US News & World Report
March 2, 1998

Shades of Anarchy


SUBCULTURE
Shades of anarchy


A bizarre scene recently greeted townspeople in conservative Lynchburg, Va. A circle of some 80 runners, clad in scarlet dresses and flimsy lingerie, flapped their arms in a midtown parking lot, rendering an off-key version of the nonsensical song "Father Abraham." At the screech of a whistle, the group--which included a judge, a seventh-grade teacher, and other workaday folks--poured into the street across four lanes of traffic. Stunned drivers stomped on their brakes and marveled at the sight.

Who were these crimson-costumed jaywalkers? Just the participants in the annual Valentine's Day run hosted by the local Hash House Harriers, a worldwide, unofficial network of running clubs dedicated not just to exercise but to shades of anarchy. Based on the British game Hare and Hounds, hashing, as the drink-and-run sport is called, features a lead runner who marks a trail for the pack to follow, with stops en route to chug beer. British officers stationed in Kuala Lumpur developed the tradition 60 years ago, naming it after a local pub that had been nicknamed "hash house" for its second-rate food. Today, there are more than 1,000 groups of hashers in some 137 countries. Many military and government employees say it's the best way to find a social group overseas, although neither the State Department nor any branch of the military admits knowledge of the sport.

With good reason: There's an unsettling image clash. Runners arriving at Lynchburg's post-hash happy hour had chalked their names on sidewalks, mooned each other, and been stopped twice by police, one of whom asked: "Mind tellin' me where you're runnin' to, and who you're runnin' from?" The answer isn't who, but what: Spending a couple hours breaking every rule they can, hashers say they are running to escape the norm.

Marissa Melton

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