FootNotes
November 1, 1994

A Big Excuse to Socialize


A big excuse to socialize

FootNotes
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 hash... together?

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 alcohol.)

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.

Tradition rules

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 run proceeds.

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,

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continued...

[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 follows.]

Hashing (continued from page 12)

they must run backwards to return to the checkmark.

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.

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[ Ed. note: The real continuation follows.]

Hashing (continued from page 12)

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

[sidebar 1]

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 advance.

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, inhibition.

Want to hash?

[sidebar 2]

Here are some pros and cons of 10 aspects of hashing you may want to consider before getting it on-on.

Opportunity:
(pro) Hashers are friendly folks who welcome virgin hashers.
(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.

Scenery:
(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.

Dry Hashers:
(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?

Atmosphere:
(pro) Hashes are an opportunity to laugh at society and yourself.
(con) If jokes about religion, gender, race, sexuality, or world affairs offend you, don't hash.

Trail Blazes:
(pro) Hashers say their use of flour to mark trails is environmentally friendly because flour is biodegradable.
(con) The use of flour for a silly game is a waste of good food in a hungry world.

Replacement Fluid:
(pro) Nothing tastes better than a cold beer after a hot hash.
(con) Beer's alcohol content and "empty" carbohydrates make it one of the worst ways to rehydrate after running.

Informality:
(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.

Generation Gap:
(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 hash.
(con) Many of those same friends first arrived at the hash following a divorce.

Cost:
(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.

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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 it.

Copies of FootNotes are available from the RRCA national office for $1.50. To order, call (703) 836-0558.

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