year," Easterbrook said, catching his breath. "It's a continuous effort."
At 1 hour, 33 minutes and 55 seconds, Easterbrook's team of three was the fastest overall. The all-time team record is 1:30:07.
Eppie's Great Race has long been a fixture in many athletes' lives. Founded by retired restaurateur Eppie Johnson, 85, it began as a marketing ploy. But in recent decades, the triathlon, which combines running (5.82 miles), biking (12.5 miles) and kayaking (6.35 miles), has shifted into a charity race for Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services.
Johnson last month cut the county a check for $31,815, bringing his total contributions to more than $1 million.
Shortly before 8 a.m., runners assembled at William Pond Park in Carmichael. Athletes can work in teams, dividing duties for running, cycling and kayaking. But they can compete alone as an "Iron Person."
Like other charitable races including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Eppie's Great Race has seen its attendance slump. The event peaked in 2010 when 2,092 took part.
"There are a lot of events going around," Johnson said.
The Sacramento International Triathlon, held at Discovery Park on June 30, drew about 200 people.
The crowd at Eppie's has been growing older, as participants have aged with the race. Middle-aged couples with cameras and senior citizens with canes were among the hundreds crowding the trail path for a glimpse of the cyclists.
Betty Albers, 77, sat in a camping chair, ready to cheer on her son, Terry Albers, 57.
"We've been doing this for over 15 years," she said.
"It's the camaraderie," Johnson said, when asked why his race had such a devoted following. "We've become part of the fabric of Sacramento."
In recent years, the contest has become more commercialized, said Carole Smith of Fair Oaks, whose son Randy Smith, 57, has competed for 30 years.
A dozen booths were set up near the finish line, where vendors hawked goods and other services. Nearby, a Budweiser truck was selling cups of beer.
"There are a lot of sponsors, so naturally they're pushing their products," Carole Smith said.
Carlos Cruz, 17, was one of the younger faces in the triathlon. He assembled a team comprised of McClatchy High School students.
He said the disadvantage of those under 30 is a "lack of experience."
"The older folks," Cruz said. "they know how to pace themselves."
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.