Partners take over leadership for local triathlons

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Jon Conkling, left, and John Mosey are rebranding the Grand Rapids Triathlon and the Michigan Titanium triathlon and adding a third to the collection. Courtesy Randy Riksen

The triathlon season in West Michigan will have a new event.

Jon Conkling and John Mosey, the new race directors and owners of the Grand Rapids Triathlon and the Michigan Titanium triathlon, have created a third race to add to the collection.

Conkling and Mosey, who have both participated in the races, assumed the role of race directors for the Grand Rapids Triathlon and the Michigan Titanium triathlon after they bought the races from founders Andy and Ann Vidro, who stepped down this year due to other responsibilities.

The new race, The Dirty Mitten, consists of a swim, bike ride on gravel roads in Barry County and a trail run in both sprint and Olympic distances. The race will make its debut toward the end of the triathlon season, in September.

Along with creating the new race, Conkling and Mosey have rebranded the Grand Rapids Triathlon and the Michigan Titanium triathlon, which will be entering their 10th and ninth years, respectively, next year.

“Ann and Andy Vidro created these world-class races out of nothing, really, back in 2011 and 2012, and very quickly, they grew to be the premier triathlon races in our state, the largest by far of the independents,” Mosey said. “There is only a brand race that is bigger than us. They successfully ran them and grew them. Over the past few years, they have been everyone’s go-to events.”

The duo has started to add their own flair to the marketing efforts by creating more of a social media presence. Conkling, who has a background in design and marketing and has spent 20 years in web development, has been pivotal in implementing the marketing strategy they have in mind.

“I was able to come on and see what was really working for the races and what we could do more by giving them more of an identity,” he said. “We (wanted) to relaunch the races next year with a new identity, updated logos, updated marketing messages and really try to resonate with the athletes and people that we are really trying to target.”

According to Mosey, about 50% of athletes return each year and just after taking over in the last few months, the partners have noticed an increase in registration. He said as of Dec. 17, the numbers were tracking about 150% of where it was year-to-date last year.

The Grand Rapid Triathlon draws between 1,600 and 1,900 people per year. Mosey said they are expecting over 2,000 athletes in 2020. The Michigan Titanium draws approximately 1,000 people per year, and Mosey said they expect to add at least another 100 athletes next year.

Conkling said percentage-wise, a lot of the athletes are from Grand Rapids, but there are some who travel from other parts of the country.

“(The) majority of our athletes are from West Michigan,” Mosey said. “We pull quite a bit from Detroit, and we do have a very large regional presence. We pull a lot of people from Chicago, Madison (Wisconsin), Indianapolis and even Ontario, and we pull a lot of people nationally.”  

Although they bought the races, Mosey said the partners would not be able to carry them out without their large sponsors, including Huntington and Complete Health Dentistry of West Michigan.

“We are happy that the races are staying local,” he said. “A lot of races are being bought by large companies and they are often just shut down. They basically buy them to shutter them so that they can get more numbers at their other races. We wanted to make sure that these two races, Grand Rapid Triathlon and Michigan Titanium, stay locally owned because this is our community, this is what we are passionate about. We want people to be healthy, and we think this is a great way to do it.”

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