blends excercise, revelry and poor man's fox hunt
By Dave Schleck
HAMPTON - If you see a mismatched
group of runners pass by your house, wandering
aimlessly in several different directions and making
cryptic chalk marks on the road, be aware - your
neighborhood is being hashed.
A locality that recently witnessed this aberration is
the North King Street area of Hampton, where the Fort
Eustis Hash House Harriers held a Tuesday night chase
several weeks ago.
Residents watched curiously from their front porches
as more than 30 men and women ran, walked and fumbled
through several neighborhoods, shouting out signals
such as "On-On!" and "True
A boy standing outside his home on Quash Street
called out to the sweaty, swearing crowd that was
"What are you all running from?" he asked.
Political correctness. Stuffiness. Seriousness, they
might have answered.
The Hash House Harriers not only reject these
qualities, they scold participants who slip into prim
and proper behavior. The more ragged your running
clothes, the better. Show up with shiny running
shoes, and you may be asked to drink beer out of your
brand new Reeboks.
Hash club chases combine the athleticism of an
afternoon jog with the playfulness of
Hide-And-Go-Seek and the rowdiness of a college
Like a poor man's version of a fox hunt, hashers
chase after the scent of sneaky runners called
"hares," who rush ahead of the pack and
leave a confusing, powdery trail of flour.
A word of warning - this social sport isn't for
"Don't come if you're timid, don't like foul
language, nudity or wildness," says Anne
Croissant, a harrier who lives in Hampton now but has
also hashed in her homeland of Scotland.
Hashing often crosses the bounds of decency and
sometimes breaks public drinking laws.
But hashers don't fret over such things. The point of
this game is to turn the old rules upside down and
have fun. And the harriers want the public to know
more about their goofy antics.
"I want people who watch us run through their
neighborhoods to understand what we're doing,"
says August Zumbuhl, an active member of the Fort
Eustis Hash House Harriers.
Zumbuhl, a computer programmer who lives in Virginia
Beach, says in a world that often takes itself too
seriously, it's nice to retreat into the friendly,
slapstick world of the hash, where everyone is
equally subjected to fun and ridicule.
"Once you put on your racing gear and use your
hash name, what you are in real life isn't
clear," says Zumbuhl. "When you show up,
it's like you automatically have 30 friends."
Every hash name, whether it's "Sloppy
Seconds" or "Final Foreplay," has a
story behind it - stories too racy to mention here.
It may sound like a big joke. But hashing actually
has a history and a sizable following.
A British accountant working at a Malaysian rubber
plantation started the first Hash Club in 1938. The
chase relieved the rigors of the work week and often
ended with a spirited celebration at a "hash
house." "Hash" is the British term for
diner, Zumbuhl says.
In 1971, a British army officer started the Fort
Eustis Hash House Harriers. Today, the group is the
oldest continuing hash club in the country, Zumbuhl
There are thousands of hash clubs around the world.
People have been known to travel to other countries
in a quest for the wildest hash group.
About five hash groups meet regularly in Hampton
Roads, including a "Harbor Hash" designed
for families (bawdiness is kept to a minimum, with
trails that are stroller-friendly).
Whether a jogger or a mad dasher, runners only need a
healthy sense of humor to fit in with a hash club.
Harriers come in all shapes, types and sizes - the
sleek and the pudgy, men and women, military and
civilian, young and old, blue-collar workers and
school teachers. About 20 to 50 members of the group
meet at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
The location changes every week. The Hash House
Harriers think it's boring to run the same route over
and over again.
On a recent chase, the harriers started with many
laughs and a few drinks in the parking lot of Barron
Elementary School on Fox Hill Road.
Two members of the group were designated as
"hares." After the group sang a few
drinking songs with lyrics that push the limits of an
"R" rating, the hares ran off with bags of
flour on their shoulders.
In a 4-mile path through several neighborhoods, the
hares sprinkled a deceptive path of flour for the
harriers to follow. This day's trail was pretty dry
compared to the mud and muck many hares choose to
After giving the hares a 12-minute head start, the
rest of the group left the school and started the
chase, whistling and calling out to each other as
they weaved their way through the zig-zag trail. The
shouts "On-On!" and "True Trail!"
mean that the runners think they're on the right
The hares, in addition to marking their trail with
smatterings of flour, used chalk to mark off
directional symbols on the road. A circle with a
cross through it designates an intersection - a ploy
to throw off the faster runners.
