Race Report: Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon and Squirrelly Six Mile

Hairy Gorilla race report written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Laura’s race report was first published in the the Hudson-Mohawk Road Runners Club (HMRRC) newsletter and is re-posted here with permission.

With temperatures in the low twenties and two inches of snow on the ground, Thatcher State Park (Voorheesville, New York), venue for the Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon and Squirrelly Six Mile trail races, resembled Jack Skellington’s Halloween Town in Tim Burton’s film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. For some, the reminder of the awaiting winter was even scarier than the Halloween gorillas. For others, myself included, this foretaste was a tantalizing harbinger of winter sports to come. But for all of us, Thatcher’s version of Frozen was a complete surprise as the lower elevations had long since melted backwards into a soggy fall day.

Luckily, at the last minute I threw my ice-spiked sneakers into the car and so was one of the few totally prepared for this Halloween trick-or-treat. Still, I debated, thinking that the light covering would soon melt. At the registration table I spotted Kim Donegan and asked her, “What would Shaun wear if he were here and not home watching the twins?” Her answer, “Definitely traction,” ended my internal debate. (Shaun is among the most prepared of runners and known for arriving on sight with multiple sneaker and clothing choices). And I was so glad I had tuned in to the imaginary Shaun!

hairy gorilla

At first there were many icy, slippery stretches that when melted, morphed into muddy, leaf-covered slickness. There was one lady wearing an octopus costume whose jutting serpentine tentacles were perfect for enforcing social distancing, and served as a reminder of the twisting tree roots hidden beneath the snow and leaves. Bill Hoffman wore his version of desert huaraches complete with spikes and extra-thick ski socks. BRRR! Elaine Morris ditched last year’s gorilla costume which had become heavy and sodden in the rain, only to regret not having its warmth to rely upon this time around. As for myself, I was happily pretending I was snowshoeing along, looking forward to the upcoming season.

This year’s COVID-19 edition with 287 participants in either the Squirrelly 6 or Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon, divided entrants into 7 corrals with a lineup time, a cone letter and a 10 second spaced start, so it was difficult to know who was there even if they weren’t costumed and masked. I also had difficulty determining the bib codes. Usually we got stuck with unclaimed bibs from the Ft Bragg 10-miler that ARE Event Productions race director Josh Merlis produces, but no one ever seems to show up for. This day, however, we were issued Hairy Gorilla bibs, which all seemed to be different. Mine was black and had a small gorilla skeleton on one side and a squirrel silhouette on the other with the year 2020 written in Sharpie. Others were colorful and featured different designs, way more than our two race choices should have warranted. I finally figured it out—Josh was using up extra HG bibs. Score one for sustainability and carbon-offsets!

hairy gorilla

At 73 years of age, my main goal was to finish before the cutoff time. This meant I had to clock 1:17:30 for 5.75 miles. Reasonable, but given the conditions, challenging. The distance wasn’t a problem as I had been logging long training runs at Moreau Lake State Park in preparation for a 14.5 miler there. And that paid off. Who knew? Once we hit the technical, rooty octopus stuff I felt at home, pretended I was snowshoeing and managed to pass five runners! Since I organize the Dion Snowshoe Series, random folks shouted inquires and I regretted not having brought schedules, however iffy at this juncture, to hand out. That would have been an excellent race strategy, burdening folks with paper to stash somewhere (just kidding).

Anyway, that is the scenario I cling to hopefully in my mind. If we are going for total truth in advertising, the above is most likely a glossy attempt at fake news as timing officially began as the final corral/ letter combo crossed the start line. I probed no farther than that the 5.75 mile volunteer gave me the nod to continue. And truth be told, I really don’t want to know how much of my lead time was due to a possible head start. As I approached the volunteer, I thought that even if I got redirected toward the finish, I would:

  1. Be pleased with my effort
  2. Get first crack at the boxed sandwich lunch.

Not a shabby trade off!

Hairy Gorilla

By now, you probably know where this is going. Exhausted by my effort, I struggled for a few miles, as befitting someone who had left their race in the beginning of the course, wrestling with the happy thought that since I had made the cutoff, I could literally walk to the finish. But that wouldn’t have been fair, either to me or to the volunteers still out there in subfreezing weather.

This was one of those races where it was tempting to trash both shoes and socks to avoid the cleanup process. But I was good. Up to a point. I had promised a friend to run the virtual Fall Back 5 Mile with her the following day, so I just waited for the mud on my tights to cake, then brushed it off and no one was the wiser. Except perhaps the Gorilla.

Official Hairy Gorilla results and additional photos from the 2020 races can be found at the links below:

Hairy Gorilla

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