Go OutsideA Race for the Crown: King of the James Adventure Triathalon

A Race for the Crown: King of the James Adventure Triathalon

Above photo shows the class III paddling of King of the James: Photo by Keith Vincent

Pictured is 2014 King of the James winner Adam Tremper (photo Rich Young)

Hear ye, hear ye!

For it is time that the glorious King and Queen of thy mighty James relinquish their rights to the crown to once again challenge the brave athletes of the East for the glory. On the 10th day of November they will endure the intensity of running, mountain biking, and paddling the most treacherous trails and roaring waters that hail within the city limits of Richmond, Virginia. There can only be one…Who shall be crowned the next King and Queen of the James?

Logo for 2019’s King of James: Artwork by Jim Callahan

This year marks the 5th annual King of the James Adventure Triathalon in Richmond, Virginia, which has quickly become a yearly tradition and highlight for many. In celebration of the unique access Richmonders have to the outdoors, the race takes place on three of the most technical of trail running, mountain biking, and urban whitewater sections the area has to offer.

Photo of 2018 Queen of James, Penelope Davenport, and Riley Gorman. Photo by Rich Young 2015

The race is not only a fun challenge but also a great way to connect with people in the outdoor community of Richmond and the surrounding area while raising money for the James River Park.

The Details

The race begins with the mountain bike portion that loops through the Buttermilk and Northbank Trails (about 10 miles), followed by a trail-run on the Forest Hill Trail Loop (about 4 miles), and finishes with a class III/IV white water paddle of the Lower section of the James River (about 2.5 miles), finishing at the 14th street take out.

Racers have the option to get creative in how they compete: Solo, solo with raft support, or as a team. Teams of 2-3 can pick and choose who does what portion of the race and relay off. That also means that if they choose to raft the paddling portion they can all hop in and cross the finish line together! THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

Rafters competing in King of the James in 2017: Photo by Dave Parrish
Canoeist competing in King of the James in 2017: Photo by Dave Parrish

Racers are urged to train and understand that this race is for experienced trail runners, mountain bikers, and whitewater paddlers. If you do not have the proper safety gear for any portion of the race, you cannot participate.

A Word From the King

Joey Parent in King of the James in 2017: Photo by James Vonesh

We talked to Joey Parent, one of the creators behind King of the James (the King of the – King of the James? God of the James? Emperor? You decide), and asked him a few questions about this epic event!

1.) What inspired the idea? How did King of the James get started?

My friend Hunter Davis and I both moved back to Richmond after some time away chasing water and snow all over the country.

One of the things that really drew us back was the great access to trails and the river.

Having both lived in other cities and towns around the US, few had the immediate access that we are so lucky to have here in Richmond. After work, we would often find ourselves going kayaking and then trail running the shuttle. When we had more time on the weekends, we would meet at the put-in with our bikes and boats and everything and do a paddle/run/mountain bike. Eventually, we were like “Hey, we should make this a race and see who can do it the fastest.” 

Video from the first year of King of the James in 2014 by Tijo Media

The Captain Thurmond’s Challenge was also a huge inspiration for the event. I did that race when I was in college and still do now. They put on a really great event in Fayetteville [West Virginia] that is super well organized. It goes together so well, and its a pretty challenging event.  Having the national guard run gear logistics doesn’t hurt either. When we started planning the King of the James, we knew we had all of the ingredients for a great event.

2.) What makes King of the James different from other triathlons?

The obvious thing is that its a legit adventure triathlon in the middle of a city. The trail run is all on trail, the mountain bike is all on technical single track and the whitewater section is on a class III/IV river.

No portion of the race is easy, and its all in downtown Richmond. There aren’t a lot of places that can pull all of those things together in one place, and certainly not within city limits. 

The other thing is that we do this in a very “Richmond way.” Its kinda gritty, trash-talking is encouraged, and there is only one winner. We don’t have a bunch of categories and participation trophies for everyone. The King is the first male that crosses the finish line, the queen is the first female to finish, and the court is the first team. Really, its all about bragging rights for the next 12 months. 

3.) Why do you feel that Richmond is the best place to host this race? What role does the community play?

This is the best place because its what we have.

We are making the most of what is available to us. There are some other places doing events like this, but there aren’t a ton. I would love to see more technically challenging adventure triathlons.

