MIDWAY — Heath Thurston broke in his first year as a professional triathlete in style. For one of his first events, the Orem resident traveled to Wasatch County last year to participate in a start-up local race.

His experience at the Battle at Midway Triathlon mirrored that of countless other participants. Thurston was blown away by a challenging course in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains that required triathletes to push themselves from Deer Creek Reservoir to Solider Hollow.

"The organizers of that race have really done their homework on how to put on a high-quality race," Thurston said.

Only in its second year, the Battle at Midway Triathlon is beginning to come into its own as a premier race.

The number of triathletes registering for the race has increased dramatically from a year ago. This year's race, which will be held on Saturday in Wasatch County, has lured professional triathletes from California to Wisconsin who are looking to claim a portion of the $20,000 purse.

And among the other categories, ranging from Elite to Clydesdale, the number of participants has more than doubled from 2007.

Rob Leishman, who is the race director for the triathlon, envisions putting the BAM Triathlon on a comparable level to such elite triathlons as the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco, the New York City Triathlon and the Chicago Triathlon.

"We want to make this the next step up in local races," Leishman said. "We want to be the one that brings them into Utah."

It helps that the BAM Triathlon features a course that is one of the more formidable among local races. It starts with a 1,500-meter swim in Deer Creek Reservoir. The next stage features a 22.9-mile bike ride through downtown Midway to the Olympic venue at Solider Hollow. Things wrap up with a 5.92-mile run over the same cross country ski trails used by athletes in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The BAM Triathlon is one of only two such races in the United States that utilizes a former Olympic venue for part of its course. Crossing the finish line in an Olympic stadium holds a definite appeal for participants.

"The crowd is right there. Your time is displayed on the Olympic scoreboard," Thurston said. "It's a really cool experience to have all that in an Olympic-distance triathlon. "

One change that is sure to raise the race's profile among local triathletes is the decision to stage this year's triathlon on Saturday instead of Sunday. The BAM Triathlon suffered a little bit of a drop off in numbers among amateur participants because many did not like the idea of racing on Sunday.

Leishman said this year's race will instead offer an off-road duathlon on Sunday. The duathlon features an 11-mile bike stage sandwiched between a pair of 5K runs.

"It's not so much that we're pressed to have something on Sunday," Leishman said. "But we think offering an off-road duathlon on a totally separate day just kind of expands our offering to the athletes."

Start time for the BAM Triathlon is 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com