The Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon: ‘To Finish is to Win’

In one of my recurring nightmares, I’m running a race and come to an intersection with no sign of which way the course goes, so I dash down one street only to discover I’m heading in the wrong direction and have to cut through backyards, climb fences and outsprint angry dogs in order to rejoin the rest of the field.

Another bad dream has me warming up for a few miles before a race but misjudging the time of the start, so that when I head back to the starting line I can see all the other competitors lined up, and BANG! – the gun goes off while I’m still half a mile away.

The sad truth: I’ve experienced both of those scenarios in real life, so I suppose after my experience last weekend at the Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon in Great Barrington, Mass. I’ll wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after a new angst-ridden dream.

First, some background. Josh Billings is the pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw, a 19th century humorist born in Lanesboro, Mass., and his legacy has contributed to the somewhat madcap nature of the race that ends at Tanglewood. The Josh, one of the nation’s oldest triathlons, consists of three events: a 27-mile bike ride, a 5-mile paddle and a 6-mile run. It attracts serious competitors as well as happy-go-lucky weekend warriors, and you can enter as an individual (ironman) or a 2-, 3- or 4-person team.

Anyway, our team consisted of Paul Rock, a veteran cyclist from New London; Phil Warner of Hampton, Mass. and I in Phil’s 25-foot-long tandem kayak, and Dan Dillon of Windham as our runner.

As the bow paddler, my job was to wait for Paul at the bike finish line, grab a wrist band from him and then sprint about 100 yards to the Stockbridge Bowl boat ramp, where Phil was waiting next to his kayak.

Spotters give you about a five-minute warning when your bicyclist is approaching by scribbling race numbers on a whiteboard and announcing them over a bullhorn, but with several hundred chattering competitors and spectators crowding the transition area, this proved a daunting task.

I heard our team number called, positioned myself near the finish and watched as about 40 bikes flew by at about 30 mph. Which one was Paul?

I jumped up and down and waved my arms, shouting, “Paul! Paul!”

Several minutes passed – an eternity.

Finally, Phil appeared with the wristband. When Paul couldn’t find me he ran down to the lake and tracked Phil down. Then Phil had to run up and get me, and we then dashed back to the ramp together. Not a smooth transition, which didn’t exactly enhance our chances of winning any medals.

No matter, we all had a good time, though next year I hope to have a better system of identifying our cyclist – maybe using a whistle. The person who seemed to having the best time was Dan’s wife, Patti, who reconnected with some of her old running pals that milled about Tanglewood after the race.

Before she married Dan, Patti was Patti Lyons, and then Patti Catalano. In the late 1970s and early 1980s she was America’s greatest female distance runner, holding the U.S. record for almost every distance from 5 miles to the marathon and world records for the half-marathon, 20 kilometers, 30 kilometers, and 5 miles. She was the first U.S. woman to break 2:30 in the marathon, and placed second in the Boston Marathon three years in a row. She also won the Honolulu Marathon four times.

“I can’t wait to come back next year!” she gushed.

Maybe I can persuade Patti to run on a team at Josh. I hope so. It’s always a treat spending time with her and Dan.

Dan is not exactly a slouch. He had come in eighth at the 1985 Boston Marathon in 2:23, finished 12th at the World Cross Country Championships in 1980, and has logged blazing-fast times for the 10,000 meters (28:05) and 5,000 meters (13:33).

I’m not sure where our team finished last Sunday at Josh Billings, since organizers hadn’t posted the overall results as of late in the week.

It really doesn’t matter, since according to Josh Billings, “To finish is to win.”

I’ll take that kind of victory any day.




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