The Algarve 'Kennel' ('chapter', if you like) of the Hash House Harriers celebrated their 40th anniversary last weekend wearing red dresses as they ran a ten kilometre course over the hills near Messines. This international group - the biggest running club on Earth – started running in Almancil in 1984 when, worldwide, it was already almost half a century old. The first ever hash was run in Malaya back in the 1930s when some British army officers and surveyors realised that they were spending too much time at weekends drinking gin and tonic and not enough energy on keeping fit. Some bright spark, at the time, then came up with the idea of holding a sort of, paper-chase around their local paddy fields on a Monday evening to try to blow away the excesses of the weekend. Needless, to say, at the end of the run they all repaired back to their local bar, the Hash (as in food!) House, for a few beers . . . and, as one beer leads to another, the Hash House Harriers – a “drinking club with a running problem” - was born.

Somehow, by the end of the century, without any means of international communication, except word of mouth and classified ads in local newspapers, there were ‘kennels’ in almost every country on the planet (including three in Antarctica) with over a million hashers worldwide. While hashing started as a male-only recreation, ‘Harriets’ started to appear in the 1970s. It is now fairly equally represented by both sexes. Amazingly, the Hash House Harriers has no governing body, no headquarters, no constitution, no formal membership and, crucially, no rules! It does have quite a few traditions, however!

Kennels are organised by ‘Mismanagement’ non-committees. Headed by a GM and supported by his or her loud-mouthed RA – that’s short for “Religious Adviser” (don’t even ask why!). Regular hashers are dubbed with a ‘hash name’, most of which are discourteous, politically incorrect or unprintable. Each week – or whatever period each hash decides upon – a ‘hare’ is nominated to set a trail over a course that can stretch from a few kilometres to, well, quite a few more. These trails, marked in flour or chalk, are traditionally not easy to follow. There are several ways the hare can try to put the harriers off the scent.

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Checkpoints leave the runners looking in all directions for the continuation of the trail and ’fish-hooks’ and ‘falsies’ (false trails) can make them turn back over previously trodden ground. Shouts of “On, on!” from front runners tell those lagging behind that they are heading in the right direction – they hope! There is normally a beer-stop (sometimes more than one) on the trail and, at the end, the ‘On In’ offers further refreshment to the thirsty hashers. This is followed by a ‘Circle’ around the GM and RA who deal with miscreants who have not worn the correct type of attire; have taken short-cuts during the run; or have just been identified as being easy targets for ridicule. Then, singing in Circle is generally enough to make a rugby player blush. Most hashes then provide some food, either organised and prepared by the hare, or in a nearby restaurant.

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When the Algarve chapter started, it was known as the Almancil Hash House Harriers and most events took place around the centre of the region. It changed its name to represent the Algarve, which it now serves, ten years ago. Today there are four hashes in Portugal including Lisbon, Porto and Tavira and the AHHH, has now run 2108 trails. Its regular hashers represent the democratic of the expatriate community here and many are far too mature to actually run – hence there are walkers’ trails as well as runners’ loops for fitter types.

It was, therefore, quite an eye-opener when Algarve opted to celebrate their coming of middle-age with a ‘Red Dress Run’. This is another of those Hash traditions and stems back to a Santiago hash in the 1980s. Balding and hairy-faced middle-aged men - as well as their more comely Harriets – donned red dresses for this special anniversary. The route, set in the very heart of the Algarve, took them over rugged terrain and, had it not been for so many going the wrong way, would have had the participants dragging their pretty frocks through two muddy river crossings.

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That shambolic loss of direction is not uncommon in hashing - neither is the loss of control of the Circle. In this case, Diesel Dyke (that’s her hash name), who is the current GM (“Grand Mattress” in this hash), lost control of Circle and the RA, who is supposed to mete out vile punishments, performed a song and dance act instead. This was met with a barrage of red-dressed abuse by mutinous, hungry hashers who wanted to get to the nearby restaurant for more beer.

Which is where this hash ended – still dressed in sweaty red frocks.

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