Sunday, February 28, 2021

24hours of happiness

Bengaluru Stadium Run 2021 

“So, What is a business, is it a collection of numbers or sales reports??? As you know David and Jan, it is much more” – Michael Scott in The Office, Ep 16, Valentine’s Day.

And in the same breath, what is running? Is it a collection on personal bests (PBs), medals, distances & pace? I have come to realize during this very challenging Covid year, it is much more.

Running my self-contained loop over thousands of times this year gave me the confidence to bounce back from a nadir in my career last year. It gave me the shoulder to cry to brace the worst news I received in my life – to stay positive amidst all the madness that was thrown at us this year.


The stadium run had been on my mind. But the event itself was pushed out at least 3 times. I wasn’t training specifically, but did some good running leading up to the event. A 50k almost every weekend, including one on a 30hr fast at Chennai, a quarantine 100k, a fast 66k at the AFI Solidarity run and to top it all – a run to Nandi and back!

Although, I had done almost no speed work or long tempo runs.

Goal setting:

I wanted to erase the memory of my last 24hr run and finish this one strong. And for something that has stayed with me unconditionally, how could I give back nothing but happiness. I had to get off the ‘high pedestal’ of being an Indian team member, of having done 200+ kms in 24hrs, of the baggage of numbers and expectations.

The week leading up to the race day was all about staying positive and relaxed. I had shifted jobs recently, a job at which I want to do well, and didn’t want to take my eyes off the ball. Late nights extended right till the Friday.

Bangalore goes through 3 seasons in a single day – super cold and foggy mornings, to dry and very hot mid-day and pleasant evenings. It was the dry heat that I was dreading. I had resigned to not carrying any targets or expectations, but just to stay on course. I didn’t feel the need for a support crew (last time, I had set up a shift roster for my crew).

The moment of the race happened even before it started – my wife said she would be there for the entire 24h for support. My parents offered to take care of the kids for the night. My dad even made plans to get to the stadium for the last couple of hours. I was a winner even before I got to the start line.

The Jinx:

A day before the race, a routine bike parking exercise, my ankle touches the silencer for a microsecond, peeling off the skin. Exposed wound, prayer and some regret were added to my modest race day kit.

The race day:

The race was not in the familiar Kanteerava stadium, but at DYES ground at Vidyanagar, off airport road. It was an open track unlike the colosseum feel of Kanteerava (which also traps the heat). I was assigned the track #1 meant for “elites”. There were a lot of familiar faces at the starting line, the mood was buoyant. Given the COVID situation, the bib collection, pre-race photoshoot was toned down. I found a quiet corner in one of the tents for a few mins of meditation reflecting on and thanking the Lord for the opportunity to be at the start line.

I had a somewhat sedate start, easily 2 – 3 laps less per hour than my usual. Binay was racing on, Velu was close, Pranaya was clipping, even the girls were running strong. I was keeping steady – 10 in 1, 20 in 2, 30 in 3, 39 in 4, 48 in 5 hours. I stopped for a longish 10min break and power nap at 5AM – 11hours and 90km on the clock. Lack of sleep in the last few weeks, a crazy work schedule, no more 10pm shutdowns – may have had the cumulative effect.

I also had to stop at the aid station a few times to rebandage my burn bruise.

I must have had a gazillion loo stops by this time to the port-a-loo and a horrible sight of a “very popular” ultra runner also peeing at the door of the port-a-loo! I know of some competitive greats who mess-up en route to world records, our man quit and this was super-gross. Don’t worry, yours truly did the right thing – poured some water on that mess.

Ps: there are some memories to forget. I brought up the peeing incident to submit to the ultra runners – we have a responsibility to be role models and have a larger community that looks up to what we do. We owe it to them to behave in a civilized manner. As the sport grows beyond to international venues, let us cultivate these at home, so it becomes a habit.

