The 31st annual Cape May Beach Patrol Superathlon, a run-row-swim sprint triathlon for top area lifeguards, will be held today in Cape May.

The race is scheduled to start today at 6 p.m. at 2nd Avenue and Beach Drive.

The race consists of a 2.3-mile run, a 1.5-mile row and a quarter-mile swim that ends at Cannone Beach in Cape May. Only one lifeguard from each beach patrol is eligible.

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The biggest change is that Avalon's Shane McGrath, the two-time defending champion and a five-time winner, didn't return to the beach patrol this year and will not be in the race. Wildwood Crest's John Maloy, the Superathlon winner in 2009 and a leading contender, also didn't return to his patrol this year and won't compete.

The race, which will include 13 lifeguards, appears wide-open. Michael Barrett of Ocean Beach in northern Ocean County returns after getting third last year in his first Superathlon. Matt Horn of Sea Isle City and Tim Schwegman of Longport, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in 2011, also are expected to contend.

The race also marks the return of eight-time champion Bick Murphy of Wildwood Crest. Murphy, now 53, hasn't been in the Superathlon since 2005, the last time he won it.

Cape May Beach Patrol Capt. Buzz Mogck started the race in 1982.

"There's a lot of new names this year," Mogck said. "It looks wide-open except that there's one you know, Bick Murphy. You never know what he's going to do, and he has the most experience. (Barrett) looked pretty good last year, and he could be a favorite. It looks like a real good race."

Ryan Meyer of Wildwood is a perennial contender. He was 11th last year but placed fourth four times and fifth twice in his other six Superathlons since 2004.

Two other well-known lifeguards in the race are rower Chuck Gowdy of Margate and swimmer Tim Hayes of Stone Harbor. Avalon's entry is Matt O'Donoghue, while Dan Brady will race for Ocean City, and Ford Palmer for Upper Township. John Livingstone will compete for North Wildwood, Chris Vettese for Cape May and Sam Weintraub for Cape May Point.

The competitors will run up Beach Drive from 2nd Street to Poverty Beach. They will then get into lifeboats and row in the other direction to Congress Beach. Following a 200-yard run on the beach, they will enter the water in front of the Grant Avenue lifeguard station and do an out-and-back swim. The guards will come ashore at Cannone Beach and run to the finish line on the beach.

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