With that said, I feel really lucky to have the community and outdoor resources that we do here in Richmond. The King of the James is a completely volunteer-run event. We have a ton of support from the local outdoor community. So many local businesses support this event. In the end, all of the money we raise goes straight back to the park. No one makes a cent off of the race (except the insurance company….)

4.) How has the event grown over the past 5 years? What was that first year like?

Haha. The first year we didn’t think many people would want to do something this. Hunter and I knew a couple of people who were into the multi-sport stuff, but didn’t really think there were going to be a lot. Originally we just planned on it being a grassroots kinda thing. Just show up at the park and do the thing. Gentleman’s rules. Hunter put a post up on his website homeonthejames.com and we made a Facebook event. Before we realized it, we had like 100 people saying they were going to come.

Eventually, the Park System folks found out that we were running an unsanctioned event in the park. They were pretty upset and let us know that we couldn’t host the event unless it was registered with the city and we got some insurance. So we did. The first race was super fun and we had lots of people in the community help us make it happen pretty last minute. 

The King of the James has grown a good bit over the years. We had over 150 racers last year. The general vibe stays the same though. The James River Outdoor Coalition (JROC), a non-profit organization that helps support the James River Park System, now hosts the event. I work with a committee of volunteers from JROC to plan the race. It’s the largest fundraiser that they host each year.

In 2018 we raised over $12,000 for the James River Park.

This year we should do even better than that. I think its a good fit. Like I have already said, the park system has given a lot to everyone that lives here in Richmond, its good to be able to give back. 

5.) How do you see King of the James in years to come?

I don’t want to change the event much. People are always saying we should add more categories (Clydesdale, age groups, etc.). I think they should just get faster and try to win it. I mean, there can only be one king of the James.

I hope that the event continues to attract more racers. We are starting to see more folks from outside the city come and race. It’s pretty cool to get to showcase what Richmond has to offer. You really get to see all of the best parts of the James River Park. I know several people who have learned to mountain bike or kayak just so that they could participate in the King of the James. We also have a fair number of folks that start on a team and make it a goal to do the event solo the next year. For a lot of people, it’s an accomplishment to just finish the event.  

6.) What’s your favorite, funniest, RADDEST, worst-est, most eye-opening, plain old silliest memory that has come from running the King of the James event. 

Probably sitting at the takeout and watching people finish the race. There is always a group of people who do the race off the couch. They don’t really train at all, or maybe go out for a jog the week before the race. Watching them crawl (or swim) out of their boats at the end is hilarious. Most of them can barely walk the week after the race. 

There was also the time that the president of JROC (at the time) got lost on the course. It was particularly funny because he was running around with his kayak helmet on…

7.) If every year you crown a new King and Queen of the James… Does that make you God of the James?

Yes, omniscient and all-knowing.

8.) Where does the inspiration come from for the logo designs each year? (Are you or are you not a skater boi?)

Jim Callahan is the man behind the artwork. He runs Barf Comics He is an amazing artist from Richmond (currently living in LA) and a genuinely great person. He does a lot of artwork for skate companies, and punk/metal bands, among other things. 

His stuff is ridiculous. Its super graphic and has a ton of detail.

I really love it for the King of the James because it not what you expect from an outdoor event. Until this year, we have been doing spoofs off of old Powell Peralta Skate decks. I never really skated, I wasn’t that cool, but Jim has illustrated countless skate decks for various companies and done illustrations for Thrasher magazine. We wanted something that had a Richmond flair to it. It was a pretty natural fit for King of the James. This year we went a slightly different route. Its got more of a punk rock album cover look. Also super fitting for Richmond. 

9.) What do you look forward to most about this year?

I’m always excited to see who comes out for the race. We get a few people from out of town that throw down pretty quick times. Michael Wilson has won the race for the last two years. He is originally from Richmond and has come back home from South Africa each year to compete in the race. Hopefully, we will see him again this year! The two time reigning Queen of the James, Penelope Davenport, will be sitting this year’s race out. Her baby (Princess of the James?) is due right around the day as the race. The women’s race is up in the air this year for sure. I’m excited to see what will happen there. People come out of the woodwork to race king of the James. It’s always exciting to see who shows up. 

10.) Anything else you would like to add?

This event really couldn’t happen without all of the help from the other race organizers. Katie Lemmert, Matt Rosenberg, and Shawna Shade have been instrumental in making this event happen. 

There can only be one…

11.) What’s your fav color?

Black… and also black.

Think you got what it takes? Sign up here to compete for the crown!

Places to Go, Things to See: