On Eppie’s Great Race

Or: How to win a free IHOP breakfast

Athletes who finish Eppie's Great Race in less than the time set by the “Great Team” will receive a coupon for IHOP on 3000 N Street; the first 400 participants to redeem the coupons will receive a free meal.
Jeff vonKaenel ran 5.82 miles on Wednesday, July 10, finishing at 44 minutes and 50 seconds.
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.

It was during the Eisenhower administration that I began my amateur athletic career as a pitcher on a Little League team in Vermilion, Ohio. I had two specialty pitches: one in the dirt and one that wasn't.

Since that glorious beginning, I have participated in more than 50 years of other athletic events: swim meets, softball, basketball, triathlons, and various types of runs and races. In all of these endeavors, I have experienced the joy of victory and the agony of defeat alone, with the exception of a few teammates and a couple of wonderful coaches.

But now, at the ripe age of 62, this is about to change. I have been chosen to be one of the Eppie’s Great Race “Great Team” members. Now, all the relay-team runners taking part in the 40th-annual triathlon on Saturday, July 20, will take notice of how fast I can run 5.82 miles. Why? The Eppie’s relay teams who have a faster time than the Great Team receive a free IHOP breakfast.

Believe me, I take this responsibility very seriously. As do my relay-team partners, Jared Goyette, who will ride 12.5 miles on a bike, and Marsha Arnold, who will paddle 6.35 miles. There is a very remote danger that suddenly, after all these years, without any additional training, I will finish at an amazing time, denying many people a free breakfast. There is also a very remote chance that tonight, I will go to sleep 5-feet-8-inches tall and wake up tomorrow a 7-foot tall basketball center. It could happen (if we lived in cartoons).

A more likely chance is that I complete the run with a horrible time, in which case, IHOP runs out of eggs and syrup, and no one feels good about beating such a loser. I clocked such a time just the other day running around the C.K. McClatchy High School track during a recent heat wave. But on July 20, I intend to do better.

Athletics is not about winning or losing: It really is about doing your best. Pushing yourself. There is a joy in trying your hardest. I believed this when I was 8 years old, and I believe it now that I am in my 60s.

For me, Eppie’s Great Race, possibly the world’s oldest triathlon, is Sacramento at its best.

There are the volunteers, between 600 and 800 dedicated people. There is Eppie’s founder Eppie Johnson, who over the last 40 years has poured so much love and energy into the event. And there is $1 million, raised for the Sacramento County Regional Parks’ Therapeutic Recreation Services. Eppie’s Great Race is a community event celebrating the human spirit. If you hurry, you still have time to put together a team for this Saturday. But even if you cannot participate or volunteer at Eppie’s Great Race, there are hundreds of other Sacramento events open to you. Life is a participatory sport.