The Ultimate Fun Run
Yesterday (Sunday October 26) I ran what may have been the most enjoyable race of my life: the Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon up in the John Boyd Thatcher State Park, near New Scotland (!) and Bethlehem (!), in a beautiful area west of Albany that I’ve never visited before. I can think of at least four reasons I had such a great time:
1) The course itself was beautiful, if physically demanding, through fields and trails, in and out of the woods, up and down hills, across streams and along wide cliff tops with stunning autumnal vistas. And though a half-marathon is by nature a tough ride, it doesn’t make the demands of a full marathon or Escarpment Trail, which offer personal satisfaction of a very different, very masochistic kind. Recovery is almost immediate. Many people I know rate the half-marathon as their favorite distance, and on this race I was reminded why I used to feel the same way.
2) The weather was beautiful: though a day of torrential heavy rain left much of the course completely flooded, there was sunshine throughout and temperatures were in the high 40s/lows 50s – perfect conditions in which to push yourself without the worry of dehydration or hypothermia that sets in at the extremes of hot and cold weather.
3) I didn’t push myself. In fact, I didn’t really race. Having not run this distance since the Escarpment in the summer (which also took place the day after a torrential storm), and with the After the Leaves race coming up next weekend, on which I get scored for our local Grand Prix series, I set out at the Hairy Gorilla just to have fun, and nothing but fun. I set out at the very very very back of the pack, and moved on from there, taking pictures and chatting as I went. I had a blast. And the reason for the camera was…
4) Fancy Dress. As its name suggests, the Hairy Gorilla (and accompanying Squirelly Six-miler) is not your normal race. Now in its third year, it’s run by the lunatics at the Albany Running Exchange as a Halloween weekend theme race, with runners and volunteers alike encouraged to dress up in costume. Gorillas are placed strategically in the woods; they promise to back off if you throw them a banana. There are prizes not only for the usual winners, but for best costume, best gorilla and the person who can come across the finishing line having gathered the most bananas strategically placed across the last mile and a half. (I didn’t see any bananas as I came through, perhaps because I was languishing in the middle of the pack.) The presence of a genuine chainsaw-toting Texas killer (by which I mean the chainsaw was genuine, I can’t vouch for the perpetrator) popping out of the woods here and there kept us all on our toes, and I had tons of fun taking pictures on the run of all the wonderful costumes.
This combination made for more smiles over more miles than I’m used to seeing on what was, for any novices out there, a very difficult race. It certainly made light of the fact that the course was so incredibly soaked from the previous day’s rains that whole sections of trails were flooded up to a foot deep, that one section had turned into the equivalent of a cow pasture (have you ever tried running up hill through solid mud?), and that what probably only a few days ago would have been an easy stream to cross via stepping stones turned into a case of “you have no choice but to walk/run through the water.” Keeping your feet dry on this race was not an option (I am so glad I wore my thick trail socks), but nor was being miserable. To top it all, when I came through the finish line and up to the pavilion where a bar-be-que was already well in place, it was to the sounds of “complete Control” by the Clash powering through the PA. It doesn’t get much better.
If there’s a criticism of the event, it was that the good people of ARE have built such a popular race in such a small time that they seemed a little over-whelmed by the numbers. There was a definite shortage of goodies for my race-day entry fee of $30 and the food had mostly disappeared by the time I picked up my plate, moral being that if you are going to host a short run as well as a long one, you really need to make sure you’re holding food and drink back for those at the rear of the pack.
I doubt if the Hairy Gorilla Half-Marathon and Squirelly Six-Miler will get any less popular in the near future. Though the course makes demands on the body, it serves primarily to remind people why they get up early on weekend mornings in the first place – and it’s not to win medals. “This event is about having fun,” ARE stated on the entry form, “and we guarantee that you will.” They didn’t break their word.