Boaters back in the Bowl again for Josh Billings RunAground triathlon

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STOCKBRIDGE — Stockbridge Bowl is the epicenter of excitement, challenges and, at times, chaos that has defined the Josh Billings RunAground.

The excitement of watching the bicyclists sprint to their finish at the boat ramp. The challenge of canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders racing the five miles on the Bowl. The occasional chaos of the bikers, trying not to crash, handing off the team wristband to the paddlers and the paddlers handing off to the runners on the shores of Camp Mah-Kee-Nac for the final, six-mile leg of the triathlon.

Cyclist Damon LaCompte, for the overall fourth-place finisher Not Those Guys, avoided a chaotic hand off with one of his caoneists, John Berry. LaCompte was in the first pack of bikers behind break-away leader Josh Lipka of the winning team, Allen Heights Veterinary.

"I just came in screaming, 'Johnny, Johnny' and tossed him the wristband," said the racing cyclist from Orange.

Competing in only his second Josh, LaCompte has found it more relaxing than the cycling-only races.

"Sometimes when you have no pressure, you do your best," he said. "As long as I finished in the first pack and no one got hurt, I'm satisfied."

Stockbridge Bowl seems to be the ultimate vantage point for many fans rooting on family members, friends or all the participants in the single largest sporting event in Berkshire County.

The Josh has its share of elite teams and ironman/ironwoman competitors, but the majority of the nearly 400 entries just want to finish, like The Bissfits.

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The family team of brothers Rich (cyclist), Brian and John Bissell (canoeists) and John's son George (runner) finished a very respectable 113th place. Typically, John says he and Brian don't train for the race, but with age catching up to both men, they paddled Stockbridge Bowl several times before Sunday.

"The whole goal to no injuries and finishing is a little more preparation," said John, president/CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union, which had its own team.

Awaiting his cyclist brother Al Bravo to arrive at the boat ramp, veteran Josh competitor Larry Bravo recalled the challenge of finishing a previous race.

"One year, Al borrowed my bike and arrived riding with a bent wheel — I don't know how he did it," he said.

For Jon Mark, the part-time Stockbridge Bowl resident has had a front-row seat for years watching the race unfold. He has a cottage next to Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, where the paddlers hand off to the runners. This year, Mark was across the lake at the boat ramp ready to corral his son's bike as Aaron Mark was an ironman competitor for the second time in The Josh, the first on the traditional course. Last year, a toxic algae bloom in the Bowl forced a last minute reroute of the race via Richmond Pond, forcing Mark to watch from a different vantage point.

"It was pretty frustrating, but we still enjoyed the race," he said.

With more of a personal stake in the race from previous years, Mark planned to ride his son's bike back to the cottage, cheer Aaron on as he went from paddling to running the six-mile course to Tanglewood, where family will root him across the finish line.

"It's different when you have a kid in the race and his fiancee is here, too," Jon Mark said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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