“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory” – Albert Schweitzer

But because I was stopping to smell the roses, I had a great time catching up with folks, the ones on my track and those on the other races as well – Aparna, Appu, Shibani, Praveen, Naresh, Jay, Atif and many others. I was able to smile more with all who came out to support – Ashwini’s gang, NEB family, Anand and many others. Thanks!

It was a frying pan when the sun came up. My worst fears came true. I covered a paltry 26kms between 8AM to 3PM, who “runs” at 3.5km an hour. Probably for the first time, I was scared of the heat. At 1:30 or so when I stopped at the lunch tent, my mind refused to go back to track. I told Shreya, who was faithfully by my side, through all of this, that I wanted to nap for a bit. I pretended to sleep for about 10 mins, then got back on track.

By 3PM, I had covered 135kms (contrast that with 186 I had done in the 2019 edition -> link here) and was considering running again (or not). Shreya urged me to try to some running. “Hmm, I thought. Why wait till the last 2 hours, if you can run a bit in the last 3 and spread it out a bit.” And I started to get into a run-walk pattern – run the straights and walk the bends. I did this for an hour of so. My parents and kids came in by about 4:30PM and went straight to the sand pit. I was surprisingly able to keep good rhythm. The joy of being on my feet getting into the last hour was a great high. I started to run more and walk less with each lap. My son (all of 5 years) started pacing me from the inside of the track during the bends. I was able to keep good form too.

The strong finish:

The last hour is the best time in the 24hour – not because of what’s left, but because of how strong you still feel. (alas, I had to miss this last time). I put in a total of 18kms in the last 3 hours, finishing the last lap in a sprint at sub 4min/km (15kmph) pace. I picked up pace in the last lap and was joined mid way by Velu (who ran a monstrous 222km) and we sprinted with joy in those last few strides!

Care about the final mileage, anyone? Maybe one day, happiness will also come with a good quality mileage, who knows, maybe not. But till then, let's enjoy the journey!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Church Street First – 12 Hour Run

12th day of the 12th month, 12 runners, run 12 hours - from 12pm to 12am, I was bib #12

I was in Mumbai when I got this call from Dharma, he just started the 12, 12, 12… chant and I immediately agreed, didn’t need a better reason to sign up. The weekend of 12/12 was that of a packed week – quit old job, join new job as bookends, thrown in hospital duties, a motivational talk, a not-so-socially-distanced flight – all in 5 days, where’s the room for a run, you would think.

The more you squeeze me, the more I find a way to wriggle out for a run.

There was some excitement build up – bibs, posters, my pretty face on 6 x 2 flex cut out, etc. I packed a gym bag with some gels, electral, date syrup – my go-to race day nutrition, with some warmers and a windcheater. I had many familiar faces in the 12 member team, having known Ashwini, Shyamala, Dharma, Ramesh, Naresh, Atif & Jay for a few years now. In a last minute addition, Rajesh from agreed to count our laps.

The course was simple – run down the Church street cobble path 500m towards Koshy’s and then turn around and run back to the timing mat at the start point, turn around and repeat for 11:59:59

The rest room was inside the Karnataka Pollution (Control) Board building and there was water station at the start point.

Church Street is off vehicular traffic on Saturdays between 10am to midnight to promote a place with “Clean Air” for social gatherings, street food, drinks, live music, dance shows, painting, art work, and running of course. The best part of the run was to weave through pedestrian traffic as the vibes & the feel of Church street changed through the day.

The race started on time, in hot noon sun, with Darshan and Sunil joining us for the first few hours. I set off with Atif for about 3-4 laps, but he then took off. There were just a handful of photo buffs, solo hip hopers on the road then. I managed 11k in the first hour, but was already feeling the heat.

I only remember taking a few breaks to the restroom to pour water on my head to cool me off. The next 3 hours went with 10k, 9k, 8k. 38km in 4hours and the marathon mark in 4:25!!

This was a good lesson for running in the heat. A few things had happened by now. By around the 2 hour mark, the BBMP marshals who were patrolling the street requested the organisers to have us run with masks! Four of our 12 runners found this disgusting enough to quit the race! I realized that there was no real food on the offer. 

