New name, same goals for Lakeside Triathlon

DECATUR – A new name doesn't mean there are any different goals for the Lakeside Triathlon.

After a successful 10-year run as the Rodney T. Miller triathlon, named after the Illinois State Police officer who died in the line of duty in 2006, the race still carries the same ambitions – but will have a new look.

Because it no longer bears Miller's name, race director Gene Mueller and the board had to take stock of realistic expectations moving forward.

That brought about changes.

Gone is the elite wave of the race; the triathlon will only be split up in age groups in increments of five years, beginning with the 19-and-under group.

There will only be one distance, as opposed to a sprint and intermediate distance in the past. It's all part of increasing the longevity of the race in its second decade – and the first installment without the Miller name attached.

“We've kind of based our planning on maybe being down somewhat,” Mueller said of registered athletes. “At the same time, the changes we made to the race are changes we hoped would make it more sustainable over the long haul. We shortened the bike and shortened the run and we only have one distance this year. The main reasoning behind that was we realized we may not always get the support we enjoyed when Rodney's name was attached to it.”

The elite wave was the highlighted portion of the race that carried a purse prize of $3,500. However, in an effort to cut costs that wave – and the purse – was eliminated.

In the past, the goal for the elite was for the athletes to bring in additional athletes from their club or community.

Mueller said that was not always the case. The reality was athletes would be comped, or given free entry, and they wouldn't always bring others to the race.

For now, until the board determines the stability of the triathlon, that wave was a casualty.

“I'm not saying we'll never have elites again, but for this year anyway, until we know how sustainable we could make this event, we had to look at cost savings somewhere,” Mueller said. “That was a pretty safe bet right there.”

As far as the distances, the number of athletes signed up for the intermediate races was on a decline while the sprint races offered more of a constant stream of participants. 

The intermediate division last year consisted of a 3/4 mile swim, 19-mile bike and 4.5-mile run. The super sprint division had a 400-yard swim, 19-mile bike and 3.1-mile run.

This year, the triathlon will be one distance: a 600-yard swim, 15-mile bike and 3.1-mile run.

“We're shortening the swim a little bit,” course coordinator Kyle May said. “The bike is only four miles shorter. It's going to have a similar vibe.

“The whole event's going to be a little cleaner.”

Relay teams and the duathlon will still be offered in addition to a new option: the USAT-sanctioned aquabike.

It kicks running to the curb with a 600-yard swim and 15-mile bike.

“The option for those who couldn't run or swim was always, 'Well, there's a relay or a duathlon.' If they want to compete as individuals and running was a problem for them, there really was no way for them to do that,” Mueller said. “This offers it.”

With more events, the hope is to increase the number of racers. As of July 7, there were 140 racers from more than 35 cities spread across six states.

The numbers have increased over the course of the past week and a half, giving Mueller and crew optimism for the race, but it was a concern early on.

Another concern is sponsors, which provided fincancial backing in previous years, dropping out.

This is the last year for big-name sponsor ADM, and St. Mary's Hospital has shifted to providing only medical coverage and not the finances of years past.

On the whole, sponsorship has been a challenge for the triathlon.

“They're telling folks they're kind of going more into food, health and that sort of thing,” Mueller said of potential sponsors. “It's just a change in their focus.

“It comes at a time where we're not quite a known entity yet; we are, but we aren't. It comes at a time where we've had to scramble a bit to make sure we provide a quality event yet.”

Any additional funds from the race still will be donated to the Rodney T. Miller Foundation. Organizers are hopeful to continue to donate to the foundation.

Though the event may not carry his name, and his wife Karla Miller bowed out after 10 years of organization, Mueller still believes the event carries the same feel.

“We know the race, formerly it was honoring Rodney Miller and his life, but we think we're still in a way honoring him because we're still supporting that foundation,” Mueller said.

“The feel is still, 'Come on out to Decatur'. This is one of the good things Decatur has going for it and we will show you a big Decatur welcome. … It's one of those things that I would hate to see Decatur lose.”

jwagner@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6970