First Great River Challenge Off-Road Triathlon set for Sept. 28

Great River Off-Road Triathlon organizers Bill Gabriel, David Thomas and Ed Hoffmeister stand on the knoll that will serve as the Sept. 28 race's finish line at Northfield Mountain Environmental and Recreation Center.
(Recorder/David Rainville)

Great River Off-Road Triathlon organizers Bill Gabriel, David Thomas and Ed Hoffmeister stand on the knoll that will serve as the Sept. 28 race's finish line at Northfield Mountain Environmental and Recreation Center. (Recorder/David Rainville) Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHFIELD — What do you get when you combine kayaks and canoes, mountain bikes and running shoes with the local landscape? The first Great River Challenge Off-Road Triathlon.

The race, which will be held Sept. 28, has been years in the making.

Organizers David Thomas and Ed Hoffmeister, co-owners of Stellar Kayaks, dreamed up the race five years ago and kicked planning into high gear when they started to line up sponsors last year.

“We hope to highlight Northfield and the North Franklin County area with the race,” said Thomas. “The area has a rich history as well as great natural resources.”

Organizers have invited local conservation and recreation groups to set up alongside the food and sports vendors at the triathlon, to help promote the area’s recreational assets.

Besides introducing outdoor enthusiasts to the area, the race will benefit the Northfield Kiwanis Club. A portion of the proceeds will go to the club, which will use the money for its own charitable efforts.

The race will begin with the paddling leg. Canoes and kayaks will launch from Northfield Mountain’s Ferry Road picnic area. They will race 2.6 miles upriver, loop around Captain Kidd Island and come back. Then, they’ll run across Pine Meadow Road and Route 63, into the woods of Northfield Mountain Environmental and Recreation Center for a 3.6-mile loop.

From there, they’ll board bikes and pedal to the peak of the mountain before careening down to the finish line in the final six-mile leg of the race.

Except for a couple quick street crossings on the running leg, the race will be entirely off-road — and much of it is uphill.

“The running leg will be pretty challenging — there is about 700 feet of elevation on the course,” said Thomas. “The bike leg is similar, it’s got a decent climb and a really fun descent.”

Too much? Try forming a team

If all that mileage seems too much for you to handle, you can still get in on the race. In addition to the classic ironman and ironwoman solo category, there will be three team options. Teams of two, three or four can collaborate in the race.

The solo and two-person teams will be broken into men’s, women’s and mixed categories and there will be a recreational, family and junior (20 and under) class in each of the three- and four-person team categories. The recreational class is reserved for three-person teams using a 12-foot or shorter kayak, and four-person teams using plastic or metal tandem kayaks or canoes.

“It should make it a lot of fun for different levels of competitors,” said Thomas.

Thomas said he’d like to get athletes from local high schools to compete in the junior division and already has the Northfield Mount Hermon School sending a team.

While athletic ability is certainly a big factor, the equipment people use will also play a big role in their final times. Lightweight titanium mountain bikes should be faster and less burdensome, but Thomas expects the biggest difference to come from racers’ choice of boats and sleek racing kayaks sure to take a quick lead over the slower recreational canoes and kayaks.

He should know; Thomas designs racing and touring kayaks for a living.

While he and Hoffmeister know their kayaks, they brought in some experienced triathlon organizers for help getting the race together.

“We reached out to the Josh Billings (Runaground) Triathlon for help,” Thomas said.

The 38th annual Josh Billings triathlon will be held in Lenox two weeks before the Northfield race. They’re both “nontraditional” triathlons, meaning racers use boats instead of swimming for the aquatic portion. Thomas hopes that similarity will draw some of the 1,500 competitors to Northfield for the inaugural triathlon.

“It would be fun to build a whole series of Western Mass. triathlons,” he said.

While the Greenfield Lightlife Triathlon will be held Sunday, that one is a traditional race, with a swimming leg.

Hoffmeister said the two types of races draw different crowds.

“I’m not a strong swimmer, so I look for triathlons with a canoe or kayak leg,” he said.

He and Thomas have both run the Tully Lake Triathlon, a paddle/bike/run race held annually in October on the Athol/Royalston line.

Volunteers needed

If you’re not an athlete but still want to get involved, you can. The triathlon needs volunteers for everything from parking cars and giving out information to helping with the transition sites and photographing the race. Thomas said there will be a pre-race work party to help ready the site as well.

The race’s website,, is under construction, and will soon feature course maps and race information. Organizers hope to have online registration set up this week.

Once those maps are up, it’s time to start training. Northfield Mountain’s hiking and bike trails are open to the public, as well as the car-top boat launch on Ferry Road.

You can reach David Rainville at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 On Twitter, follow @RecorderRain

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