The Great Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon

Competing in “The Josh” was a last minute decision this year. All week, I was hoping to do it, but I waited until the last day of registration to sign up. My legs were still hammered from last weekend’s Wapack Trail Race adventure, but mentally I was sharp. I thought I could register by 5:00 P.M. yesterday, but on-line registration closed at 11:59 P.M. on Friday. I was bummed, but Race Director Patty Spector came through for me after I told her my sob story about a spouse who is 39 weeks pregnant…and so on. Patty let me in, so it was game on!

Josh Mugs

We ended up back in Lenox, Massachusetts in the Berkshires, for the second time in two weeks. We loaded up the car on Saturday evening because The Josh is a logistical nightmare and you need to use half the gear that you own. The car was jammed with four different pairs of shoes, a bike, a kayak, paddles, PFD’s, a helmet, energy food, and all of the other stuff you need. This was the 33rd Josh and it was my 3rd. I did 2006 and 2007, but skipped last year to run the Pisgah Trail Race. I was hungry to lower my best time from 2007. 33 years ago, the event was created as a relay and it is the teams that still make the race unique, but I prefer the solo division, particularly the Ironman Kayak division.

Before the bike.

The format is a 27 mile road bike leg followed by a 5 mile kayak or canoe and then a 6.2 mile run. This is a non-traditional triathlon. The mass start road leg that kicks off the race is a site to see. I’ve written in the past that the start is one of the most exhilarating of all the races I have done. Some folks find it downright scary with nearly 500 cyclists screaming down Main Street in Great Barrington with the police escort’s sirens blaring. Everyone jockeys for position before the right turn on to the Taconic Street hill where the race splits apart every year.

Arlen Zane Wenzel and Scott Livingston

The venue is spectacular. As mentioned,the race starts in Great Barrington and the road bike course takes you on a beautiful loop through Great Barrington, Alford, West Stockbridge, and Stockbridge, before finishing in Lenox at the boat launch on the Stockbridge Bowl. The climbing on the bike leg is modest with 1825 feet of gain. The kayak course is two loops of the Stockbridge Bowl (Lake Mahkeenac). The run course is a loop on the hilly roads around the lake. The finish is at Tanglewood, which on race day resembles a massive tailgate party. Today, there was live music, a rock climbing wall, food vendors, and thousands of people celebrating the last full weekend of summer.

The Machine.

The past two times I have done this race, I have missed the key move on the Taconic Street hill. I vowed to hang tough this year. The race started with the usual bang, but this year, I maintained a strong position in the top 30 riders. I was in the top 20 when we made the turn and I moved up another five spots before drifting back. This was the plan. If I could keep catching wheels and avoid a disastrous unbridgeable split, then I could potentially gain minutes on Ironman division rivals. The crazy thing about the hill is that it comes only five minutes into the race. If you miss the move, you end up in a chase group that loses ground for the next 25 miles.

Today, I made the front group, but it was only the front group for a brief period of time. Less than two  miles later, there was another surge and a small group (six riders?) rolled off the front. This was the elite group of the day and I was banking on the fact that they were all on teams. I marked the one other solo racer in my group that I knew, and made sure he wasn’t out of my sight. It turned out that there was a third too. I was joined today by teammate Arlen Zane Wenzel. AZW was only one week removed from completing the epic Shenandoah 100 mountain bike race. His legs were heavy, but he still made the same group as me, which put the Pfizer Corporate Team in a good position to win their division.

Our group stayed together until Prospect Hill Road in Lenox. It split apart again before the final descent to the kayak/canoe transition. I won’t know exactly where I finished the bike until the full results are out, but it was a definite improvement over past years. The kayak was painful, as expected. I slowed a bit on my second lap when the wind whipped up the waves a bit and there was a lot of traffic as hundreds of boats clogged the small lake. Fortunately, I was up far enough where there was some clean water on the first lap. I had to let two soloists go for a while and they gained a few minutes on me before the second transition.

Kayak Start.

Two Laps to Go.

The volunteers were really helpful when I beached my kayak and headed ashore. My only glitch was when I pulled out  my brand new triathlon specific racing shoes and they wouldn’t go on. I was sitting on the beach and I couldn’t get my feet in. It turned out that I never removed the tissue paper stuffed in them from the store. It was quite funny. Eventually, I got out of there and started chasing the two guys who I suspected were ahead of me. I was pleased with my pace and reeled them in one at a time before putting a little gap on them. I had been passed by five to 10 canoe teams on the water, but I was still in the top 20 overall. My hope was that it was all teams ahead of me. I was able to hold my pace up the final grinder before finishing in front of the huge Tanglewood crowd in 2:42:16. I met my goal and set a new Ironman Kayak course record in the process.


Cleaning up after The Josh is even more difficult than preparing for the race. You have to collect gear between two transition areas. Some people even have to get back to their cars in Great Barrington for a third stop. We helped out a fellow racer by giving him a lift back to his car at the bike start in exchange for assistance loading my kayak on the roof of the car. Debbie and Shep walked more than four miles in support of my race today, so I am grateful for their help. They were more tired than me.

For Fun

Once again, The Josh volunteers were spectacular. Everyone was gracious and helpful. When you have a 33-year-old race, you have a special event that they community rallies around. The formula works because the people behind the race care so much about it. Entire Berkshire communities come together on Josh day. I bet they are still partying at Tanglewood right now…

Just finished.

2009 Race Results

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