Mercury News
September 27, 1990

Fun on the Run


The San Jose Mercury News
Thursday, September 27, 1990

Section: Venture

Page: 7D

By DENNIS A. CAVAGNARO, Special to Venture

THE STORY described the crazy, barely-tolerated antics of the Hong Kong chapter of "Asia's oldest and most eccentric sports club," the Hash House Harriers.

Six months later I found out for myself. During a visit to Hong Kong I telephoned the group and was invited to join one of their runs at a soon-to-be abandoned British Army Gurkha base.

Introductions were made and running togs donned. A bugle sounded and the group bounded off, yelling "On! On!" We were on a mad, stop-and-go exercise that took us on steep, off-road inclines down to sea level and then painfully up to the crest of Hong Kong's spiny ridge line.

Just when I decided that I'd made a mistake, our run mercifully ended on the base's parade field next to a well- provisioned beer wagon.

What followed was an hour or two of raucous, good-natured camaraderie with song, insults and ribald humor. We then took off in our sweaty gear to a giant communal meal, called the "On On," at a large Chinese restaurant.

I was hooked on "hashing."

To this large, international jogging fraternity, a "hash" is an entertaining run followed by a party. The whole affair is devised by and for a breed of irreverent runner, the "hash house harrier" or "hasher" for short.

The South Bay Hash House Harriers have been running regularly throughout Silicon Valley for over 10 years. The group's popularity spawned the Agnews State Hash and the Monterey Hash. Further up the peninsula are the San Francisco City Hash and the Fog City Hash. Across the bridge is the oldest local Hash, the East Bay/Mt. Diablo.

Hashing is a sport that travels better than golf or tennis. When a hasher plans a business or pleasure trip, he or she can consult a directory for other hashes along the way.

Hashing's a wonderful, unique way to meet like-minded friends in an otherwise foreign environment. At last count, the rapidly growing Hash House Harriers movement numbered upward of 80,000 members in 650 locations in 126 countries. Most hashes welcome visitors to their runs.

Hashing is simple in concept but provides a variety of running experiences. It is not a race and is designed to accommodate the fit and the less fit.

Hashing is modeled on the British sport of "Hounds and Hares" (dogs who hunt hares are "harriers") and may seem a little like a combination of steeplechasing and orienteering.

Prior to each run, one or two hashers are volunteered as "hares." Their responsibility is to design an interesting course and then to arrange for the apres-run beer.

A well-designed hash run will last approximately 1 1/2 hours and generally will be circular, finishing at or near the start. If not, transportation must be arranged.

The "hares" mark the trails with bits of paper, flour, chalk -- whatever will be visible.

Crucial to the success of the run are five or six check points designed to create maximum confusion. There may be three or four possible exits from each check, perhaps even a false trail. The trail markings will pick up again a hundred-or-so yards away and out of sight from the check. A false trail will last only about 25 yards.

Checks are the key to hashing's uniqueness and popularity. They make the run interesting, but more important, allow slower runners to catch up to the rest of the pack. Athletic ability is not a requirement. In a well-designed run, the slowest runners should be able to finish alongside the fastest runners.

While checking, runners will call out, "Are you?" Until the trail is found, the reply will be, "Checking." When the trail is located, the call is "On on" and the bugle sounded, rallying the spread-out runners to the pack.

Hashing's increasing popularity is due to the principle that running should be fun. The accent is on the social. Joe Curray, the founder of the La Jolla Hash, calls hashers "running beer drinkers, not the reverse."

Until a few years ago, hashing was pretty much confined to the British Commonwealth communities in the Far East. It since has spread throughout the world as the hashers -- many of whom work for the government, the military or the professions -- are transferred.

Hashing is barely tolerated in some communities since hash trails have taken runners through churches, elegant hotels, Nieman Marcus, and New York's Grand Central and Penn Stations. The Harbor Patrol apprehended members of the Orange County Hash as they were crossing the channel at Dana Point.

In 1984 Soviet authorities banned hash runs from Moscow streets, saying "group jogging could lead to accidents with serious injury to people, and such acts interfere with the normal life of the city."

While each hash is a private club, members are usually happy to invite anyone who asks. Or as Phil Kirkland, late of the Hong Kong Hash, put it:

''If you've got half a mind to join the hash, that's all you need."

Copyright 1990, The San Jose Mercury News

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