[The Chronicle, May 13th, 1998]

Harriers group proves flour power is still alive

      Ian Hepher is the first to admit that the sight of grown men chasing after a trail of flour is anything but normal. But the founding president of Montreal's Hash House Harriers doesn't have to offer any further excuses--the Harriers have had little trouble attracting participants to their bizarre Sunday ritual ever since they opened their local chapter in 1995.

     Up to 60 Harriers gather every second Sunday from the end of March to August (ed. we run year round) to follow a trail laid out earlier that morning by a "hare". The exercise, which can last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, combines physical activity, ingenuity and teamwork skills--and always ends with a few cold beers.

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     "It's a great way to do some exercise and get out into the countryside for some fresh air," said Hepher, a Kirkland resident and veteran of more than 300 hashes.

     "It's not as boring as regular road racing," he said. "You generally have a good time."

     The trailblazers often lead the Montreal Harriers through unique landscapes. Some hashes have taken place along the tony streets of Upper Westmount and the narrow alleys of the McGill ghetto, while other trails are laid out in barren fields and thick forests in Ile Perrot and Rigaud.

     The "hare" usually sets out early that morning, planting a trail with circular "checkpoints" at regular intervals. It is at each checkpoint that the Harriers must determine in which direction the trail leads, watching out, of course, for false leads.

     The next large hash, set for St. Lazare on Saturday, May 30, is expected to attract Harriers from Ottawa, Toronto, New York and Boston. Afterwards, all participants will enjoy a barbecue.

     Hepher, who took part in his first hash run a decade ago while working in Spain, says the Hash House Harriers abide by a strictly-enforced code of conduct that includes rules that forbid littering and competition. And trails are never laid out through agricultural fields.

     The Hash House Harriers trace their humble beginnings to Malaysia in 1938, when Briton Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert gathered some fellow expatriates to organize this sport, based on the old British hunts. The group held its initial meetings at a Kuala Lumpur eatery known as the "Hash House".

     A second branch was opened in northern Italy in 1947 and a third was founded in Singapore 15 years later. Today, there are Harrier chapters in just about every major city in the world, the growth having been attributed to roving embassy and consular staff.

     For more information, call 695-1137.

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