excuse to socialize
Road Runners Club of America
by Welles Lobb
"Some people are more
runners than drinkers. Others are more drinkers than
runners." -- Evelyn Rodriguez, aka High Beams,
hasher from Utah
Take your marks. Set. Hash!
Hash? Be it food, plant, or
game, hash is a curious term, manifold in usage, deep
in double entendre. And fun as hell, say runners of
the "sport" of hashing.
Broadly viewed, hash
suggests disorder, mediocrity, tough times. As in a
hash house eatery, the British parallel to the bar
and grill of America: quick, cheap, basic, dirty. Or
in a meal of hash: a chopped meat and potatoes mix
that is not particularly palatable to the eye, yet
adequate grub when there are hungry mouths to feed
and money is tight.
Beyond food, though, hash
has a decadent side. Although this is a story about a
subculture of running and in no way implies or
endorses drug use, you have to be pretty old or
sheltered to have not heard about the hallucinogenic
effects of smoking or eating hashish or
"hash," a potent form of marijuana.
A hash run is a drug-free
exhibition of the above values. Ordinarily, we of
normal running give little heed to this odd mishmash
of cross country and drinking... until those who hash
leave their habitat and are sighted at a conventional
running event, donning singlets of peculiar
inscription: _______ Hash House Harriers. Which
leaves us to wonder: Who are those guys? And how does
basic food, spirits (no weed -- just cheap beer),
unswept bars, disorder, and running all blend... or
While a hash is
fundamentally a noncompetitive cross country run, it
is better to try to conceptualize it as a combination
hunt without animals or muskets and orienteering meet
without compasses, conducted in the atmosphere of a
fraternity party. A hash's cross-country terrain may
just as likely include city streets, malls, and
railroad tracks as it does parks, forests, and
streams. A hash has no splits, watches, measured
length nor winners... but rewards aplenty.
The only rules apply to
apres-hash drinking practices. Among many traditions,
hashes are concluded with a so-called religious
ceremony. These ceremonies feature group beer toasts
known as "down-downs." During ceremonies
the head official of the hash, known as the grand
master/mistress, is responsible for finding reasons
-- the more ridiculous, the better -- to call for a
down-down. Reasons might be to celebrate a runner's
"virgin" hash, anniversary hash, or
"naming" hash. (All hashers are known by
off-color nicknames derived from a personality trait,
physical feature, or hashing behavior.)
If the mug leaves a
drinker's lips during a down-down, alas, it is turned
upside-down over the offender's head. (Increased
awareness of alcohol abuse has generally moderated
apres-hash beer consumption. Hashes permit
nondrinkers to quaff soda or water during a
down-down, and some hashes are conducted without
Birth and growth
Hashing was born during the
Great Depression in the Far East. As the story is
told, a bunch of British expatriates hanging out in a
hash house in Malaysia decided to break up the
boredom of living in the tropics with a weekly dose
of exercise. So they devised a run that would be
followed by some heavy-duty socializing back at the
hash house. They modeled their run after the 19th
century English schoolboy game of hare and hounds,
which had a pack of runners ("hounds")
chase an individual "hare" over hill and
dale. Going back farther, English gentry used real
harriers -- foxhound dogs -- to hunt real hares or
rabbits over the countryside.
Today hashing is a global,
if little known, pursuit. Twelve-hundred clubs (all
known as Hash House Harriers or HHH) are listed in
the paperback Harrier International World Hash
Handbook, the bible of the sport in the absence of
anything more divine. Going to Ho Chi Minh City?
You'll find all the info you need on its hash scene
on page 366. How about Antarctica? See page 16 -- and
be sure to call ahead for weather conditions. In all,
clubs in 130 countries are registered, with HHH most
prevalent in outposts of the former British Empire.
The United States is home to about 200 HHH, second
only to Australia.
Runners who belong to HHH
commonly call them hashes or "the hash."
Hashes view themselves as "drinking clubs with a
running problem." Their motto: "If you have
half a mind, that's all it takes." Hashes
typically hold weekly or biweekly runs that may draw
from 10 to 30 participants, more in metropolitan
areas. In rotating years, Interhash gatherings of 500
or more runners are held in North American and
overseas hotbeds of hashing.
A different experience
Make no mistake, hashing is
a different running experience. It boasts a culture
and lexicon of its own, with the emphasis on fun. The
running, while quite arduous (hashes may last as long
as an hour and a half), is viewed as little more than
a means to work up a strong apres-hash thirst.
