41st edition of Josh Billings RunAground returns on Sunday

Tom Keefe says when mid-August rolls around, it's time to get ready for the Josh.

Keefe, fellow paddler Ben Pigott, cyclist Josh Lipka and runner Steve Monsulick are ready to defend their title in the 41st annual Great Josh Billings RunAground this Sunday.

The Allen Heights Veterinary team, which has had other paddlers join Keefe in the boat, has won five of the last six RunAgrounds. The lone loss came in 2015 when Pittsfield Health Food Center won the title. The Allen Heights team that year was a mixed squad.

"Josh, Steve and I have been together for every single one," Keefe said. "We know, I guess, what we need to do to win. We know what each person has to do."

The Allen Heights team established a course record in the kayak last year, finishing the triathlon in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 21 seconds.

Keefe is also in the record books with the fastest Ironman time in a canoe, clocking a 2:41:06 back in 2007.

There are no major changes in the race course for the 41st edition of the biking-paddling-running triathlon. The race starts at the Price Chopper Plaza in Great Barrington at 9:30 a.m., and wraps up at Tanglewood's main entrance.

The Josh consists of a 27-mile biking leg, a five-mile paddling leg in the Stockbridge Bowl — for kayaks, canoes or paddle boards — and a six-mile run from Camp Mah-Kee-Nac to the finish line.

"Josh Lipka's in the race, and he's going to run for his dad," race director Patty Spector said, referring to a tin team that Josh Lipka will go with his father Pete.

That is something a lot of competitors do. They will bike or paddle with one team, and run with another team.

The cycling leg of the triathlon could be very interesting as Vermont native Will Dugan is back in the Josh this year. Dugan, who will race on a team with Spector, is cycling and running while Spector will hit the water on a paddle board. Dugan last won the Josh as a member of the Smokin' Aces team back in 2010, beating out Allen Heights.

As of Wednesday, the list of competitors on the Platt Systems — the Josh timer — website has 490 bibs handed out. That could include four-person, three-person, two-person and the one-person Iron groupings.

Spector said that while there is no race-day registration, there will be registration Saturday from 12-5:30 p.m. at the Arcadian Shop in Lenox. That is the same time competitors can pick up race packages. However, anyone who registers on Saturday will have to pay an additional $10.

Defending Ironman champion Kent Lemme, who finished fifth overall last year, is back to defend his championship, and perhaps improve on his record-setting time from last year. Lemme covered the triathlon in 2:25:44.

Bikers should report to the Price Chopper parking lot on Route 7 in Great Barrington at 8:30 a.m., for the 9:30 start. Paddlers should be at the Stockbridge Bowl boat ramp at 9 a.m.

For his part, Keefe said that moving his family into a new home has kept him out of the water more than usual. He did say that he was running a good amount over the summer, and hit the water three weeks ago. He and Pigott have trained together and separately. They expect to be ready for Sunday.

"We're racing against the clock" said Keefe, whose team has its eye on the 2:15:55 record set by the High Lawn Farm team back in 2000.

"Our goal is to race the block. For Josh, it's a time trial. He knows Will is coming," said Keefe. "It doesn't change anything for us."

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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