My pal, Raghu decided to finish his maiden 150km bike ride alongside me. My dad and mom dropped by 3PM, and left behind some Kadale bele payasa and bananas. Most importantly, the crowds had begun to swell up.

As the sun was getting less hot, the crowds were getting hotter! I had to take off my sunglasses to stay focused on the job at hand.

Church Street was awesome! It had the feel of one of those European Saturday nights and I sorely missed my family and was making silent plans to get them the next weekend. Hour 5 and 6 came and went with some poor mileage - 47k by 5hours and 55k by 6hours. I was also cramping by the 4th hour and had to slow down to ease things off. There were other running friends who stopped to say ‘hello’, have a few drinks. Shuvi, Gokul & gang were busy setting a personal best for the amount of time spent on a coffee table at the cafĂ©.

Then suddenly, just as I was taking yet another U-turn, I heard a familiar voice call out my name. I looked up a wife and family were making their way through the barricades! It was such an amazing moment. Turned out, she heard from my dad that there was no solid food, and so, she had cooked some and brought it along! Truly blessed to have such as supportive family.

I had a great time showing my kids around the various sights – the live music, the lights, the paintings! Then, other friends – Tima, Raagi, Vidya joined the party. The temperatures dropped quite quickly and my support team stayed cozy in the cafes while I was adding to my lap counts. By now, the rhythm was steady, the cramps had eased, but fatigue had taken over.

By the time my family left, I had about 3 hours to go. The 7th, 8th and 9th hours had yielded 5, 7 and 5kms only! Sometimes, you have to stop to smell the roses!

The next 3 hours were about staying on course and getting the job done. I added another 20kms to take the tally up to 94km. It started to nice and cold, the crowds had thinned down, the girl selling roses still shouted “fast”, “fast” as I limped by.

It was great to finish yet another near 100k effort on my feet, still running!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Run To The Moon 100k

Of Performance and Perceptions

That's a strange opening line for a report on a 100k run, you reckon. What's perception got to do with a 100k run, what's it got to do with running from 1am to noon, what with running on a 1km road, with being tired or happy at the end, with feeling positive or negative - EVERYTHING! Perceptions Matter.


These are strange quarantimes - "getting positive" is the most negative thing and I have been trying to find excuses to not "fatten my curves".

So, ever since the lockdown began, I have been running alone on a long 1km road (4th cross road, to be precise) behind my home.

The Kanyakumari to Kargil virtual run (#KANKAR >> report here) helped build the mileage, 2 weeks of over 200km+ mileage. I had continued with some steady 40km+ runs during the subsequent weekends.


NEB Sports used the KANKAR template for a moonshot, quite literally - a relay virtual run, all the way to the moon and back! During a casual chat with the NEB Boss, Nagaraj, I offered to run a 100km as a #GiantLeap to finish the Run To The Moon (RTTM). 

RTTM is a 31 day challenge, where runners get to contribute between 2.5k to 10k per day for 31 days. The overall mileage (from the 14000 participants) adds up to the distance between Earth and the Moon (… and back… to home quarantine, of course). The event is raising more than 14 lakh rupees towards supporting Support staff of various sports departments.


As the D-day, 18th July, neared and cases rose, the lockdown rules started to get stringent. Perceptions Matter. I'm covidientCubbon park or Nandi hills as possible locations for the 100k were considered and dropped. My initial plan was to run the 100k on empty (with no calorie intake), this plan I dropped too.


So I decided to run in the comfort of my locality, a 1km stretch of road, quiet with low traffic, small elevation, up and down, 50 times.

Perceptions Matter - I decided to start early, to give me the comfort of having done significant distance before 6am.

