Shanghai Hash House Harriers: running with a drinking club with a running problem

This week something flipped and I felt an incredibly strong urge to cleanse my body of a monthlong buildup of toxins (particulates, gutter oil, congeners, caloric surplus). I ran. I drank water. I bought, steamed, and ate 青菜. I ate fewer edible foodlike substances. (Chocolate-flavored edible foodlike substances from happy shiny bakeries on long walks back home beckon so).

To keep my motivation up, I searched for upcoming races in Shanghai, Mainland China’s most international of cities.

NOPE.

There’s one marathon in the fall after my residence permit expires and perhaps one other race that goes above 5k. Fortunately, I remembered that back in the states, while I was still a healthy health nut who ran regularly, I’d researched about an organization called Hash House Harriers, a “drinking club with a running problem.” And luckily, Shanghai has a chapter.

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Even more fortunately, this weekend was one of those weird move-around-the-workdays holidays and I had no work on Sunday. And this weekend’s run would end just 5 minutes from my apartment.

It was a message from the running gods. And when 2:00 rolled around, the time I was supposed to leave my apartment, it was an insistence from the inertia gods.

I rushed my way to Tongji University, already beginning to sweat in the hot weather. As I neared, I noticed a man wearing shorts and running shoes. Unusual in China. Was he going to the same place? One second later, I spied a group of obvious runners, easily identified by their bright and tight workout gear.

After I met some of the other runners, we put our bags in a car that would reappear at the finish, and the hares explained the basics of hashing. I still can’t get the commands straight: all I know is that a straight arrow commands “ON ON!”

It didn’t matter. Once we got started, it was easy to follow the lead of the fastest runners, who were much more adept at spying the seemingly invisible arrows.

This week’s trail was through Tongji and Fudan, both of which offer shade-lined, traffic-free running. Still, it got sweat-rollingly hot and I took advantage of the rest stops offered by the “checkpoints.” At checkpoints, runners go off in all directions to find the next arrow. When one finds an arrow, s/he’ll yell and all the runners will head in that direction. It’s a great system for keeping faster runners challenged while giving less experienced runners a break.

There was one beer break in the middle of the run – at the Family Mart on the Fudan campus! The image of one of the hashers coming out of a Family Mart with a basket of beers, shirtless and glistening, was hilarious. So were people’s reactions to an obvious group of 老外, exercising as only 老外 would, yelling “ON ON!” as only 老外 would. But the energy was great – smiles and waves were exchanged, and hashers generously graced tourists’ photos with their camerawhore photobombing faces.

At the end was an even bigger beer break at Helen’s. Unfortunately I had to leave early, before something called “the circle” happened, because I had a Chinese test. It was too bad – I’d met only a fraction of the people, who ranged from student to silver fox, and came from places as varied as Germany to Colombia to Kazakhstan.

I had so much fun running with the Shanghai Hash House Harriers and if I can work it into my Sunday schedule, I’ll make it a regular thing. It’s a great alternative to road races for keeping my running motivation up!

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