Accordingly, "Serious runners are sometimes
disappointed," notes Suck-Um-Up, a former grand
master from New Jersey.
Indeed, hashing may be
viewed as the alter ego to serious running. Whereas
most competitors in road races are keenly concerned
with getting accurate splits, running a course that
is measured to the exact advertised distance, and
receiving their moneys worth in T-shirt and goodies,
the hasher just wants to let loose and have fun --
and do a bit of running along the way. "It's fun
and dirty and there's no ego involved," observes
Curious George of Pennsylvania. "You dress in
the worst stuff you have because you never know what
you'll be going through."
For every runner who finds
hashing to be nonpareil among recreational outlets,
another finds it pointless or stupid. "If you
take things too seriously," advises High Beams,
"you won't make it as a hasher." To
understand the nitty-gritty of hashing, say the
sport's disciples, you have to do it. In lieu of the
real thing, a run-through of some basic hashology
should help you decide if you want to hash or pass.
More than rules, tradition
regulates (sort of) the parameters of a hash. A hash
begins when two or three runners, hares, set out in
advance of the other runners, hounds, and blaze a
trail by marking white dots of flour or chalk
(hashmarks) on the ground or on trees. Most courses
are 3 to 6 miles; exact distances are irrelevant.
Sounds simple enough --
cross country running in the spirit of orienteering
-- but things get muddled before long. Every so often
the hounds encounter a circled X, a circled dot, four
dots in a square, or some other special mark on the
trail; this is known as a checkmark and denotes a
change in trail direction. From here it is up to the
fast hounds (front-running bastards or FRBs) to go
off in search of the new trail. Any hare worth a mug
of beer, though, will effectively thwart the pursuit
by inducing the hounds into following promising,
albeit bogus, trails from each checkmark. The more
confusion among the hounds, the more successful the
hares have been.
Hounds sniffing out a lead
shout "checking" when they are inspecting
but have not verified a trail's legitimacy. Checking
differs from yelling "looking," which means
the hounds are lost and searching for the trail.
Finally, when the hounds verify a new trail
direction, they call out "on-on," and the
False trails may dead-end
some distance from the checkmark or loop back to the
checkmark. Three dots denote a dead-end. When FRBs
follow wrong trails,
[Ed. note: The author
agreed to having the layout take some liberties with
his article. In a departure from the publication's
style guidelines, the page number on which the
article continued was withheld, forcing the readers
to look for it. The first continuation is what
Hashing (continued from
they must run backwards to
return to the checkmark.
gets its name from a disparaging term that was common
among British colonials, "as useful as a Czech
mark." Since marks were not legal tender in
Czechoslovakia at the time, this expression referred
to something that was not useful at all. Hitler's
invasion of Czechoslovakia, which made marks the
official currency in that country, eventually led to
an orthographical whitewashing of the ethnic slur.
Despite its origins in
British colonialism, hashing has long been popular in
Czechoslovakia. Emil Zatopek's running career began
with a rather rowdy group of hashers based in Pilsen,
whose runs featured large amounts of the famous local
brew. His hash name can't be printed in this
publication, but it was a lewd reference to the
tallest spire on the St. Bartolomej Church in Pilsen,
which is also the tallest spire in all of Bohemia.
A virgin hasher may be
overwhelmed by the rich lore and tradition of
hashing, so it's good to remind yourself that three
dots across the trail means the trail you have been
following is false. The real trail picks up somewhere
else, and on this page the only true statements about
hashing are in this paragraph.
* * *
[ Ed. note: The real
Hashing (continued from
they allow the slower
hounds to catch up, thus keeping everybody reasonably
close throughout the hash and the run noncompetitive.
Slower hounds approaching the pack of lead dogs may
call out "are-you?" [on the trail], at
which the FRBs give an appropriate response:
checking, looking, or on-on. If this built-in system
of checks and balances sounds orderly, its not.
"Most anything can -- and usually does -- go
wrong," notes Woodpecker of Oregon.
None of this is taken
seriously. Hounds often carry whistles or horns and
herald an on-on with two short blasts. Shrewd FRBs
may also cut the course if they think they've figured
out the true direction of the hash. If wrong,
however, these short-cutting bastards (SCBs) face
intense haranguing and a certain down-down at the
conclusion of the run.
Religious ceremonies are
typically held in a park, a hare's home, or in a bar
in the mold of a hash house. The extent of apres-hash
drinking and carrying on varies with the hash; in the
least, expect to hear plenty of innuendo.