1AM to 5AM

The early hours felt like I was on the moon, there was no human in sight!! Running up and down and stopping only to be a “Super Spreader”. No no, not the virus, the Peanut Butter on Brown Bread, my top of the hour snack. I kept to a steady pace of about 10kmph. Perception-related challenges in my current job kept my mind busy. In 4hrs, I had covered about 40kms, some stray dogs as spectators. By 6AM, still running alone, I made 50kms in 5h:03


Perceptions Matter. The idea of this run, was also to show “the art of possible” so far as fitness is concerned, during these “unprecedented times”. In an attempt to get as many involved, I had short Covideo streams updated on Instagram (follow me on @ultrabhat NOW) and FB.


By 7AM, this got a few runners from my side of town to drop by and provide support and cheers. The runversations, selfies and pics slowed things down a bit, but was very refreshing. Thanks for coming!

This 2 hour slot was the busiest. My kids came to visit and wanted to run a bit with me. By 9 am, I was done about 73kms.

9AM to 12 noon Finish

Perceptions Matter, but Performance, perhaps more!

By 9AM, there was no more fanfare. I was alone once again, this time I had the sun for company for the remaining 27kms. I was still running steady – walking the short uphill every loop, but running the rest. But just as my energy was waning, Shreya brought me curd rice (I sent her back for seconds).


Then I had Santosh and Shilpa come back again by 11am to pace my last 13 km or so. My Dad and another runner, Naveen joined my swelling support crew. My kids got on their bikes and we polished off the last few laps in style.


Pic credits: Ramesh, Naveen

While I get back to worrying about Perceptions and Performances during my work week, I’m happy to have rediscovered my Passion over this weekend!


Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts.


If you still want some counts, the stats are on Garmin Connect (, I particularly liked the Heart Rate vs. Elevation

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Lockdown Dairies

How I engaged the physiological (stomach), the physical (my body), the mental (my brain) and the metaphysical (my soul) during these lonely times.

On March 21st, I waved my family a double good-bye, with both hands, little did I know I would spend the longest time away from them, ever – 72 days. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I went into a transformation, while he grew a beard, I grew a Mohawk!
As the goalpost of their return kept shifting from Lockdown 1.0, to 2.0 and so on, I took up multiple “projects” to keep myself engaged.

The Physiological – “that which is related to the physical upkeep”

For most of my basic requirement of food, I relied on my mom, lunch was the only time when I would get to talk to them. I ate there and brought home the sambar for my rice + egg burji dinner. But I did a few experiments in the kitchen – including baking a banana cake for my 40th birthday! The pic does no justice to how good some of these tasted!

The Mental – “that which is related to the brain”

The easiest project was to pick up a popular series such as the “Family man” (talk about irony here) and binge watch. I admit, I got a prime membership and watched 6 episodes, mostly out of curiosity. But dropped it, when I saw how easy it was to get hooked to this.

I then tried to learn the Vishnusahastranama, got till about mid-way. But I completed 2 certification programs for a data mining course. It did come down to the wire during the 2.5 hours exams that I had to endure, right down to the last question to decide if I would cross the line. In the Dhoni style, I hit the last ball for a six! Binge learning, way better than binge anything else!

The Physical – “that which is related to the body”

I took a long break from running after the Bengaluru Ultra in Dec, nearly 10 weeks of ZERO mileage. Just when I was getting back to running, COVID hit us. 

Not the one to take “lockdown” as an excuse, I continued to run responsibly – alone and in a 1 km stretch of a road that goes nowhere, near home. I put in mindless runs of 5km, 10kms, 30 mins or 1 hour runs just building an aerobic base. It was too early for me to take part in the quarantine backyard ultra – a great concept in these times, details here.

But when NEB sports and Sunil C came up with the Kanyakumari-Kargil relay run (#KanKar), I was ready. The plan was simple – each member of the Indian team for the 24h and the 100k runs as much as she or he can, each day from 21st of May. You log the mileage, the total team mileage for the day is marked on the Indian map, from Kanyakumari, all the way up to Kargil. The goal was to complete this 3815kms in 15days, to get the sponsors to contribute to charity. Each day of early finish, will get more money into the charity pot.

