The Allen Heights Veterinary Clinic team that won the last two Great Josh Billings RunAgrounds is back and ready to go for a third consecutive title.
But there are challenges afoot in the 37th annual triathlon, and one coming from a first-year team.
"They're pretty much one of the best teams ever," said Ben Pigott, who finished fifth last year with teammate Steve Dowcett. "Whatever happens on the day of the race happens."
Pigott and Dowcett have a four-man team now, and their Pittsfield Health Food Center team could contend for a championship.
"It's going to be a very interesting race," Josh race director Patty Spector said. "This could be the year a kayak could win it."
The race begins today at the Price Chopper Plaza on Route 7 in Great Barrington at 9:30 a.m. After a 27-mile ride to the boat ramp at the Stockbridge Bowl, teams and individuals in canoes, kayaks and paddleboards will do two circuits around the Bowl (five miles), and then hand off to runners for the six-mile race to the finish line at Tanglewood.
The only issue for competitors will come early in the race as cyclists head up Alford Road in Great Barrington to East Road in Alford.
The Alford Bridge that connects the two towns is one lane due to construction, and that is something riders will need to be wary of. There will be state police at the bridge and volunteers will be telling riders to slow down some.
"It's a narrow lane, so they really have to use caution," said Spector.
As of Friday night, there were 485 entries in the field. That number includes four-person, three-person and two-person teams along with iron people.
Allen Heights finished second to the Smokin' Aces by more than a minute in 2010, but came back in 2011 and registered a three-minute margin of victory over the Vermont Sports Connection.
Allen Heights' team of cyclist Josh Lipka, canoeists Tom Keefe and Bob Rapant and runner Steve Monsulick, return intact from their winning performances the last two seasons. In fact, the foursome cut two minutes from its 2011 winning time in 2012.
Nine of the top 10 teams to finish in the 2012 RunAground were your traditional four-person teams. The outlier was the team of Ben and Steve, Pigott and Dowcett, that finished fifth overall. Their time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 17 seconds was comparable to the top teams. Allen Heights' time was 2:20:18, while second-place All the King's Men finished in 2:23:44 and the Vermont Sports Connection -- runners up in 2011 -- was third in 2:24:16.
As of Wednesday, All the King's Men will have veteran paddler Gloria Wesley's daughter Sarah in the boat with Mark Peters. Cyclist Robbie King and runner Robert Gomez are returning.
"We actually wanted to be tops last year," Pigott said, referring to 2012. "It's tough, given one person doing two events."
Pigott cycled and joined Dowsett in the boat before Dowsett ran the six miles home to the finish. That'll all be different this year.
Jeff Elie, a Category-1 cyclist from Beverly, will start the Pittsfield Health Food Center team off. Pigott and Williamstown's Mike Dostal will handle the kayak in the Bowl and Dowcett will finish the race.
Dostal was introduced to Pigott by longtime Josh paddling veteran Kurt Kuehnel.
The pair have been working out, and Pigott said they'll be ready for Sunday.
"It took a while to get used to things. Once we were able to figure it out, we put a lot of time in it," said Pigott. "We took the end of the summer off to work on our paddling."
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