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The Hong Kong Hash House Harriers who go running in typhoons

Most people take cover during a typhoon. For a group of runners, though, the raising of the Hong Kong Observatory’s No. 8 gale or storm signal – popularly known as a T8 – is the signal to take to the trails.

During the recent T8 caused by Super Typhoon Haima, more than 50 people turned up at noon at Aldrich Bay Park in Sai Wan Ho. From there, they ran towards Shau Kei Wan, headed up towards the hills of Tai Tam Country Park, then ran along the Hong Pak Country Trail before descending and returning to the starting point.

As the group – known officially as the T8 Hash House Harriers – covered the 5.5 kilometre route, the government website reported more than 80 fallen trees and more than 740 flights being cancelled or delayed. But the hashers would not be grounded.

“It was a pretty tame T8 run, to be honest,” says Nic Tinworth, who ran his first T8 hash was in August 2008 when Severe Tropical Storm Kammuri hit. “There was a lot of wind and rain, but we’ve had other T8 runs where objects were actually flying through the air and we were on sketchy ridges.”

Hashing is a global phenomenon started in 1938 by British runners in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the idea is to follow a trail which has been laid by a lead runner (called a “hare”) using flour, chalk, paper or rice. The fun run always ends with beers, and hashers label themselves as “drinkers with a running problem”.

The Typhoon Haima hash was the 22nd running of the T8 Hash since its first run in August 1995 in tropical storm Helen. If a T8 is raised before or at 8am, the T8 Hash meets at noon at a prearranged location. If the T8 is raised after 8am, the group meets at 4pm. If the signal comes down before 11am, the run is off.

This year there have been two T8 hashes, the other one in August during Typhoon Nida. Before that, the last three runs were in 2013, 2011 and 2008. This irregularity of the T8 Hash makes it known as “the most unpredictable hash in the world” – but its reputation as “probably the most dangerous hash in the world” precedes that.

T8 Hash co-founder Tymon Mellor tells the Post the idea for the hash came after Typhoon Dot hit the Wan Chai Hash House Harriers’ regular Sunday run on September 26, 1993.

“After the run, sitting outside the Wanch in Wan Chai, we agreed that running in the storm was exciting and given there was nothing else to do during a T8, myself and Tim Bywater-Lees developed the idea and took it upon ourselves to organise the T8 Hash,” says Mellor, an engineer in his mid-50s who came to Hong Kong from the UK in early 1993 originally to work on the construction of the new airport. “In 1993 there were a lot of typhoons, and for those of us working at the airport, all marine traffic stopped on a T3, thus after spending a day or so inside, people wanted to get out and enjoy the now-empty streets.”

The first official T8 Hash was held two years later on August 12, 1995 in Severe Tropical Storm Helen. Thirty-four people showed up for the run, meeting at the construction site for Festival Walk and running a route around Kowloon Tong set by hares Mellor (hash nickname “Ding-a-Ling”) and Bywater-Lees (“Gattling Gob”). “It was wet and there were some windy gusts, but it was great running down empty roads,” says Mellor, who lives in Tai Po.

That year, there were three T8 hashes in all. In 1999, there were five, including Typhoon York, a T10 storm which packed 234km/h winds. Seven brave souls attended that hash in Tai Po.

“It’s definitely dangerous but that’s part of the attraction really,” admits Tinworth, a creative director. “What I like about it is that it doesn’t happen very often so it tends to draw a good crowd out from all the other hashes in town. It’s very social, very laid back and welcoming, and slightly mad – these are qualities I admire in people.”

Despite how dangerous running in a typhoon seems, Mellor says the only injuries have been a few twisted ankles and the odd graze on a T8 Hash. “When you run in the wind and rain you seem to take a little more care than normal,” he says.

Hannes Niggli, who has run many T8 hashes including the first, adds: “I don’t think it’s dangerous. I have never ever seen any injuries on a T8 Hash, but I have seen so many injuries in running races or training.”

Amid warnings from the government to stay safe during a typhoon, some members of the public consider these hashers crazy, even irresponsible. Typhoon Haima claimed one life, a 50-year-old man who police suspected slipped and hit his head while walking along the waterfront in Tseung Kwan O.

Mellor says people are “probably correct” in calling the T8 Hash irresponsible. “But it is a personal judgement for all and to date there have been no accidents,” he says.

“This is not as extreme as it may sound. All the runs are set in urban areas away from high-risk environments such as the coast, so there is always somewhere to shelter if things get rough. The hash responds as a family, looking after the weaker runner and ensuring all return safely. We encourage experienced runners to look after new runners to ensure they don’t get lost.

“When running in the hills, the trails are generally well-maintained and runners tend to keep a close eye on their environment for foot placement and to avoid running into things. To drop a tree on a moving target is hard! The biggest risk is flying debris, but this has not been a problem and is visible in the daylight.”

There have been many memorable moments, Mellor says. Like on October 3, 1995, the T8 hash in Typhoon Sibyl where the hare got lost in the hills of Fanling, which in turn threw the other hashers off. It took four hours for people to find their way back to Fanling KCR.

The most “surreal” T8 Hash was during Typhoon Leo on May 2, 1999, a run that started from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai. “The sun was shining and there was no wind. People were playing basketball and cricket,” he recalls. “No one knew why that was a T8, other than it was a Sunday and no one would be upset.”