Mercury News
October 5, 1988

How Long is this Run?


San Jose Mercury News
Wednesday, October 5, 1988

Section: Extra 1

Page: 7

By JON BAKER, Mercury News Staff Writer

Only cross-country runners who love to drink beer -- especially during a run -- need apply.

So says Joe Oakes, a Los Altos triathlete who has traveled from Moscow to Massachusetts to race in several unusual runs organized by an international running group called the Hash House Harriers.

Now Oakes is trying to form a Hash House Harriers troop on the Peninsula. And anyone with a love for cross-country running and beer drinking may join.

Oakes really doesn't have to put together this hash troop. A South Bay version already exists. But Palo Altans, Los Altans and Santa Clarans have found that traveling to weekday hash runs at 6 p.m. -- usually between six and 10 miles and maybe a six-pack long -- in South San Jose or San Francisco is more difficult than keeping the beer down.

So Oakes is trying to put together a kick-off "Hash Piracy" run in Redwood City on Saturday. It will be just one of hundreds of hash runs organized by hash troops all over the world this year.

'A lot of fun'

''I get a lot of fun out of it," said Oakes, who figures that 50,000 people from dozens of countries belong to the Hash House Harriers.

''It gives me a chance to have fun and exercise at the same time, without the pressure of having to go out and win a race.

''There's room in this thing for fast and slow runners," he added. "If you don't really like to drink beer you probably shouldn't show up. (But) we're not a bunch of drunks. We combine fun, partying and running."

A hash run usually runs as follows:

Two of the fastest runners -- called "hares" -- begin the run with 10-pound bags of flour on their backs. They make a trail with the flour, which the remaining runners attempt to follow exactly 15 minutes later.

Predetermined beer break

When runners get to a predetermined point in the race, they stop for a beer, maybe more, and take a rest. After a while, off they go again.

It's basically a cat-and-mouse game that usually ends with somebody -- either a hare who was caught or a runner who got lost -- asked to drink a pint of beer or ale.

For those few runners who don't drink, "you can either drink it, pour it over your head or down your crotch," Oakes said.

A barbecue is held after the race, with food and grog for all.

At the party or during the run, you won't hear Hash House Harriers calling each other by their real names. In fact, some runners don't even know the names of their fellow harriers. Instead, they use sometimes disgusting, sometimes hilarious, nicknames, such as Mr. Greenjeans, No Class, Three-Inch Blade, Cheech and Chong and Exorcist.

Ray Umeda, a optometrist from Cupertino, has run over 200 runs the last four years, and his nickname is No Film. Other nicknames aren't nearly as clean. They will not be listed here to protect the innocent. And guilty.

Half-century old

The idea of such an outrageous running group began in 1938, in what now is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Several Englishmen -- among them A.S. Gispert, Cecil Lee, "Horse" Thomson and "Torch" Bennett -- working overseas as businessmen or soldiers came up with the idea one day.

They figured they would set a paper trail for a group of runners, and, on completing the run, hold a party, according to the book "The Hash House Harriers 50th Anniversary."

Gispert proposed the name Hash House Harriers when government officials decided the first events had to be legally registered, the book states.

''They were living outside of their country," Oakes said. "They did not have much social interaction with the countrymen or the local people because of language and cultural problems. They ended up with a group of similar orientation."

Need for exercise

Oakes said he became interested in joining the club years ago when, after retiring as a competitive runner, he found he wanted to continue exercising.

Since then, he has run in hashes all over the world. Oakes ran a hash race in Calgary, Alberta, just last week.

Ramji Digumarthi, a research engineer in Palo Alto, joined the South Bay troop over a year ago to help mend a broken heart.

He had been going through a divorce when he met some hash runners.

''I met Pooper Scooper and Spiderwoman, and they told me the best thing was to join the hash," Digurmatha said. "I thought they were crazy. I was trying to understand who they were and what they were doing. It takes a couple of times to handle them. I had to get my barriers down.

Individual's choice

''Sometimes I go and sit there and relax and don't ask questions," he added. "Other times I go and drink all the beer. It's a big help."

Anyone interested in the hash's new Peninsula troop can head over to the hash run near the Circle Star Theater in Redwood City before 3 p.m. Saturday. Take Highway 101 to the Whipple Avenue exit and head east. Take a right on Industrial Boulevard, and park in a lot near the Circle Star.

If you see a bunch of blokes dressed up as pirates, don't panic. It's just the hash troop preparing for another wild afternoon.

Copyright 1988, The San Jose Mercury News

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