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Eppie’s Great Race 2018 will be finale for 45-year tradition

Eppie Johnson’s family and friends throw a wreath and flowers into the American River during a memorial to honor Eppie Johnson, Sacramento restaurateur and originator of the annual Eppie’s Great Race in 2014.
Eppie Johnson’s family and friends throw a wreath and flowers into the American River during a memorial to honor Eppie Johnson, Sacramento restaurateur and originator of the annual Eppie’s Great Race in 2014. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Eppie’s Great Race, a Sacramento tradition for 45 years, will come to an end in July.

Organizers announced Thursday that 2018 will be the finale for what is popularly regarded as the world’s oldest triathlon.

Eppie Johnson, the owner of a chain of 24-hour coffee shops, launched the event in 1974 as part promotion and part fundraiser. Over the years, the race has raised $1.2 million for Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services, which provides activities for people with developmental disabilities, said George Johnson, Eppie’s son.

The decision to end the event was a difficult one, but was prompted by a steady decline in participation that began a few years before Eppie Johnson’s death in 2013, his son said. The triathlon – featuring a 5.82-mile run, a 12.5-mile bike ride and 6.10-mile paddle along the American River Parkway – typically drew 1,600 to 1,700 participants, George Johnson said. But the numbers declined over the past decade, dropping to a little more than 1,000 in 2017.

He attributed the decline to competition from an increasing number of running events in the area. The Johnson family decided it was appropriate to end Eppie’s Great Race after its 45th year, noting that his father was 45 years old when he started the event.

“Instead of just letting it kind of fade away, we wanted it to go out with a bang,” Johnson said.

For people who have had Eppie’s Great Race on their bucket list of goals, he said, this is the year to finally participate. Online registration for the July 21 event has begun, at http://www.eppiesgreatrace.org/race-overview/, and Johnson encourages people to sign up early to take advantage of the lowest fees. Some “throwback” pricing may be offered periodically, so those planning to participate should keep an eye on the website, he said.

Eppie’s Great Race Foundation will continue to sponsor Eppie’s Kids Duathlon, featuring running and bicycling, for children ages 3 to 13, in the fall.

Johnson said the foundation also is set up to continue funding Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services despite the demise of the fundraising triathlon.

“My dad always said that Eppie’s Great Race had woven its way into the fabric of the community,” Johnson said. But things change, he added, and the time has come for other events to weave their way into that fabric for a new generation.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy

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