…to Finish is to Win

In September 2010, I was newly separated and sleeping on an air mattress in a one-bedroom apartment.

Sorry to start off with a bummer; don’t worry, it gets better.

I’d left behind a lot — my kayak included — but had gained new residence in the Berkshires and had a great job. At some point in August a co-worker told me about the Josh Billings RunAground, an annual bike, paddle, and run triathlon that can be completed as a team or as an Iron Man event. The paddle leg can be completed in a canoe, kayak or on a stand-up paddle board, and it sounded like something I really wanted to try. It’s also named after Josh Billings, the writer and humorist who, in his day, was more well known than Mark Twain. Today, it’s his turns of a phrase that are most recognizable, like “the wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease” and its many permutations. The official motto of The Josh is another Billings’ quote: To finish is to win.

Woman’s influence is powerful, especially when she wants something. ~ Josh Billings

Once convinced an amateur could take part, I was on the hunt for a team, and a kayak to borrow. Thankfully, I found both at work, and dove nearly literally into my first Josh experience.

After completing my five-mile paddle in 2010, I had an athlete’s high and remembered what that felt like, after months of hermit-like behavior. At the party at Tanglewood afterward, I had a great time with friends and remembered what that felt like, too. It was a great way to turn a new leaf, chucking it off to one side with a bright yellow paddle.

I couldn’t wait to return to the boat ramp, but my knee, its meniscus, and the ACL had other plans. In 2011 it started to wobble like cooked pasta, and in 2012 it was locked into a full-leg knee brace following surgery. This year I was rehabbed, reunited with my own ‘yak, and ready to come back… I was determined to find a team to compete with me in my Comeback, Part Two.

Once again, I found a teammate at work — my sassy friend Holly, who’s achieved some crazy fitness goals in the last two years and was ready to try her first 10K. She, in turn, signed on our cyclist, Nick — a Lenox native and a serious bike racer. We had our ringer.

I arrived at the town boat ramp early in the morning, ready to meet Nick at the end of his run, grab the wristband that symbolizes the relay baton, and run my boat to the water’s edge. The Josh course starts in Great Barrington, Mass. with the cyclists, who complete a 27-mile course that ends at the Lenox town boat ramp, where dozens of paddlers wait for their teammates with flailing arms and brightly colored outfits.

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there. ~ Josh BIllings

The paddlers splash into the Stockbridge Bowl — a 372-acre ‘Great Pond’ — and complete 1 3/4 turns around its outer edges. There are a lot of different vessels, from the best racing canoes to boats held together with duct tape, and there’s water-based shoving involved… but it’s all in good fun. Their final destination is the beach at Camp Mah-Kee-Nac, where the runners wait to accept the wristband and take off on a 10K run toward the entrance to Tanglewood.

Laughter is the sensation of feeling good all over and showing it principally in one place. ~ Josh Billings

On Sunday we had a sunny day for the race, along with a sharp wind and mild temperatures. All three of us were out to best personal times and, literally and figuratively, finish each mile and put them summarily behind us.

One of the rarest things that a man ever does, is to do the best he can. ~ Josh Billings

With a collective time of three hours, 41 minutes to completion to finish in 13th place in the 39 and under male/female category, I’d say we did that just that. The talk of Comeback, Part Three continued into Monday morning as well… who knows what goals we’ll be looking to reach then, but a frenzied romp through water and woods is a great way to find things, no matter what you’re seeking.

If you ever find happiness by hunting for it, you will find it,
as the old woman did her lost spectacles, safe on her own nose all the time.

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