Fitness for a cause

Going bananas: Third annual Gorilla Run 5k returns to the streets of Austin this weekend

Going bananas: Third annual Gorilla Run 5k returns to the streets of Austin this weekend

Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_1
© Justin Lee Bradshaw
Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_2
© Justin Lee Bradshaw
Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_3
Courtesy of Austin Gorilla Run
Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_1
Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_2
Austin Photo Set: News_Matt_austin gorilla run_ jan 2013_3

This coming Saturday, the streets of Austin will be overrun with hundreds of gorillas grunting and beating their chests. No, it’s not a remake of the campy '70s flick, Planet of the Apes, it’s the third annual Gorilla Run, a 5K fun run where all participants wear gorilla suits.   

The Gorilla Run is more than just a typical 5K race, and not just because people will be running in full suits of fur. I like to think of it as a triathlon of sorts with three important components: running, supporting a good cause, and beer drinking. The event is held to raise money for the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund (MGCF), an international charity working to save the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda.

And at the run's end, participants are greeted with a cold Silverback Pale Ale made by event sponsor Thirsty Planet Brewing.  

“The event got started in Austin as an extension of the Gorilla Run in Denver. It’s been going on for eight years in Denver. Austin has a reputation for both fitness and fun, so we knew it would be a good fit for the city. Now Austin may overtake Denver in popularity with more than 1,300 expected to run this weekend,” says Jon Partridge event co-director.

That means there will be more gorilla-suited runners in Austin than actual mountain gorillas in the world. The current mountain gorilla population is estimated to be about 880. “Since the conservation fund has been up and running, the numbers of gorillas in the wild has tripled. Hopefully with more support it will continue to get better and better,” says Partridge.

Actual gorillas can run in short bursts up to 20 miles per hour, but only for about 20 yards on their hind legs. The elite runners at the head of the pack would have no trouble beating them in this race.

Partridge explains it's the mix of seriousness and silliness that makes the race unique. “The race is timed with official numbers and finishing spots. Some people take the Gorilla Run very seriously. It’s hilarious to see someone dressed in a gorilla suit running with determined speed. While you can race it, it’s more about raising awareness and having fun.

"Last year we had people on roller blades, skateboards and even a pedicab. The race starts with guys from Thirsty Planet Brewery dashing off on bikes dressed as huge bananas and hundreds of gorillas chase them down the street. It’s quite a sight.”

Austin borrowed the tradition of having a brewery as a main sponsor from the Denver race. The Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver made the original Silverback Pale Ale to raise additional money and awareness for the MGCF.  Thirsty Planet Brewing brewed about 70 kegs of Silverback Pale Ale this year to sell at 20 bars around Austin and to serve after the race.

Thirsty Planet slightly altered the original recipe, but brews Silverback with the same special ingredient, Grains of Paradise, which is an important part of the gorilla’s natural diet in Africa.  

“Having the brewery involved is a fun way to get people involved who might not want to do the run. Along with my event co-director, Tammy Smittle [wife of Thirsty Planet Brewing’s founder Brian Smittle], the brewery is doing awareness building events like a pub crawl to call attention to the goals of the event,” says Partridge.  

Event participants are encouraged to donate and raise money for the MCGF, and based on the amount they raise, they are eligible to win prizes. Last year the Austin event raised more than $60,000 for the cause and they are aiming to raise up to $80,000 this year.

Proceeds from the Austin Gorilla Run will help support the construction of a new Wildlife Veterinary Education facility at Makerere University in Uganda. Students taught at the facility go on to help protect Africa’s struggling wildlife.  

Registration is still open for the Gorilla Run. Your entry fee of $110 (for first time adults) includes a gorilla suit that you get to keep afterwards, race participation and an after party with live music, beer and beverages, food vendors and an awards ceremony.

Packet and gorilla fur pick-up will be held Tuesday, January 15 at RunTex on W. Riverside, Wednesday at The Tavern, Thursday at Hopfields, Friday and Saturday at RunTex.