Josh Billings RunAground field gets bigger, older

Sunday September 16, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Patty Spector, longtime race coordinator for the annual Josh Billings Runaground, has a modest goal.

"I'd like to see 500 teams competing some day," she said. "We're up to 440, which is a little ahead of last year. I shoot for adding four to five more teams every year. Then I think I can retire."

Spector conceded that such a goal seems modest.

"That's okay," she said. "Some people have elaborate goals in life. Some have simple ones. This is a simple one."

The 36th annual RunAground looms, which means Spector and her small army of volunteers are working frantically, but methodically, toward today. The race starts at 9:30 a.m. in Great Barrington at the Price Chopper parking lot.

The event is one of the oldest continuously-run triathlons in the country. The race, which meanders through South Berkshire County, is 27 miles by bicycle, a five-mile canoe run at the Stockbridge Bowl and a six-mile road race. The finish line is at Tanglewood.

In addition to running the operation, as she has for several years now, Spector is a keen observer of Josh trends. This year, for example, she has noticed a spike, about 20 or so more, in the number of entrants 70 years old and older. In addition, she said, there is a more modest rise in the number of participants 20 years old and younger.

"There are at least 10 teams of participants under 20," she said.

Spector admitted in a recent interview that she has really no idea what this means -- except, perhaps, that the race is becoming more popular at both ends of the demographic spectrum.

She added that this year, there will also be more than 100 Ironman and Ironwoman competitors, another increase.

Another statistical jump is an increase in the number of kayaks on Stockbridge Bowl. There will be 84 this year, said Spector.

One of the more significant new features of the race this year is the acquisition of a MEMA command center, donated by the agency.

"They offered it to us, and we accepted," said Lucy Britton, the emergency management director at Berkshire Medical Center. She serves in a similar capacity at the Josh Billings.

The command center will provide improved communications, as well as a conference area. Although this may not seem like a large deal, Britton noted that the professionalism and coordination of local agencies over the years has ensured that while there are always accidents on the course -- most of them minor -- BMC and Fairview Hospital, as well as five local ambulance crews and about a dozen emergency personnel, are on hand. There are also three aid stations.

The biggest problem, said Britton, is ensuring that the emergency vehicles don't drain the resources of local communities.

"That's always a balancing act," she said, "and we are very aware of it. if there is an emergency in one of the towns, the ambulance stationed there will be pulled off the race."

Following the race, said Britton, there is a debriefing session.

"You look at what you did and how you can make it better," she said. "That's ongoing."


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