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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Off-Hours Athletes Sprint for the Keg

It may sound impressive at first glance. Some 50 expatriates get together every Sunday to jog for an hour or so, get the blood running, stretch those muscles, work out the weekly stress.

But before you feel humbled in the face of the Hash House Harriers' commitment to fitness, wait for the second half of this little day in the park.

They call it the "Down-Down," and it is a drunken, silly, laughter-filled party, complete with bawdy nicknames, racy jokes and the kind of group bonding you haven't seen since your last college fraternity party.

The Hash House Harriers of Moscow will celebrate their 10th year and their 600th run on April 16, and plan to throw a great, loud bash. Anyone who has ever joined them is invited, said Hash spokesman Greg Milbourne.

"What we're trying to do is get people out who haven't run for a long time," he said. "It's all in pursuit of getting a beer."

The core members pass on their history with a reverence usually reserved for mother, God and country. The original club, they say, was started by British colonial forces living in Kuala Lampur in 1938.

The gents who lived in a residence hall called the Selangor Club Chambers called their cafeteria the Hash House, and when they started their running club, the Hash House became their ultimate destination. There they would then get decidedly drunk, concocting drinking games based on any sort of foolish or embarrassing event that their friends experienced during the week.

As colonial forces were a traveling lot, members who got posted to new cities established similar clubs. And while the age of colonialism has died, the Hash House Harriers have lived on. As of 1990, there were 280 chapters in 57 countries. The clubs have a language all their own, and all over the world speak the same strange phraseology.

A sampling: "On-on!" is what they say when reaching a marker on the trail. "Down-down" is the party. "Hash hush" means be quiet. "The pool" is a plastic tarp you have to stand on when drinking.

According to Hash faithful who gathered at the Australian Embassy's Southern Cross club on a recent Sunday, the Moscow club has its own lore.

In 1983 a British Airways executive got the club running. Once a week they would shuttle through the streets of downtown Moscow, past stern apartment houses, past the GAI posts.

But crowds of heaving, sweating foreigners got to be a bit much for the Soviet-era traffic police, and they stopped it short by arresting the executive. Henceforth, runs were confined to parks. And so it has been ever since, except for a jaunt down the Novy Arbat for this year's St. Patrick's Day parade.

Every week a new park is chosen, and a few experienced runners get designated as "hares," which means they choose the place and lay the paths. There is a long route for the faster runners with short-cuts for those slower.

"The aim is for everybody to start off and end together," said Jill Errington, who during the week is the decidedly serious sales manager for British Airway's Moscow office. At the Hash House, however, she is affectionately known as "swinging ..." (rhymes with pits).

All members get such nicknames, and there is a story behind every name.

British business consultant Alan Partridge, for example, has no official ties to the church. But he managed to get dubbed "The Reverend" one night while out with friends, because he was wearing a white T-shirt under a dark blue sweater. "You look like a vicar!" exclaimed a friend. The name stuck.

The modern-day club has made a few concessions to the times; one of them to surreptitiously pass a mug of water to the "pool" victim if he or she is driving or chooses not to imbibe.

The real point of the weekly activities, said Hash regular Larry Synclair, news director at Radio 7, is to escape the world of work worries, receptions and schedules, and just "be with other English-speakers, relax and be yourself."

The Hash House Harriers meet Sundays at 2 P.M. at the front-right corner of the Ukraine Hotel. After April 10 they will meet instead on Mondays at 6:45 P.M. Their special anniversary run and celebrations will take place on Saturday, April 16, beginning at 2:30 P.M. Meet in front of the hotel. The cost is $15 for T-shirts, a sauna and the dance, at 9 P.M. Call Greg Milbourne at 243-6578.