Meet MHLC: Josh Merlis, President of ARE Event Productions

Meet MHLC supporter Josh Merlis. With a background in computer science and competitive athletics, Josh is an accomplished event organizer who has built organizations, companies, and events from the ground up. Josh started the community running club Albany Running Exchange (which boasts over 1,000 members), and his company, ARE Event Productions, Inc. (AREEP), organized the wildly successful 2019 Helderberg-Hudson Half-Marathon on the Rail Trail. Over 2,100 runners took part in the inaugural race, cheered on by countless spectators and an enormous team of MHLC volunteers along the 13.1-mile route from Voorheesville to Albany. 

How did you become involved with MHLC?

I received an email from Lea Montalto-Rook, MHLC Director of Operations and Development, asking how MHLC could be involved in our inaugural race. While I had heard of the organization, I did not know anything of substance about it. It was eye-opening to learn about the full extent of all that MHLC does in our community to expand the very same type of offerings and opportunities that align with the mission of our running club. While it was too late for a formal involvement in the 2019 race, we did agree that the event would make a donation to the MHLC as a thank you for helping to recruit volunteers for the event.

As planning began for the 2020 Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon, it was paramount to us for the event to directly benefit an organization or entity that connects to the very place the event is held. As an organization, nothing is more treasured by us than safe places to recreate – and as runners/outdoor enthusiasts, it seems that the available places for this continue to decrease. With more developments being built, and the ever-increased amount of traffic and distracted drivers, having land is protected is the only way to guarantee that we continue to have these opportunities. It sure is a lot more beautiful to run along a creek and hear animals in nature than the whir of cars and the desolation of unending pavement. Albany County is our partner in producing the event, and in coordination and agreement with them, MHLC was chosen as the most suitable benefactor of the event. We are hopeful that our April 2020 event not only directly furthers the financial reach of MHLC but also helps to expand the knowledge within our community of MHLC’s existence and purpose. 

How did the idea for the Helderberg to Hudson come about? 

The origin of the event was a general desire of ARE Event Productions (the race management arm of our community running club called the Albany Running Exchange) to create a large-scale event right here where we live. Since 2009, we’ve been assisting events nationally, including some major races with amenities and experiential offerings that weren’t part of the Capital Region race scene. The idea of creating our own ‘big city race’ had been on our minds for several years, and the creation of the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail lit a bulb in our head that this could be part of that event. Considering the beautiful scenery, its gentle slope towards Albany, the freshly paved surface, and the logistical advantages of placing the majority of the race on a path that prohibits vehicles, it seemed like the perfect fit.

The Helderberg-Hudson is a USATF certified course… was this certification initiated for the inaugural race?

Yes, the certification was for the inaugural race. It was imperative to us to cater to all of our runners, and having an accurately measured route is vital to that end. From the first-time half marathoner to our elite field (several of whom have qualified for the Olympic Trials [OT] in the marathon), we wanted to put on an event that people knew their time would be for a true half marathon. The process involves hiring a course measurer who performs a series of rides with a bicycle to measure the route, determine the literal exact start and endpoint, and provide the exact locations of any key landmarks on the course, such as mile marks, the 5K split location, etc. The data is then submitted to a New York State’s certifier for review.

Where are your favorite places to run or hike in the Capital Region? 

Thacher State Park and Plotterkill Preserve are my favorites, but I really enjoy all of the opportunities in our greater region. The Pine Bush Preserve is closest to me, and where I spent my most time running in college and just after. In 2004, I started the Albany Running Exchange’s 15 week Summer Trail Run Series with the stated mission: “an opportunity for the local community to come together for free weekly, non-competitive trail runs and to see all the trails closer to home than you may think.” That was a figurative vehicle to also force me to start exploring, namely all the State Parks within roughly 45 minutes of Albany, along with other gems such as MHLC preserves, Five Rivers Environmental Center, and even the trails behind Indian Ladder Farms. When I’m training for longer endurance events, I’ve made an effort to spend time on the Taconic Crest Trail, all over the Catskills and Adirondacks as well as the Northville-Placid Trail.

Save the Date!

The Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon will take place on Saturday, April 18, 2020! Josh has estimated that 200 volunteers are needed to keep things running smoothly at the next race. Volunteers are stationed at the start and finish, at six water stations, and as course marshals along the route. There is also a need for volunteers at the packet pick-up locations on Thursday and Friday before the race. The website’s volunteer sign-up page has details on these assignments and time slots. We hope that MHLC supporters will join in this effort and volunteer on race day in support of the Conservancy.




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