Of the 22 runners who began, the cyclone Amphan, the over 40 deg plus weather in Delhi and the seal down orders in Mumbai, meant no running for a few of our athletes.
Namma Bengaluru had no such issues – the evening downpours ensured that the mornings were cool till about 8AM or so. I was looking to log some consistent mileage, my wife and I decided that 30k should be doable. From day2 onwards, I stuck to a routine – wake up at 4:15AM, start the run at 5, run for 2.5 hours or so, 25kms. Notably, all my runs were done
  1. In the 1 km long road, up and down 12 times each morning
  2. In about 2:27mins to 2:40 mins
  3. In the same set of singlet and shorts (washed immediately under the shower to rid of the Novel C19)
  4. On an empty stomach, only sipping from a 1 liter water bottle once every 4kms
  5. While passing a set of morning walkers and runners - with a nod, or a wave or a good morning!

The evening “recovery” run was almost always 6k, somedays I ran a couple of kms more. En-route, I logged my best weekly mileage ever at 223kms. As we approached Kargil, well before schedule, on the 10th and the last day, I decided to take it up a notch, ran a 4:15 full marathon distance, again on empty, same loop, same singlet, same “hi”s and “hello”s!

My mileage count for the 10 days
May 21
May 22
May 23
May 24
May 25
May 26
May 27
May 28
May 29
May 30

What was truly remarkable was the fact that my injuries did not flare up, especially the high hamstring injury that has been irritating me since the last 24hr run in Bangalore. My recovery was fantastic. I continued to have early dinners, slept as early as I could, sometimes as early as 8:30PM, this must have helped the rejuvenation. More importantly, I enjoyed every single run, barring a few patches. I told my sister one day “there will be difficult days. To do the right thing on a day when you are not totally up to the task, is what endurance is all about.”

… and finally,

The Metaphysical – “that which is beyond the physical, of the soul”

The truth is – I missed my family. And there were days of a weird sadness. But thanks to these “projects”, I pressed on, going from one distraction to the next. But what gave me most joy, was this one. Inspired by my friend, P, who drew a mural on her wall at her home in the bay area, I decided to give a go to draw my kids portrait on their room wall. I tried a few things, lots of innovative hacks, youtube vidoes, photo prints on transparencies, but eventually drew this with charcoal. They haven’t seen this yet.

After 72 days, they will be back tomorrow, the look on their faces will touch my soul.

Hope this has touched yours too.
Stay strong, Stay safe. Remember, now you got to wash your hands before you dig your nose! Cheers!

Update 12/06/2020:

Friday, December 27, 2019

Stumbling upon the Joy of Running Bengaluru Ultra 2019

For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - Shakespeare, Hamlet Prince of Denmark

2019 has been a weird year of sorts for my running. I got PBs in 24h, 50k Ultras and many intermediate split best times too. I became a running coach and a motivational speaker. But somehow I “feel” I haven’t been enjoying running as much as I did in my past. And then, I read “Stumbling upon happiness” by Dr. Gilbert (blog title inspiration! and all italics sections in the post are from the book). Awesome book, I will try to take you through my recent Ultra marathon Bengaluru journey with excerpts from the book.

I was the ambassador of the Bengaluru Ultra, so I was of course automatically signed up. But I was thinking I would be “happy” to race this fast flat ultra easy distance, after all, I had gone past this distance many many times this year.

Prospection and Emotion

Prospection can provide pleasure and prevent pain, and this is one of the reasons why our brains stubbornly insist on churning out thoughts of the future. But that is not the only one. People find it gratifying to exercise control. We all steer ourselves toward the futures that we think will make us happy, but what does that word really mean?

In Part II of the book, “Subjectivity,” Dr. G tells you about the science of happiness. The word happiness is used to indicate at least three related things, which we might roughly call emotional happiness, moral happiness, and judgmental happiness.

Happiness, then, is the you-know-what-I-mean feeling.

And talking about judgmental happiness - Our remembrance of things past is imperfect, thus comparing our new happiness with our memory of our old happiness is a risky way to determine whether two subjective experiences are really different.

