New York Times
April 19, 1981

When Harriers Run It's for Stew and Beer

When Harriers Run It's for Stew and Beer

New York Times
April 19, 1981
By Suzanne DeChillo

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the quiet of Whippoorwill Park in this northern Westchester town was shattered by the sound of 20 runners flashing through the woods, shouting, “On! On!”

Alarmed by the hue and cry, a biker on the straight-and-narrow path scolded the sweaty, panting joggers as they dashed by “What on earth are you doing? You all sound like a wounded moose!”

The New York chapter of the Hash House Harriers was on its monthly paper chase. Undeterred, the Harriers and Harriets, as the female members are known, continued on their five-mile run through streams, over trenches, through mud and fields, down winding country roads and up to Chappaqua's version of Heartbreak Hill.

While a bowl of stew awaited all who finished the run, this was hardly the Boston Marathon. To clear up any confusion, they are known as “hashers.” Hashers get indignant if you call them just runners. According to one harrier, when The Wall Street Journal labeled them “beer guzzlers,” that was good “ink” and accurate journalism. Some enthusiasts come for the running, but most contend that they are there for the drinking and the singing that follow each run.

“I don't know why we grown people go out in the mud and run around getting lost in the rain, so we can drink beer and talk about how stupid it was to go out and get lost,” declared Paul Janis of Croton, a charter member and secretary of the club. “You'll either love it or you think we're all nuts.”

“I think the attraction is the disorganization, the running, the camaraderie and the dirty songs and beer afterward,” explained Kerry Bolton of Chappaqua.

“We have people who run in the New York Marathon, and then there are people who just do it because they need a beer at the end. They don't necessarily like to run, but they like to be outdoors. The most important thing is that they all like to drink and sing, except I don't think that your editor would like the words to the songs, like when William does his rendition of the `Monks of St Bernard'.”

Hashing is divided into the run and the “On On” – the party afterward. “The run is the paper chase, hare-and-hound fashion, only because of the antilitter laws, instead of throwing paper on the ground, we put a paper loop around the twig of a tree, and pick it up later, or we lay a trail of flour,” said Ian Cumming of Lewisboro, a founding member of both the New York and Singapore chapters of the Hash House Harriers.

For those who did not grow up playing children's games in places where the sun never set on the Union Jack, the paper chase is a British game that has been around since Dicken's time. It was organized at schools to tire British schoolchildren and has nothing to do with Harvard Law School, lawyers or the television program of the same name.

“Newspapers were shredded into small pieces, and then with a satchel full of paper, the hare got a 10-minute head start. As he ran, he threw the paper, leaving a trail with false trails and gaps. The pack tried to catch him. “It was a traditional way of getting people to exercise,” said Mr. Cumming, the grandmaster of the New York Hash.

The harriers pride themselves on their lack of organization, so their history is vague. Credit for founding this eccentric sports club goes to A.S. Gispert, who may have been a British, Scottish, or Australian accountant doing an “occasional stint” in Kuala Lumpur in Malaya during the 1930's.

Living with a group of bachelors and men separated from their wives at a club named the Hash House (because of the quality of the cuisine), in 1938 – or was it 1939? – Mr. Gispert gathered together kindred spirits and began cross-country paper chases through jungles, swamps and rubber plantations every Monday evening. Soon, the Hash House Harriers became an institution, interrupted only by World War II. After the war, the harriers went at it again – running, drinking and singing.

The sport was exported when Mr. Cumming, an executive at an international company (“Don't mention the name. They don't need this kind of advertisement,” he said) was transferred from Kuala Lumpur in 1962 to Singapore, where he introduced hashing. Now there are more than 50 chapters in the world with the heaviest concentration still in the Far East, but there are also hashes in England, Australia and Europe as well as in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston. In the Far East, many hashes still have separate runs for men and women.

The New York chapter was founded in 1978 by Mr. Cumming and Barbara and Charles Woodhouse of Croton, who got hooked on hashing during a three-month stay in Singapore. Mr. Woodhouse, who was working for the international division of a Boston bank, was particularly impresses with the run through a local pig farm. When the Woodhouses returned to Westchester, they got in touch with Mr. Cumming who had been living here for 10 years, and the rest is hash history.

In this club, there are no members; you just show up. Over the last three years, hashers have trekked through two feet of snow and sprinted through rainstorms. They have navigated Croton Gorge and followed the hare's spoor through the streets of New York City.

Before a recent hash, Tony Bolton abd Peter Orenski, the voluntary hares, laid a five-mile trail that began and ended in Mr. Bolton's backyardin Chappaqua. “Mud and water are absolutely obligatory,” said Mr. Orenski, and finding the proper mix of the two took the men two hours. Mr. Bolton laid out the true trail, while Mr. Orenski did the false ones.

“We deliberately have breaks, gaps and false trails to keep the pack together,” explained Mr. Cumming. “The fastest runner alone never finds the trail; he has to rely on other people.” In this game, competitiveness is punished, cooperation is rewarded; there are no winners, and there are no penalties for cheating.

The harriers start out together, but when the trail divides, the fleet-footed runners are invariably lured down a false trail. As they search for the true trail, the harriers call out to one another, shouting, “Are you?” which means are you on the paper trail; “checking,” which means I'm checking for the paper, or “On! On!” which means I've found the trail.

“In hashing, the unwritten law is the first shall be the last,” Mrs. Woodhouse pointed out. So the when the swiftest runner has run out of paper on a quarter mile false trail, he alerts the others, and the slower harriers, who have by now caught up, fan out to find the real trail. For the moment, the fastest sprinter is last.

“There is no dishonor in taking short cuts, and competition is actually discouraged. A well planned run brings everyone in at the same time. It takes about an hour and half,” said Mr. Cumming. “It's a run, not a race. It's not a pleasant stroll through the countryside, either. The hare uses steep hills, brambly bushes, nettles and streams. It's not the type of thing road runners like. It's very relaxing.”

The run always ends at a bar or at the hare's house. This is called the “On! On!” By tradition, the hare provides beef stew, beer, ice and cigarettes. To defray the cost, a collection is taken up. When enough stew and beer are consumed, then comes the singing of songs and hymns – solos, duet, and a capella renditions of drinking songs. What this choral society lacks in bel canto elegance, it more than makes up for in bawdiness. For some reason, at a recent “On! On!” a Scotsman, an Australian and an Englishman excelled at this aspect of hashing. The Americans did a commendable job with the refrain, “Let's have another verse, worse than the other verse. So waltz me round again, Willie.”

The New York chapter of the Hash House Harriers meets once a month for a Saturday run. Sometimes they have family events and children are not allowed to carry bead crumbs.

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