As the slackers caught up with the sprinters,
neighborhood children started a cheering section at
one street corner. A perplexed child stopped his Big
Wheel in the middle of the road and stared
open-mouthed at the passers-by.
This was no marathon race.
Instead of a water table, the harriers set up a beer
stop in the middle of the race, where runners drank
beer and sports juice from the back of a truck.
There was no victory tape or time clock at the finish
line. That's far too stressful for this laid-back
Most runners arrived at about the same time, about an
hour and a half after beginning the 3-mile
Then it was time for the second part of the hash
experience - the "down-down," an awards
ceremony held at a private home near North King
At the down-down, the harriers formed a lopsided
circle and recognized those who achieved great and
not-so-great feats during the chase.
The harriers also joked around with the newcomers,
teasing them with nicknames and encouraging them to
drink as the rest of the circle sang rugby songs.
Remember, this is a rowdy group. It's not unheard of
for women to flash their breasts or guys to show
their hind parts at the down-down, Zumbuhl says.
But judging from the group's high spirits, no one was
offended. Roy Kidwell, a non-commission officer at
Fort Eustis who is new to hashing, says he will
definitely come back for more.
"It was fabulous," he says. "It
combines my two favorite things - running and
Dave Schleck can be reached at 247-7430 or by e-mail
TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER DRINKING IN HASH CLUB
By Dave Schleck
Although combining alcohol and running may not seem
like the healthiest of sports, members of the Fort
Eustis Hash House Harriers insist that they
discourage unsafe drinking.
"It's a drinking club," says August
Zumbuhl, an active harrier with the Fort Eustis
group. "But it's not a fraternity where you're
trying to get everyone sloshed."
Hashers meet in public places, such as school parking
lots, and make a roadside beer stop once during their
chase. While it's after school hours and they don't
stop for long, they are drinking in public.
"The beer stop being on the side of the road
isn't particularly legal," Zumbuhl admits.
Drinking in public is a misdemeanor in Virginia,
except for places and special events approved by the
state's alcoholic beverage control board.
Zumbuhl says most of the drinking takes place at the
"down-down" - an awards party at a bar or
house at the end of the trail.
There, the harriers celebrate by taking turns
chugging beers, soda or water in the center of a
circle while others sing drinking songs. Those who
drink too slowly are serenaded with the song,
"Why are we waiting?"
Runners drink out of dark-colored cups so it's not
apparent who is and is not drinking beer, Zumbuhl
"You're decision about what you drink is
personal," explains Zumbuhl, who says he and his
wife are abstaining from drinking while she is
pregnant with twins.
"We're not here to force you to drink a beer.
What you have in your cup and how much you have in
there is your business."
The popularity of hash clubs has spread through the
military community and beyond. Although not sponsored
by the military, clubs can be found near bases around
the world. Officials at Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe
say they've never had any problems with hash clubs.
Still, groups that discourage alcohol abuse worry
that hash clubs take their carefree attitude too far.
"I feel a general discomfort of using alcohol as
a basis of a form of entertainment," says Patty
Gilbertson, clinical director for adult substance
abuse programs at the Hampton-Newport News Community
Gilbertson says some aspects of hash clubs are
appealing - their noncompetitive attitude and
acceptance of every level of runners, for example.
"On the surface, it sounds kind of
harmless," says Gilbertson, who recently checked
out the Fort Eustis group's Web site.
Running while under the influence of alcohol could
cause harriers to trip and fall on the trails, which
are sometimes in watery or wooded areas, Gilbertson
says. People with respiratory or heart problems run a
special risk of stroke or heart attacks if they mix
alcohol and exercise.
In addition, people should not be driving home after
chugging beers, she says.
Zumbuhl says the group encourages designated drivers
and car pooling. Drinkers who don't find rides often
stay put and sleep off their buzz. In fact, hosts of
the down-down parties boast about the number of
people who have "crashed" at their
Adam Brooks, a government teacher at Woodside,
prefers to drink water or non-alcoholic beer at the
"It's really not about drinking," he says.
"It's a social gathering kind of thing."
Dave Schleck can be reached at 247-7430 or by e-mail
The Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers club is open to
adults only. To find out more about local hash clubs,
call the hash hotline at 552-8043, or check out the
Virginia hash club Web site, www.macs.net/users/august/hashva.html