Joshing Around | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It

Joshing Around 

click to enlarge Rowing teams finish the second leg of the Great Josh Billings RunAground triathlon, a September tradition in the Berkshires.
  • Rowing teams finish the second leg of the Great Josh Billings RunAground triathlon, a September tradition in the Berkshires.

The year was 1977 and a tourism committee in the Berkshires was trying to figure out how to attract visitors to western Massachusetts during the slow season after Labor Day and before the influx of the fall leaf peepers. One member of the committee had gone to college in the West and seen an odd sporting event called a triathlon. This was the ’70s, and triathlons were still largely unknown. Interesting idea. The one out west consisted of running, biking, and skiing. There’s no skiing in the Berkshires in September, but there is canoeing. It was decided: Let’s hold a triathlon.

Yes, but what to call it? One of the towns the race course passed through that year was Lanesboro, birthplace of the 19th-century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, better known as Josh Billings. Billings was famous for pithy observations that were at once funny and wise, to wit: “Flattery is like cologne water, to be smelt of, not swallowed.” The triathlon committee borrowed his name and his irony, and dubbed their event “The Great Josh Billings RunAground.” For good measure, they adopted one of Shaw’s one-liners as well, and “To finish is to win” became the motto of the race.

That sentiment is still the watchword of the event, which will take place for the 31st time this month. The race begins in Great Barrington with a 27-mile, hilly-but-scenic bicycle ride. That’s followed by a 5-mile canoe/kayak sprint around Stockbridge Bowl, also know as Lake Mahkeenac, on the Stockbridge-Lenox border. The last leg is a 6.2-mile run around the lake ending at Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox.

“In that first race, there were only 71 teams and they consisted of many athletes wearing cutoff jeans and T-shirts, and riding clunky old bikes from their garage,” said current race director Patty Spector. “There were mostly aluminum canoes, and it would have been just the sort of funny thing Josh Billings would have enjoyed.”

Today, there are more than 400 teams made up of one, two, three, or four people, most of them wearing spandex and sporting state-of-the-art shoes, bikes, canoes, and kayaks. Twenty percent of those teams are in the “Ironman” division, where one person does all three sections. “It’s a lot more serious today,” says Spector, “but we still have those ordinary folks who only compete in this one event all year.”

The race is now the oldest and largest bike, row, and run triathlon in the country. “It’s gotten more competitive,” says Spector, “but it’s still about being in the outdoors and having fun. Many triathlons have come and gone, but we survive because the community really gets behind this. We’re also willing to try new things and adapt. Three years ago we added kayaks to the canoe portion, and our entries went up. We’re also one of the only triathlons that has a matchmaking service which will put you on a comparable team of athletes. If you’re a biker, we’ll find you the other two legs. We do hundreds of matches.”

The Great Josh Billings RunAground will be held on September 16.

Speaking of...

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Carrie On

    • May 1, 2016
  • RUPCO's Lace Mill: Collaborative Catalyst

    A positive effect on the community can come from artists having a space with the opportunity to inspire and collaborate with one another; Rupco's Lace Mill is one of those spaces.
    • Feb 1, 2017

Hudson Valley Events

submit event

Reading by Quincy Troupe

Mon., Sept. 25, 2:30 p.m. — Troupe is a American Book Award–winning poet, memoirist, journalist, and Miles Davis...

Meeting of End The New Jim Crow Action Network

Mon., Sept. 25, 6-8 p.m. — ENJAN is a Hudson Valley network dedicated to fighting racist policies of...

View all of today's events

Latest in Visual Art

  • Olana, with The Ancram Opera House, presents an original play in landscape
  • Olana, with The Ancram Opera House, presents an original play in landscape

    Performing Olana: Frederic Church living his art Olana and Ancram Opera House collaborate to produce a theater performance specifically created to take place in the landscape of the historic site. The dramatic work draws inspiration from Frederic Church’s paintings, letters, family life and the celebrated landscape and is presented as an immersive theater experience in which performer and audience journey together into Church's art. FRI 6PM | SAT 2PM, 4PM, 6PM | SUN 2PM, 4PM, 6PM Member: $10, Non-Member: $15, Family (up to 5): $40
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • Fall for Art, Juried Art Show, Sale & Fundraising Reception
  • Fall for Art, Juried Art Show, Sale & Fundraising Reception

    Fall for Art, a juried art show, sale and fundraising reception (hosted by the Jewish Federation of Ulster County) Thursday, September 7th at The Chateau in Kingston, 5:00-9:00 pm, features 29 area artists. Reservations: ($45 p/p) at, or 845-338-8131.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • More »

Related to Visual Art

More by Jack Rightmyer

  • The Persistence of Memory

    Naton Leslie has been called “the poet of a forgotten America,” and a “poet of the working class.”
    • Sep 28, 2007
  • Irish Symphony

    n 1607, a pair of powerful Irish noblemen fled Ireland to seek help against the tightening grip of English domination. Robinson McClellan used the earls’ travels and travails to structure his piece.
    • Aug 24, 2007
  • Cannes Do

    Since it was launched in 2000, the Edwood Film Festival has become the Capital Region’s preeminent annual film event.
    • Aug 24, 2007
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets