by Chris Bishop, Danielle Eckler, Tom Dansereau, Aaron Major and Bill Hoffman
The weather was brutal for this year’s Hairy Gorilla fest. Usually bringing an umbrella has brought me luck but not this time. As I held my umbrella in one hand and my camera in the other, the continuous downpour soaked every area not covered by the umbrella and turned the earth beneath my feet into seething mud and I was not even running over a treacherous course laden with hidden roots, rain slicked leaves, and mud everywhere and in some areas inches deep. It took me hours after the race to warm up, but it was worth it to see the wacky, good humored racers running in disastrous conditions in costumes and with smiles.
The event started with a kids’ race, which they enjoyed even though drenched and muddy. Next was the costume judging event, which had hot competition. Two people dressed as books won the first prize. Then the races began. Runners sped off together in the Squirrelly Six Miler and the Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon as smoke from the barbecue run by Gary Robinson filled the air. As the runners returned, they were welcomed by an array of home cooked dishes from paleo to vegan, and barbecued burgers and dogs.
A special shoutout to Gary Robinson.
Gary has been one of the backbones of our events for a LONG time.
Gary has done the grilling for nearly EVERY SINGLE ARE BBQ (our races + summer trail run series) since FOREVER. (as in upwards of 18 years!!)
– Josh Merlis
Race Creator and Director Josh Merlis gave a special shoutout to Ed and Jen Hampston:
“For roughly the past decade or so, Jen and Ed Hampston have baked all of the cookies and pies that we give out to the winners at the race.
They go above and beyond as these are not just "any" cookies and pies, but rather they have made colorful squirrel and gorilla cookies, as well as baked incredible pies for the winners of our special contests, which over the years have included several different categories. For the past few years, those special categories have been Best Costume and Best Gorilla Impersonation.”
Danielle Eckler - 2nd Overall and 1st Female Squirrelly Six
I’m excited to have the chance to talk about what I think is one of my favorite local races. What is even more special to me is that I have done the Squirrelly Six 7 years in a row. I started running in 2017 and don’t think I quite knew what I signed up for when I decided to try the Squirrelly. It was probably for the better. Back then, I would have never thought I’d be first female. My finish time in 2017 was 52:58 and I was 36th overall. This year, I ran a 46:03 and finished 2nd overall. Throughout those years, we’ve had sun, snow, and showers for the race, but never ever dry trails. Do those even exist at Thacher? If so, someone must tell me where! The conditions this year were definitely tough with ungodly amounts of mud and water. One minute you’d be covered in mud but then the rain would get so heavy, you’d look clean again! There was a point where we were all going uphill after coming back from Hang Glider Cliff and I was following another runner. I watched as every step he took was like a slip and slide. He looked back and said “do you want to pass?” I kind of just laughed in that moment as I realized this truly was a crazy thing we were ALL doing (and most of us in costume). I did manage to stay upright the whole time, I heard others did not. After the race, it was really tough to get warm again. I spent a lot of time in the car with the seat warmers. 21st century perks. In the end, I would most definitely do it again… as I have since 2017! I wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren’t for Josh, ARE, the selfless and dedicated volunteers, and some of the most crazy costume clad coolest runners of the Capital Region.
Tom Dansereau-2nd Male Overall
This was my first time running the Squirrelly Six. I ran the half marathon at the Thacher Park Trail Running Series this past summer, and knowing that the course was similar, I expected plenty of rocks, roots, mud, and hills. I love races like that because they challenge me in ways that greatly differ from road races. I know I can't set a goal of a certain pace per mile and my muscles get a workout that they never could in the gym or on training runs. People that have never run a trail race can't possibly understand what a savage animal you feel like when you finish. The Squirrelly Six was all of the tough conditions I love multiplied by ten! When I arrived at the race (dressed as a Ninja Turtle) it was around 40 degrees with steady pouring rain. After checking in, I went for a "warm up" run. Once I was thoroughly drenched, I was ready for race time. Well over half of the course was covered with ankle deep mud. All of the leaves covering the ground made the footing unpredictable and just staying on my feet while moving forward was a lot of work. At one point this guy dressed as a chef passed me. He was covered in mud and was barely keeping his balance as he moved along the trail. It made me laugh to imagine a non-Halloween race circumstance where a chef would be running through the muddy woods. With just over a mile to go, the race left the woods and returned to the soggy grass we started on. Since there were two races going on at the same time, I did not know what place I was in but I knew there were seven people ahead of me. When I came to the final straight away and saw two runners at the finish line, I learned that I was in third! I always tell myself not to worry about what place I come in because I can't control who else signs up for a race. But it was really cool to be on the podium and recognized in the award ceremony.
Aside from the tough conditions, the race atmosphere was fun and festive! The costume contest was great and there were some very creative costumes. And the food afterward was perfect. A+ for the vegan options! I really appreciate the race organizers and volunteers that put the race together and made it happen. If you have never run this race before, I would highly recommend it!
Aaron Major – Placed 2nd Overall in the Hairy Gorilla Half
I've run the Hairy Gorilla Half and the Squirrelly 6 ten times or so in the last 16 years and in my experience these conditions were the worst. That includes the year that we got a snowstorm the day before the race and we ran on a mixture of packed snow and ice. The mud was brutal and slick. Sections that should have been easy were energy-sucking. Corners and downhills were waiting to take you out if you didn't ease through them. Add to that the cold and rain. One or the other is fine, but together they added another challenge. Even with an extra layer on my legs never warmed up. My heart really goes out to all the first timers on this course--what an introduction to this race!
Mary Claire Falatico
The Hairy Gorilla Half-marathon and Squirrely Six-miler are a staple of the running circuit, drawing participants of all ages dressed in every costume imaginable to run through the woods and have an amazing day! This year did not disappoint. We started out with the costume contest, which was followed by an adorable kids run during a particularly hard downpour. The Hairy Gorilla Half and Squirrely Six started all at once, the rain had let up a tiny bit, but it was still quite windy and cold. I had the pleasure of running with my mom this year, while my husband and father volunteered. As we made our way into the woods the trails became deep, sloppy mud going up to our mid calf in places. I absolutely love running in the rain and mud, it makes me feel like a kid again, so I ran through every muddy section and splashed through every puddle, reliving my childhood years of playing in the rain! The trail conditions did slow us down, but we didn’t care and the majority of the other participants didn’t either. We were all there to enjoy time on the trails together!
Bill Hoffman-3rd in his age group!
This was my seventh time running the Hairy Gorilla Half. In 2019, the title of the run on Strava was "Downpour Hairy Gorilla Half." I do remember that year as being pretty wet, and there was a great picture of me running through one of the streams on the second half of the course. However, I don't remember it being as cold and muddy as this year. The roots and mud were very treacherous this year. Somehow, I managed to stay on my feet the whole race, but I did have a couple of close call slides. I don't think I have ever seen Josh M. so cold at a race. He was doing push ups just to stay warm. So, in summary lots of slick mud and heat sapping rain made for a great adventure.
Squirrelly Six and Hairy Gorilla
Results from 2023-2005