by Patty Spector
On Sunday, September 18, 500 bikers and their teams will kick off the 40th Annual Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon. The Josh, a Berkshire tradition dating back to 1977, embodies the spirit of the Berkshire outdoor enthusiast. After a summer of biking, paddling and running, athletes from all over the Berkshires and New England come together with friends and family to enter the Berkshire Olympics. The Josh is a team event consisting of a 27-mile bike race, a 5-mile paddle, and a 6-mile run! The race was named in honor of Lanesborough native and humorist, Josh Billings aka Henry Wheeler Shaw, who lived from 1818-1885 and was known for his witty one-liners including “To Finish Is To Win” which became the motto of the triathlon.
The race covers five towns through gorgeous backcountry roads. Every leg of the race has scenic views of the hills and the lakes. Starting in Great Barrington, the bikers take off in an exciting mass start and ride to where their paddler teammate is awaiting their wristband handoff.
Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards line Stockbridge Bowl as team members anxiously anticipate the arrival of their biker. Then, it’s a sprint down to the water and a paddle 1 ¾ times around the lake! A mix of racing and recreational paddlers all jockey for the best line around the buoys to get to Camp Mah-Kee-Nac and toss the wristband to the runners who wait on the beach to start the last leg of the triathlon.
Runners take off from the camp and circle the lake for 6 miles, ending with a grand finish at the main gate of Tanglewood. Thousands of friends, families, and teammates gather to cheer on the athletes finishing the last leg of the triathlon and the start of “The Bash”—an afternoon of music, food and beer, massage tables, vendors, and a free Kid’s Race for 5 to 12-year-olds. The season of training culminates in the Josh award ceremony and the handing out of hundreds of coveted Josh mugs.
According to a past Josh participant, “This is what the Berkshires is all about, participate and challenge yourself in the most beautiful place on earth”.