Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Meet the Drinking Club with a Running Problem!

Running and drinking: If you do one, you must do the other.......

RACE marshals. They can be good, they can be bad, they can even occasionally be ugly.  

But you know something extraordinary is going on when you arrive at a race venue and they line up to wave a cheery welcome at you, and then also give it large when you depart for home.

I don’t want to sound uncharitable, but the hi-vis brigade at my race last weekend were so full of vim and vigour that I couldn’t help wondering if they’d necked a few too many cold ones as they whiled away the hours waiting for 630 of us runners to pass by.

The evidence was all too clear I’m afraid. Firstly, the host club – Harvel Hash House Harriers – already promote themselves with admirable frankness as “a drinking club with a running problem.”  And, secondly, the marshals manning a junction about a mile into the race were happily waving us past surrounded by a ring of empty Carling cans. Well, if this is the way ahead, I think I’ll start volunteering for marshalling a bit more often.

The race in question was the annual Harvel 5-miler, a popular event staged in rural Kent not a million miles from the Dartford river crossing, but notoriously hard to find if you don’t know the area. The race instructions even recommended we should forget SatNav and GPS devices as this is territory beyond the ken of modern technology.

Instead, marshals were all over the place, expertly guiding cars down lanes so narrow that even single-lane one-way traffic felt claustrophobic. Parking was in a field provided by Farmer Jones, who also loaned his tractor, upon which the race clock was mounted.  Virgin London Marathon eat your heart out.

Nearby was a pub with a suitably eccentric name (‘The Amazon and Tiger’), which, as it turns out, is not only sponsoring the race, but is also the HQ of the host club. Could this be Britain’s most well-lubricated running club, one wonders?

For newcomers to our sport, unfamiliar with the concepts of ‘hashing’, Hash House Harriers, and training with beer, here is some background information: Hashing began in Malaysia in 1938 when a group of British colonial types got together to socialize and take exercise with like-minded folk. They adopted the nickname of their meeting place (The Selangor Club), which was known as ‘The Hash House’ due to its bland and unappetising food.

The first Hash House Harrier runs were copied from traditional 19th century British paper chases, which were the precursor to modern cross-country running as we know it. A ‘hare’ was given a head start, and using paper or chalk would mark a route to be followed by the chasing pack. The route would be entirely up to the ‘hare’ and would often involve streams, storm drains, fences and any other obstacles he liked the look of (Yes, that often happens here at Tiptree Road Runners on training nights too – but without the paper!). Arriving at the end of the trail was not the runners’ only reward, for at the finish-line would be a tub of iced beer, all ready for the party to begin.

The original Hash House group went a bit quiet after the Japs invaded Malaysia during the 1939-45 War, but eventually the survivors reassembled and in the post-war years other Brits living abroad soon began to notice what fun could be had if you spent all your leisure time running and drinking!  

Groups sprang up around the globe and today there are over 1,200 Hash House Harriers clubs in 160 different countries, all organising their own affairs with the complete absence of any central organisation.

Here at Tiptree Road Runners, we are not on the same level as the highly-refreshed Hash House Harriers, but I can report that our Wendy's recently-introduced 'social runs' from local pubs are proving popular. And, furthermore, this week the Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday forced us to meet at a local pub instead of the more sober surroundings of the village sports centre.  On Tuesday night, in true HHH tradition, at least 15 of my colleagues dutifully ran five miles in the pouring rain before propping up the bar of the Beckingham Bell with their sodden, dripping bodies.

It is clear that all that beer and wine consumption isn’t doing the Harvel HHH group any harm, for their race last weekend was superbly organised in all respects. They know the importance of toilet facilities (all that beer has to go somewhere) and the runners were able to avail themselves of an extraordinary open-air ‘urinal’ feature at the race HQ.

Modesty protected by only a narrow strip of canvas at waist height, users were invited to aim their waste product at floor-mounted pictures of various unpopular characters – I think I saw the bloke who runs Syria among them. When it's quiet one can walk around before choosing a target, I suppose, but when I entered only David Cameron was vacant, so he duly got it between the eyes.

Although gender wasn’t specified on the signs, only male runners were using this unusual feature, but of course females could join in all the other fun, and did have the complete run of the village hall for their pre and post-race requirements. All this and the race entry fee was pegged at a reasonable level too, I am delighted to report.

Yes, entry fees are currently a bugbear of mine. In the last year or two it’s all gone a bit mental in my opinion – particularly where charity fund-raising is involved. My Tiptree clubmate Ian brought to my attention the other day that the Royal Parks Half-marathon in October is charging £50 per runner!

As a Clapped-Out Runner I can of course recall the days when most races cost under a fiver to enter, so £50 sounds simply crazy to me. It's beginning to feel like our sport is being hijacked by charities. Perhaps the day is coming where there will be two distinct types of event on the calendar: (1) the proper old-fashioned club runs (purely for sport and not profit) with nominal entry fees to cover costs only, and (2) the charity razzamatazz fund-raisers with all the frills.

When I put this to Ian, an experienced old hand, he pointed out: “The problem is that as races get bigger, UKA apply more regulations, which pushes race organisation costs up. Small club events can only cope with numbers in the hundreds – either they make a loss or have to push costs up to the point where club runners can no longer afford to race regularly, or they give up and there’s less choice – just mass participation carnival processions.”

* Check out Rob Hadgraft's published books about running, at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving me a soapbox Rob - three cheers for events like the Crown-to-Crown 5K - £1 entry, Harwich 5k - £10 for a series of 5 races, and the trails £3-5 with a drink thrown in! An enterprising organiser thought the Harwich 5k series a good idea, set up one a short way away at Clacton, charging £10 per race and attracted the massive entry of 35,