Comparing with the Possible

Dr. G says we derive support for our preferred conclusions by listening to the words that we put in the mouths of people who have already been preselected for their willingness to say what we want to hear.

Exactly, both D and Ath agreed the previous weekend; that I was in perfect shape to run a low 4hour for the 50k! I listened to the words that I put in the mouth of this preselected sample, lol!

The bottom line is this: The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye (ear) has agreed to look (hear) for what the brain wants.

So basically, my brain has tricked me by “filling in memory” of my last ultras to making me believe I will be happy. 

That when people make predictions about their reactions to future events, they tend to neglect the fact that their brains have performed the filling-in trick as an integral part of the act of imagination.

The details that the brain puts in are not nearly as troubling as the details it leaves out.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the gritty details of running an ultra that are so salient to us as we execute them were not part of our mental image of running it, when we imagined it a month earlier, but what is surprising is how surprised we are when those details finally come into view.

Yes. After having completed the first 2 loops 12.5kms each, in 60mins and 64mins, the legs start to feel like they have lead inside them. How could I have not remembered this feeling from before; What *was* I thinking?

Looking Forward to Looking Backward

The psychological immune system defends the mind against unhappiness in much the same way that the physical immune system defends the body against illness.

A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it. So, I ploughed on, slowly, rationalizing that will still get me to finish in under 4.5 hours!

This is profound: we will feel better soon as we begin to discover facts that support this conclusion (“I went out too fast for the 2 loops, didn’t I, Ath?”), but the process by which we discover those facts must feel like a discovery and not like a snow job. If we see ourselves cooking the facts (“If I phrase the question just this way and ask nobody but Ath, I stand a pretty good chance of having my favored conclusion confirmed”), then the jig is up and self-deluded joins jilted in our list of pitiful qualities.

Net-net, don’t try to cook this feeling, sitting on your couch on a Sunday morning. You gotta be out there to “discover” the facts.

Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends. (and, if I may dare add – not running 50k ultra marathons!)

Let me now try and explain the run itself, but first, a caveat.

Explanation robs events of their emotional impact because it makes them seem likely and allows us to stop thinking about them. Oddly enough, an explanation doesn’t actually have to explain anything to have these effects—it merely needs to seem as though it does.

Outside Looking In

Experience and our awareness of the Experience are generated by different parts of the brain. Apparently, it is possible – at least for some of the people some of the time – to be happy, sad, bored, or curious, and not know it!!

Was I happy when I finished, and not know it??

So when Sunil asked me as I was crossing the finish line (clock reading 9:12:52AM, 4:42hrs after the start), the world’s most familiar question “How are you?”, did I not know my own heart?

Go to your bosom;
Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know. – Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

The Way We Weren’t

Where do I go from here?

The fact that the least likely experience is often the most likely memory can wreak havoc with our ability to predict future experiences.

Apparently, the way an experience ends is more important to us than the total amount of pleasure we receive—until we think about it.

We show a pronounced tendency to recall the items at the end of the series far better than the items at the beginning or in the middle.

Because we tend to remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely of times, the wealth of experience that young people admire does not always pay clear dividends.

You will remember feeling as you had expected to feel, and not as you had actually felt.

All convoluted - the problem with this error of retrospection is that it can keep us from discovering our errors of prospection. Our inability to recall how we really felt is one of the reasons why our wealth of experience so often turns out to be a poverty of riches.

Reporting Live from Tomorrow

I quickly cancelled my plan to run from Bangalore to Mysore the next weekend, and rationalized why I should not run the Chandigarh 24hr run and by extension not be on the national team again.

The Inescapability Trigger

We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of the things we’re not (and more likely to achieve the positive view of a bad experience than of a very bad experience).

The show will go on, and in 2020, I will continue to lead you to mindless long posts, I am stuck to running, and if have come this far, you are stuck with my posts!!