"Outlandish things are said," says High
Beams. "But if you know the person, you know
they're joking." In the tacky tradition of the
hash house, only the cheapest drink and food is
served. And nobody calls anybody by their real name.
Who would want to?
Hashers in your midst
Crude and rude as hashing
can get, hares and hounds usually propagate from the
white-collar core of Americas recreational runners.
Indeed, likely found in your running club are
normally upstanding, well-educated runners who hash
with all of their heart, soul, and party-animal lust.
Hashers (and wannabes) are apt to wear celebratory
costumes for holiday races; head to a beer cooler to
relieve a post-run thirst; line up in the back before
a race and gab incessantly during the race; line up
in the front row of a race to get their picture in
the newspaper; and race only for the T-shirt.
Yet hashing isn't all
B-type free spirits, according to Woodpecker.
"We have a real mix, all types of personalities.
Teachers, lawyers, doctors some quiet, serious types
you wouldn't think would hash."
Maybe they come for the
shock value -- dirty jokes, drinking songs, and
political incorrectness are the staples of the
apres-hash. Or maybe they're under the stranglehold
of corporate America and need the hash to step out of
character and decompress. Serious runners may hash to
get away from splits, PRs, and competition.
"Hashing appeals to
people who don't want to deal with rules or
authority," notes High Beams, a soft-spoken
software engineer when she's not mucking it up six to
eight times a month with the hash. "It's a
stress reliever," adds Suck-Um-Up, a teacher in
a vocational-technical school in real life.
But to scrutinize any
aspect of hashing goes against the spirit of the
hash. As Woodpecker puts it, "We use a hash as a
big excuse to socialize."
[Author bio: Senior Writer
Welles Lobb intends to stay a virgin.]
** end of article **
Bits and pieces of hash
How to find a hash: Ask
around your running club. Virgin hashers are usually
recruited by a friend or word of mouth. Established
HHH may have phone hot lines or newsletters.
Hash atmosphere: Ranges
from suitable for families to adult bawdiness to
outrageous. Most are rated PG-13. Inquire in advance.
Hash demographics: Age
ranges and male-female ratios vary widely. Inquire in
What to bring: Old clothing
and shoes for the run, dry threads for apres-hash,
noisemaker, basic first-aid items, sense of humor,
designated dry hasher.
What to leave behind:
Watches, training log, professionalism, class,
Want to hash?
Here are some pros and cons
of 10 aspects of hashing you may want to consider
before getting it on-on.
(pro) Hashers are friendly folks who welcome virgin
(con) Hash runs tend to be small and hard to find,
thus making it tough for those who wish to lose their
virginity to get the chance.
(pro) Hashes give people the opportunity to run where
they ordinarily don't: through woods, malls, bars,
rivers; across railroad tracks and suburban lawns;
under transmission lines.
(con) Hashers may risk arrest or injury by running
over private and/or hazardous terrain.
(pro) Hashes provide nonalcoholic beverages for
runners who don't wish to drink beer.
(con) Have you ever been sober at a party where
everybody else was drinking?
(pro) Hashes are an opportunity to laugh at society
(con) If jokes about religion, gender, race,
sexuality, or world affairs offend you, don't hash.
(pro) Hashers say their use of flour to mark trails
is environmentally friendly because flour is
(con) The use of flour for a silly game is a waste of
good food in a hungry world.
(pro) Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a
(con) Beer's alcohol content and "empty"
carbohydrates make it one of the worst ways to
rehydrate after running.
(pro) Hashes are refreshingly informal: no splits,
official distance, digital clocks, T-shirt.
(con) Even moderately serious runners have been
conditioned to expect splits, measured distances, an
electronic clock, and T-shirt at any organized run.
(pro) "Hashing is like playing in the woods and
being a kid again - and I'm a kid at heart."
(con) "I stopped going to the hash because it
was drawing a lot of young kids just interested in
drinking and screwing."
Hashing and Sex:
(pro) Outlaw reports that a good number of his
friends found companions and spouses through the
(con) Many of those same friends first arrived at the
hash following a divorce.
(pro) Entry fees (if any) are nominal and only the
cheapest beer and food is used.
(con) Serious hashers incur heavy travel expenses in
their quest to hash 'round the world.
Copyright 1994, Road
Runners Club of America. The publisher grants
permission to redistribute this article in print or
electronic form as long as this notice remains with
Copies of FootNotes are
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