Beerly exercising; Northboro `Hashers' run for fun and beer.
NORTHBORO - Dan Sambuchi lost 30 pounds after he started adding a little more beer to his diet.
A little more beer - and a lot more exercise.
Sambuchi has been running regularly since joining the Northboro Hash House Harriers, a club that combines exercise and alcohol.
During a monthly "hash," a group of runners follows a trail, sometimes running as much as seven or eight miles. But these are not races. The runners stop to take breaks, and during those breaks, they drink beer.
Beer is what makes a hash different from an ordinary run, but no one is ever forced to drink, club members say.
"It's fun," Sambuchi said. "It's clowning around. You can run six miles, and you can laugh the whole time."
The concept of hashing started in 1938 with a group of British people in Malaysia, according to a website called The World Hash House Harriers Home Page. There are more than 1,500 hash clubs worldwide, the website says.
But the concept is still little-known in Massachusetts, said Al Del Re, who founded the Northboro club last November.
Del Re is a serious runner, the kind who finishes marathons. But sometimes, he just wants to enjoy running. When he came across a YouTube video of a hash club in California, he thought, "that's exactly what Northboro needs."
The Northboro Hash House Harriers has more than 70 members on its Facebook page, but just over a dozen people actually participate in runs. The group is trying to raise that number.
Who should join such a club? Anyone who can run - slow joggers are welcome - and is not obsessed with competition.
"It's a goofy thing," Del Re said. "It's a fun thing first, and an athletic event second."
For each hash event, a person called the hare, sets a trail that the other runners, called "hounds," must follow. Only the hare knows where the hare's going.
The hare leaves markers along the trail to guide the runners, but also to confuse them. When a trail stumps the fast runners, it gives time for the slow joggers to catch up.
One sign runners look for are the letters BC. That means beer check. Stop running and drink some beer.
(Finding the beer may not be easy, though. The sly hare tends to hide it.)
The club holds its next event in Northboro tomorrow. In addition to running, hashers will have to swim part of the course.
"A lot of people say that's just an impossible combination that doesn't work," Del Re said of drinking and running. "The beer and the rest and the socializing really makes it more fun."
He points out that beer is mostly carbohydrates and water, both good things for active people.
But fitness experts warn that mixing alcohol and exercise comes with risks of dehydration and injury.
"Running through the woods while pounding beers is pretty risky," said Paul Berube, a personal trainer at Boston Sports Club in Westboro.
Bob Bourassa, master trainer at Worcester Fitness, said that although beer is full of carbs, "alcohol is a depressant that affects the central nervous system by causing your body to excrete more water, which leads to dehydration."
For people who think the beer makes running easier, Bourassa said the placebo effect may be at play. "If some runners think beer breaks make running easier, then their expectations might affect the body's response to it," he said by email.
The hashers in Northboro contend that they drink in moderation, if at all, during runs. A can of Bud Light can provide just the right amount of refreshment after a couple miles of sweating, according to Del Re.
Hasher Joe LaValle finds a little bit of beer invigorating during a run. "I feel like I have more energy after a beer check," he said.
Some runners drink just a few sips of beer, while others drink much more. Dan Sambuchi's wife, Marcia, said she doesn't drink but still enjoys hashing. "It's very relaxed," she said.
For hashers like Dan Sambuchi and Laura Ziton, the club has provided motivation to exercise more.
"It's given me more confidence to run longer distances," Ziton said. "It's been a good way to step up the running."
CUTLINE: Al Del Re founded the Northboro Hash House Harriers after seeing a video about a California hash club. (2) Del Re writes a code for the "hounds" directing them to the trail and the "BCs," or beer checks.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/CHRISTINE PETERSON