May you soon stumble upon “Happiness” in 2020

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Bangalore Hash House Harriers BH3

As published in the website
A Heady Run
A unique group in the city of Bangalore brings together beer and running for a heady experience.
Author: Ganesh Vancheeswaran
Pictures: Hash House Harriers – Bangalore Chapter
Every month, Manoj Bhat heads out to some place on the outer fringe of the sprawling metropolis of Bangalore. He is going on an excursion. At a pre-designated spot, he meets several others who have come on the same excursion. But it is an excursion with a difference. Soon, Manoj starts running along with several other men and women. Some others opt to walk. The runners and walkers move at a comfortable pace; nobody is in a hurry. Their trail is rough and uneven, and takes them through fields, farmland, slushy patches and wooded areas. Midway, there is a pit stop, where they are served water and fruits.
Upon reaching the end of the trail, they reach for bottles of chilled beer to slake their thirst. Soon, the entire group assembles there. Many of them grab beers; others have soft drinks. Snacks are distributed. The group forms a circle and the banter starts. Anecdotes from the run are narrated, jokes are cracked freely and a lot of leg-pulling happens. Mock charges are hurled at some members of the group, who then have to defend themselves. And all through this, the air crackles with laughter and mirth.
Welcome to the world of hashing – a world of fun, fitness, beer and the outdoors.
A worldwide movement
Way back in 1938, a group of British soldiers (and possibly, some expats too) began meeting once a week in the Federal Malay States (now Malaysia) to run for health and fitness. They modelled their run on the old British game of Hares and Hounds, which involved ‘hares’ laying trails through the outback and ‘hounds’ following those trails while running. The soldiers named their group ‘Hash House Harriers’ for the building in which they were living. It is unlikely that they knew that their early runs would spark off a passionate global movement called hashing and that hash chapters would spring up in several cities across the world.
The Bangalore chapter of the Hash House Harriers (HHH) was set up in 1991. It is, like all other chapters, headed by a Grand Master (GM). Helping him is an organising team known as the mis-management team.
The great outdoors
Hash runs are organised once a month. People from all walks of life meet at a pre-designated spot just outside the city and start running (or walking, if they so wish). They follow the trail laid out by ‘Hares’, who are members of the mis-management team. On the Hares falls the critical task of scouting for a new route every month and laying the trail with chalk. But just so that the hashers don’t take them for granted, the Hares lay false trails too. It is common for eager frontrunners (outrageously called ‘Front Running Bastards’ or FRBs) to go up a steep incline and cut through some woods, only to fix a board marked ‘X’. This brings them to a hard stop and the belated realisation that they have spent a lot of energy going nowhere. They are then forced to switchback, return to the proper trail and then follow it again. Trails usually are between 6 and 8 kms long. But an FRB who takes a few wrong turns could end up running an extra 3 or 4 kms.
Abnash Singh, GM of the Bangalore Chapter of the Hash House Harriers, says that false trails ensure that the runners do not reach the end point much ahead of the walkers. He says, ‘’We are particular about offering good trails to the hashers. Though all our trails are rough and cover uneven territory, they have to be clean and safe. We have men, women, children of all ages running; ensuring that they have a good hash experience is very important.”
Earlier, the Chapter used to have fortnightly runs. Over a period of time, participation dwindled to the 10s and 20s. The runs started feeling jaded perhaps, because some trails were being repeated and the runs were being held too often. Then, they started holding runs once a month. Participation picked up, because the longer gap and the fact that the hares could pick a different trail each time, brought back the element of freshness and interest into hashing.
Hashing started off as a movement that put fitness at the core of the activity; so, most of the early hashers were serious runners. In time though, it has evolved into a fine blend of fitness and fun. Many hashers are in it because they love the outdoors and want to meet interesting people. Chandra Mouli, who goes by the hash name Organraiser, says, “We hashers have abundant fun amidst nature. For those few hours, we simply let our guard down and be ourselves. We are not judged for who we are, how we dress or what we say.’’
