Route 66 Triathlon returns this weekend


By Glen Miller,

When the idea of bringing a triathlon to El Reno was first pitched in 2005, there were a few skeptics which felt the city was not the right venue to sustain such an event for a long period of time.

However, there was one person who knew the city was the right fit from the start – organizer Steve Bussjeager of Mustang.

“It may be surprising to some, but I did. When I originally approached the city I told them this was not going to be a one and done event, but that we were here for the long term,” said Bussjeager.

This weekend the Route 66 Triathlon will celebrate its 10th running as one of four endurance events scheduled for the lake this year.

“That was the goal all along that this would be around for a while and here we are 10 years later, and while the event has expanded into some other events, we are still here,” said Bussjeager.

Three of the events fall under the Route 66 banner, while the fourth will come four months later. The first event was slated for Tuesday night, a youth aquathon, which is a split of swimming and running around LakeEl Reno.

Saturday morning will be the running of the popular Route 66 Sprint Triathlon. The event starts off with a 7:30 a.m. swim of 500 yards in LakeEl Reno.

Contestants transition into a 13-mile bike ride down “The Mother Road” before returning to the lake for the final stage – a 5-kilometer (3.1 mile run).

“Right now I’m expecting around 250,” said Bussjeager.

The event has served the past two seasons as the Oklahoma State Championship, but that event is being rotated on a two-year basis with a triathlon at ArcadiaLake, which Bussjeager also organizes under the Tri-OKC club.

El Reno native Ryan Ellis is expected to contend for the title along with triathlon phenom Mason Case, a 15-year-old from Oklahoma City.

“Ryan is going to be the frontrunner after scanning through all the entries I have so far. He won the Texas Man Triathlon last month, so he’s coming in here off a win,” said Bussjeager.

Sunday morning will bring several return racers from the sprint event to the signature race, the Route 66 Triathlon. The three-stage event, which follows Olympic distances, opens with a 7:30 a.m. open-water swim of 1,500-meters in LakeEl Reno.

Contestants emerge from the water into a 40-kilometer (25 mile) bike ride down Route 66, passing by the entrance to historic FortReno. The final stage is a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) run around the lake. The event follows the same 5K route as the day before, but ran twice.

“The run course we enjoy today is not the same as we set up 10 years ago. You have to be flexible to pull off events like this,” said Bussjeager.

Last year’s event was stopped mid-race due to rain and lightening in the area. The leaders were on the bike course, while all the contestants were near the end of the swim portion.

“Mother Nature does what she wants and for the first time we had to cancel an event. We’ve had to delay some races before, and we had already made the decision to shorten it to sprint distances. Then we had people in the water and we had some lightening strikes so we had to cancel it,” said Bussjeager.

This year’s race is shaping up to be a battle with 2006 winner Chuck Sloan of Tulsa and Cache’s Scott Anderson on the men’s side. Sloan is a former OklahomaState cross country runner and recently stood on the platform at the Iron Man Hawaii as a placer in his age group.

On the women’s side, Slaon’s wife Jennifer Johnson will be a frontrunner along with Katrina Menard of Norman.

Johnson was also an Iron Man Hawaii placer, while Menard was the 2013 Southwest/Midwest regional champion. That title earned her entrance into the 2014 World Championships to be held in August in Edmonton, Canada.

“Chuck and Jennifer are two of the top amateur triathles in the country,” said Bussjeager.

The overall winner in the men’s and women’s division earn will earn entrance into the Best of the U.S. National Championships from the state of Oklahoma. Two past El Reno champions, Joanna Fiddler of Stillwater and Bethany Handley (now of Tennessee)) won the national championships.

“We’ve grown from a little over 100 people our first year to bringing 500 to 600 people in here for a two-day event. Add in the Tuesday night race and we have a week full of events. This really kicks off the multisport season for Oklahoma and is pretty much the first triathlon of the year,” said Bussjeager.

Both triathlon races this year come on the anniversary weekend of the deadly EF-5 tornado which ripped through CanadianCounty last year. Bussjeager watched the tornado roll in from the west while setting up for the Sprint race, which was suppose to take place a day later.

“Last year is still fresh in my mind and I’m sure it is in the minds of some of the people that were with me that night and had to take shelter. We’re all looking back at last year and know that this race will be on the anniversary date of the tornado hitting,” said Bussjeager.

The fourth race of the festivus comes in October with the 2014 National Aquathon Championship. That event is a 1,500-meter swim around the LakeEl Reno spillway,  followed by a 10-kilometer run.

“I’m really excited about this event. Right now we’re got 19 states represented and I’m thinking this will be the biggest event ever for USA Triathlon,” said Bussjeager.

The event also serves as a qualifier for the 2015 World Aquathon Championships to be held in Chicago.