The Josh Billings RunAground triathlon has been a staple in Berkshire County for over 40 years. So, in the face of a pandemic, organizers hit the drawing board to try and figure out how to keep the Josh going in the year of COVID-19.
The answer? The Josh is focusing on the heart of what the race is — community.
The 44th Josh Billings will be a virtual competition this year, with an emphasis being placed on
fundraising for the Berkshire United Way and the Berkshire Humane Society.
"If we can do something for the community, why should we cancel?" said race director Patty Spector. "That made it an easy decision. Interestingly, we've seen lots of people training."
But, the shift to virtual means that, instead of everyone clustering together in southern Berkshire County in the middle of September, competitors now have a monthlong window to complete a virtual Josh in any manner they see fit. The new Josh window is from Aug. 15 through Sept. 13.
And the Josh committee really means any way possible.
"Normally, the Josh is a 27-mile bike ride, 5-mile paddle and 6-mile run from Great Barrington to Lenox in the Berkshires," the Josh committee wrote in a release. "This year you can bike, paddle and run anywhere [and if you want, swim] as long as you register with a donation of $30 per person which includes a 'limited edition' 2020 Josh T-shirt."
With no big, formal race, Spector said, the focus of the 44th Josh is to give back to the community that always has embraced the race.
"We are going to have it; it's just going to be very different," Spector said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "We always raised money for the Berkshire United Way, but this is going to be a loss for the Josh — we are not going to be taking in money. ... So, for us, it's a loss, but right now, we've got to do this.
"It's the right thing to do," she said.
Participants still need to register in order to officially participate. You can register as a team, as an Ironperson, or register as an individual to do just one event — regardless, the new entry fee is a $30 donation per person to enter. The fee guarantees each competitor a "special edition" T-shirt.
Josh organizers also are encouraging participants to get "sponsors" for the race to help raise even more money for the United Way and Humane Society. You can register at joshbillings.com.
The new window also gives people the opportunity to try out their best Kent Lemme impressions, and do an Ironperson Josh this year.
"Yes, I am [doing an Ironperson]," said Spector, who noted that she plans to do it over several days, "because I would be totally intimidated to do it otherwise. Also, people have said to me, 'Can we swim?' And I'm thinking, 'Why not?' "
People who already have entered the Josh will have the option of a refund, to roll over their entry to the 2021 race, or to apply their entry fee to a donation to either the Humane Society or the United Way. Send an email to Spector at firstname.lastname@example.org and let her know what you would like to do. If you have mailed a paper application, Spector needs to know who should receive the check and your address.
With a new plan set — and the Josh committee is pretty used to curveballs since the race was remapped two years ago — Spector said that now she will wait and see how many people sign up. The race had over 200 registered teams before the decision was made to go virtual.
"The most important thing is that the Josh is such a community event," Spector said. "Let's turn it into a big fundraiser."
Geoff Smith can be reached at email@example.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.