The fact that these runs/walks are not competitive is a major attraction. Which is why, many hashers bring their elderly parents and little children along. Abnash says that they have hashers from the age of 5 to 75.  Everybody is free to finish the trail at their own pace. Several hashers, who used to be eager runners in their youth, have switched to walking for reasons of health or advancing age. Nimou Nilakantan, one of the earliest hashers of the Bangalore chapter, recalls, “I used to be a very good runner in my youth. But after a knee surgery, I was forced to stop running. I returned to hashing as a walker.”
Love for the outdoors is a common thread binding all hashers together. The chance to leave behind the frenetic life of the congested city and escape to the countryside is a compelling attraction for them. In the days when this city was smaller, hash trails used to start 10 or 15 kms from the city centre. But rapid expansion of this metropolis has pushed the trails farther and farther away from mid-town. Many hashers travel 30 or 40 kms from their homes to the starting point of the trail. But they don’t mind it. Some come by car (car-pooling is encouraged); others come on their motorcycles.
A few members say that hashing has toughened them and spurred them to take up high altitude trekking and long-distance running, such as marathons and ultra marathons.
Hash runs are not restricted to the city’s outskirts. Once in a while, the group heads to a hill station for a couple of days. In the recent past, hash runs have been organised in Gandikota, Kotagiri and Horsely Hills, all of which are a few hours away from Bangalore by road.
Frothy times
And then, there is the beer. At the end of every trail, cold, refreshing Kingfisher beer awaits the hashers. Most adult hashers are beer lovers; many of them easily put away several cans of the brew in one sitting. For them, there can be no hashing without beer. Indeed, it is tricky (and futile) to try figuring out what is more important to a hasher: the run or the beer. Which is why, the hashers can’t decide if they are runners with a drinking problem or drinkers with a running problem! Much of the raucous fun and laughter that ensues after every hash run can be attributed to the beer.
Kingfisher has been sponsoring beer for hash runs since the inception of the Bangalore chapter. This association has remained intact for 28 years! On the other hand, Big Basket is the official food and logistics partner of the HHH.
Hash lore
The Hash House Harriers have their own nomenclature, rituals, conventions and songs – perhaps in a nod to military tradition, since the founders of the club were soldiers. One of these conventions is to give every member a hash name. Hash names are funny, irreverent and often ribald. They are drawn from some characteristic of the person or his/her background. Chandramouli was named Organraiser because he was an event manager many years ago. Manoj Bhat is Phatphatiya, because he used to come to the run venues on a Royal Enfield motorcycle. Her habit of walking with her umbrella unfurled got a female hasher the name Shady Lady.
While adults members of the club are called ‘hashers’, children are aptly referred to as ‘horrors’. Newcomers are Virgins. The Grand Master of the chapter is Pervert Producer.
After every run, the hashers and horrors gather in a circle that is presided over by the Grand Master. The hares are invited into the center of the circle and feted for a job well done. The hares down their drinks and bask in the appreciation, while the rest of the group cheers them lustily. Later, the offenders (those who flout any hash convention) are asked to sit on a large slab of ice as ‘punishment’. Putting your hands in your trouser pockets, using your mobile phone or indulging in cross-talk when the circle is in session – all these qualify as offences. So do competitive running and excessive off-trail shortcutting. Virgins too are made to sit on the ice as they are grilled about their personal and professional details.
And then, there are hash anthems, as also songs for several occasions – including birthdays of members.
I am sitting at a long table with about 20 hashers at The Bier Library, a pub that opened a few months ago in Bangalore. This is one of the monthly pub meets of the HHH. My drinking mates are a motley bunch. I say hello to a wine store owner, a printer, a contractor, a data scientist, an employee of the World Bank, three anesthetists and a few more, whose professions I forget.
As the beer flows, bonhomie rules. Ribald jokes fly over the table. Some of the more docile members of the group become targets of good-natured ribbing. The Pervert Producer is busy ensuring a steady flow of food and drink. From time to time, raucous laughter erupts, shaking up the guests seated at the next table.
Watching them, I realise what a wonderful way of life hashing is, how it has turned strangers into friends and how much it means to the hashers.