With a record number of participants, the capital’s Hash House Harriers have proven that their ‘drinking club with a running problem’ is here to stay.
Phnom Penh's Hash House Harriers on one of their runs.
Hashing only has one downside: It's addictive, says Ben Schultz, a regular ‘Hasher' since 1972, and better known as Blah-Blah among his fellow runners.
Kate Haber, aka Yogi Bra, agreed: "I love to run. I'm a serious runner now," she said, admitting that she only started running when she first joined the Phnom Penh Hash in May last year.
The long history of the now international network of Hash House Harriers, the noncompetitive running and drinking club, certainly suggests there is something compelling in the activity.
Founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1938 by British expatriates, the activity died out during World War II, but was continued locally in Malaysia by its founding members after the war. It was, however, not until the 1960s that the Hash went global, with local organisations springing up first mainly in the Asia-Pacific area but gradually also in Europe and North America.
"The Phnom Penh chapter was started in 1992," said Ben, adding that it is currently the only branch of the Hash in Cambodia. As a sign of its old age, the 900th run will take place on Saturday, February 21, followed by a festive barbecue at Club Evergreen.
"Unusually, it's a Saturday run - but that doesn't mean we won't have a Sunday run too," Ben said.
started hashing as a way to meet people ... it's also a good way to get out of the city.
Fittingly, the Sunday run is named the 901st Hangover Run, and participants will have the option to complete the run in cyclos.
According to Ben, the number of Phnom Penh Hashers has recently increased to the extent that a second truck has been hired to ferry runners from the meeting point at the train station to the undeveloped outskirts of the capital.
"I started hashing as a way to meet people when I was new in town. Also, I don't drive, so for me it's also a good way to get out of the city," said Helen Rand, a novice Hasher.
Similarly, Kate Haber was drawn by the opportunity of weekly "mini-vacations" outside Phnom Penh.
Traditionally a male-dominated activity, Kate estimates that at least half of Phnom Penh's Hashers are now female. Ben, however, admits the club remains very male in "content".
"It still has the public school, rugby team ambience," he said, referring to the customary hash names, drinking songs and beer penalties. "But we had a female general manager in the recent past, and people bring their kids, too," he said, adding that both male and female Cambodians join as well.
"One of the best things about the Hash is that no one takes themselves seriously," Ben said. "Also, you get to meet people not connected to your work, and if you're on a short-term foreign posting, you always have a readymade social group. It is all very international."
Among themselves, Hashers seldom use their regular names, but are instead baptised with new, less ordinary, Hash names.
According to Ben, aka Blah-Blah, this is more than just a fun and curious practice, as it also brings a sense of equality to the group, which may include ambassadors, high-ranking judges, local fishermen and volunteers.
"There are generally two ways of receiving a name: through a particular incident, or because of your character," he said.
Generally, the Hash meets on Sundays at 2:15pm at the train station off Russian Boulevard. From there, open trucks, also carrying water, beer and sodas, ferry the runners to a preset trail outside the capital.
There is a choice between running, walking or both. "The idea is to run together, there is no first place or last place," said Ben, referring to how bogus trail marks slow the faster runners down.
It is, however, after the run that the fun really starts. In fact, the Hash is often described as a "drinking club with a running problem", referring to the heavy focus on socialising and drinking beer.
"It is thanks to sponsorship from Anchor that we have been able to keep the cost per run at US$5 for foreigners [and $2 for Cambodians] since 1992," Ben said.
Do the hashle
Once all participants have completed their run or walk, everyone gathers in a circle and first-timers as well as visitors from other Hashes are formally welcomed through drinking and song.
This is also when runners accuse each other of breaking the rules, and punishments - generally in the form of drinking - are handed down. Not that there are any rules. "You usually get a down-down [hash jargon for drinking] for smoking in the circle - that's the only moral viewpoint we have," Ben said.
Once the beer has been consumed, the trucks head back into town, arriving in the capital around 7pm. Many Hashers then continue to the ‘on-on-on' - Hash jargon for post-run socialising over dinner and more beers.
Saturday's 900th run and barbecue starts at the train station at 10:30am and costs $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.
The 901st run on Sunday starts as usual at 2:15pm, also at the train station, and costs $5 (for foreigners), $2 (for Cambodians) and 2,000 riels for children under 12.