Josh Billings RunAground 2019: Return to Stockbridge Bowl a boon for competitors
STOCKBRIDGE — Sunday marked the 43rd annual Josh Billings RunAground triathlon and by now, most participants knew what to expect. However, one year was not like the others. Last year's paddling site was Richmond Pond because of a toxic algae bloom at the Stockbridge Bowl.
"It was great for option number two," 40-year Billings veteran Tim Minkler said. "But [Stockbridge Bowl] is the place to be. We're used to it. Everybody is used to how it is set up and most people train here."
At the bowl, the race usually last a lap and three quarters, but in Richmond the race was roughly two laps.
"There was a lot of traffic on the water," Pat Mele explained. "Usually you're out there in a bigger area so there isn't as many boats with less navigation. It was tighter in Richmond."
Pat, and his wife Dianne, train on Stockbridge Bowl. They started kayaking roughly 30 years ago and began participating in the Josh around the same time.
"Richmond Pond was a great last-minute change," Dianne said, "This is what we know and where it has always been. We live in the Berkshires and we see the triathlon as the official ending of summer."
"Kayaking is just an enjoyable sport to get out there and enjoy the beautiful water," Pat added.
When entering the Stockbridge Bowl on race day, you're greeted by columns of kayaks and canoes that are waiting to hit the water.
"This is a great community event," Ben Pigott said. Pigott is a member of Allen Heights Veterinary, the reigning four-time Josh Billings champions.
"You get to see people you don't normally see and even old friends from school," Pigott added. "Before the race I walk down and do some dynamic movements and most importantly, have a good race."
The popularity of the Josh Billings RunAground stems from the balance of intensity and comradery, which attracts every level of athlete.
"All my friends are outdoor people so we formed a team and kept it going since then," Andrea Goodman said. "If you win and do well, you want to keep coming back. If you come in second or third you just want to come back and beat the people that beat you — which is good motivation."
The Bowl is full of people greeting old friends and even tossing around a football around, displaying the lighthearted nature of the event. However, these same people rose far before the sun to place their kayak at the dock and scout the different angles of the bowl.
"I compete all season. What is different about this race is that everyone does it," Goodman said. "[Race Director] Patty Spector is awesome. Because of her and the social aspect of this race, everybody wants to do it. We all plan for it. Ironically for the New England Canoe and Kayak Racing Association, it doesn't count towards our points — but nobody cares."
More than 400 teams gathered for the RunAground and at the Stockbridge Bowl. Before the race, competitors gathered for a moment to honor George "Gige" Darey. Keep in mind, it was not one of silence, because that isn't who Gige was. Instead, the crowd erupted in a moment of cheers and excitement to honor the long-time mentor in the paddling community.
The 43rd-anual Josh Billing RunAground was much like the 42nd running of the race. It doesn't matter where the triathlon is held, it allows Berkshire County — and beyond — the opportunity to celebrate not only Josh Billings, but a healthy lifestyle.
Jake Mendel can be reached at email@example.com, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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