Whether you're training for your first 10k or your 36th marathon, minutes per mile and nutrition are probably on your mind. But what if there were a running club that cared less about what you ate and more about how much you could drink? Are you ready to swap your PB for a pint? Join a local hashing club, and that's exactly what you'll do.
Hashing - the name is derived from the original sport of hare chasing - is an international phenomenon that originated in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, when a group of British colonial officers and expats began meeting on a Monday evening to run. A hash blends running with orienteering as groups of "hounds" chase a chalk "hare" across city and country, treading the previous weekend's excesses into the pavement.
Infamously known as the Hash House Harriers, the original club members set out to:
Promote physical fitness among members
Get rid of weekend hangovers
Acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
Persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel.
First emblazoned on a club membership card way back in 1950, this call to arms is still honoured by hashers around the world today, ever since clubs (or chapters) started to spring up across the UK, US and Europe.
Most chapters meet on a weekly or monthly basis, often changing the location of the start and finish points, to offer a new route for members to follow. These are either predetermined or marked on the fly by the lead runners (hares), while the rest of the group (hounds) follow. A hash welcomes all abilities, so routes often contain checkpoints, false starts, dead ends and loops to allow slower members to catch up with the elite cheetahs.
Every hashing run ends at a designated pub, where the group gathers to observe the traditions of individual chapters. Forming a "circle", group leaders will recognise individuals for misdemeanours real or imagined, where the lucky (or unlucky) few are asked to "consume the contents of his or her drinking vessel or risk pouring the remaining contents on his or her cranium".
The popularity of the hash is on the rise, with some annual events now attracting more than 2,000 pavement pushers. Probably the best example is the annual Red Dress Run. According to hashing folklore, a newcomer once arrived at a chapter in San Diego wearing a red dress, unaware she was attending a running event. To honour the occasion, other runners began wearing red dresses to chapters, and it soon became an annual event, now held in the UK, US and elsewhere.
With socialising such an important part of the culture, hashing clubs have often been described as "a drinking club with a running problem". It is a fantastic opportunity for even the most serious runner to let off steam while hanging out with friends, and still fit in a little training. It's worth noting that the bias towards drinking and running vary from club to club, so you're sure to find one that suits you.
Better yet, why not start your own chapter? I've done just that, spotting a gap in the market at my office for a bimonthly hash. It's a great excuse to spend a sunny evening with your colleagues. We'll be honouring many of the traditions hashers began all those years ago, while throwing in a few of our own.
Generally, clubs are open to the public, and most don't charge to join – although some may ask for a small housekeeping fee. If you don't want to start your own club just yet but feel intrigued enough to trade hill sprints for hashing, then why not explore what clubs exist near you? You can visit the UK Hash House Harriers' website to browse the directory of chapters and events.
Maybe you've tried hashing before and have a funny story to share? Or if you were to start your own hashing chapter, what would you call it? This is a no-vowels-barred name off, so feel free to get creative.