“Oh shit!” bellows the orthopedic surgeon as he emerges from the jungle, his face flushed and sweat dripping off his nose from running.
“Fucking life-saving!” he shouts as he approaches one of the drinking stations that dot the staked-out running course. An army officer shows no mercy and shouts at the doctor to move his “arse.”
The two Malaysians are in fact best friends, enjoy each other’s companionship and especially the rough language that is part of it. They are “hashers,” members of the international family of Hash House Harrier running clubs, which follow only one strict rule: there are no rules.
While clubs — or kennels, as they are called — usually meet once a week for runs ranging from 8km to 10km, the doctor and the army officer also participate in a Full Moon Hash.
As the name suggests, they get together once a month only. On a recent Sunday they organized their annual “ball-breaker” run — 28km in the stifling heat and humidity of Malaysia’s jungle.
As after every run, copious amounts of beer await the runners at the finish line.
“Hash House Harriers are a drinking club with a running problem — or vice versa,” said Jega, who helped organize the ball-breaker run, on the clubs’ philosophy.
Hashers insist the running and sweating side by side welds the members together as a group. They rave about the camaraderie.
Hash kennels exist all over the world, but Malaysia is where it all began. The first club was founded in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur in what was then still called British Malaya. Some colonial officers became bored of tea parties and rounds of golf and Albert Gispert initiated a long-distance run with his friends every Monday evening.
The club derives its name from the annex of the club where the officers were housed. It was known as the Hash House, hash being an old military term for boring food.
The club’s statutes were designed “one, to promote physical fitness; two, to get rid of weekend hangovers; three, to acquire a good thirst and satisfy it in beer; four, to persuade older members that they are not as old as they feel,” Jega said.
There are more than 1,700 kennels around the world, even one in Antarctica, which aptly calls itself the Deep Freeze Hash House Harriers.
At the recent ball-breaker run outside Kuala Lumpur there were 186 participants from all walks of life — a mechanic, doctor, petroleum engineer and diplomat.
Some Brits are among them, a few Australians, many Malaysians, and, yes, even a few women.
“The first time I heard the language here I thought I saw stars,” says Dr Malar, who is a hasher herself but helps out with medical attention for tired limbs. “You either become deaf or leave.”