The Wichita Eagle
November 15, 1999

Hashers: Running on Empties


Hashers: Running on empties

Unusual social club combines exercise with imbibing.

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

MONDAY November 15, 1999

They defy definition, these people who gather twice a week to throw back a few beers, run a few miles and belt out a few songs raunchy enough to make Howard Stern blush. And when the Hash House Harriers -- a group of about 30 professional-types who make up what could be Wichita's most unusual social club -- try to define themselves, the best they can offer is "a drinking club with a running problem."

Members of the club, who range in age from early 20s to late 50s, admit that their brand of amusement is a bit incomprehensible -- but only at first. Most people respond with dismay when they initially hear about hashing, but once they try it, they're hooked.

"Part of the fun of it is that it's a little strange," said hasher Steve Clark. "But it's really not too off-the-wall."

And, although drinking and running sounds potentially dangerous, the Wichita hashers say they've never had any serious injuries. At a recent meeting, most we're content to keep the beer chilling in a cooler until after the run.

The Wichita branch of the Hash House Harriers has existed since March of 1997, but hashing itself goes back much further.

It's an international idea based on British tradition, and nearly every larger city has a club that almost no one knows about. You've probably never heard of hashing, but there are more than 1,000 groups consisting of about 300,000 people in 137 countries.

And the group's activities are far from secret. In fact, many unsuspecting Wichitans have at one point or another unknowingly come in contact with hashers.

They're those people running down the street blowing whistles, dropping flour on the sidewalks, singing and stretching and indulging in rambunctiousness in full public view.

They're the people scaling fences, running through shopping malls and being stopped by police officers wanting to know what the heck they're doing.

Hashing 101

A typical hash begins at the home of one of the club members. Two "hares" have already scouted out a running path, which is secret from the other runners.

The hares get a head start, marking the path by dropping handfuls of flour on the ground. The hashers run, at varying paces, and keep track of each other by blowing whistles all along the way.

At the end of the run, the group gathers in a circle to sing traditional hashing songs (far too controversial for publication) and levy joking accusations against each other (such as showing off by running too fast). The punishment? Always a hearty swig of beer.

As many hashers will report, you really have to try this bizarre drink-and-run activity to understand what's so fun about it.

"Most don't quite understand what we're doing," said Brian Flint, the Wichita group's founder. "It doesn't make any sense when you look in on it from the outside, but neither does downhill skiing, really."

On-oooooon!

At a recent hash in Wichita, cars slowed and passers-by stared as the group began its warm-up in the front yard of a southeast Wichita home belonging to one of its members.

The hashers formed a perfect circle and half-heartedly stretched as they sang an NC-17-rated version of the old tune "Father Abraham."

Then they were off, running, hollering and blowing their whistles throughout what would turn out to be a four-mile run.

This particular hash included the typical glitches and challenges. One hasher fell and twisted her ankle trying to find a shortcut on the trail. Beer couldn't be blamed -- at this point, none had been quaffed.

That was soon remedied with a pitstop halfway through the run to enjoy a cold one. Then, it was back on the trail. The hashers laughed as they struggled to climb over a fence that blocked an island of grass below Kellogg near Hillside -- a little surprise arranged by the hares.

At run's end, the hashers grabbed their coolers and a few bags of chips and scaled another fence, this one leading to a field far enough from nearby houses that the naughty strains of their songs wouldn't float into neighbor's windows.

Then, the accusations began. One member drank for running too fast. Another for running too slow. Several drank for missing the last hash, others for being late to this one.

They shouted, sang and carried on, fully engaged in good-natured, if not potentially insulting, ribbing.

Minutes later, most members were more damp from beer (hashers who can't finish their required drinks are required to pour them out on their heads) than they were from perspiration earned on their four-mile run.

And as the mayhem progressed, it became evident that exercise is just the excuse that keeps hashers feeling legit.

"It's more just a social club. It's just a fun club," Flint admits. "Generally, you don't really keep many hard-core runners."

Bizarre beginnings

The story goes that hashing was conceived by a group of British soldiers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the 1930s.

The soldiers were restless and in need of exercise, and they decided that adding beer to their workout routines would provide needed motivation.

They even developed their own vocabulary, still used by today's hashers. At a recent Wichita run, members shouted "On, on!" the official hash response to the question "Are you?" as in, "Are you still on the trail?"

They referred to each other in code names, and so do today's hashers, although nearly all of them are beyond naughty in nature.

At the end of each run, the group ended up at a restaurant that served truly awful food, which they dubbed "Hash House." They added to that "Harriers" -- the British word for cross-country runner -- and began a social mystery that would survive for years.

Wichita's Hash group was pulled together by Flint, a Learjet engineer who was reassigned to Wichita from Canada.

He thought he'd be here for the short term and wanted to make some friends. He'd been hashing for years, and he posted a notice on the official hasher Web site (www.hashhouseharriers.com) looking for others to join in.

In no time, he'd heard from two men who also had hashing experience. Since then, the group has grown mostly through word of mouth and friends recruiting friends.

They did the hash

Among the early members of Wichita's group was Clark, who'd hashed when he lived in Virginia. He and his wife, who had thought of starting their own hashing group in Wichita, literally ran into Flint and his cohorts on their very first hash run.

Now, Clark is one of the most devoted members of the Wichita group, which includes a teacher, a massage therapist, a dental hygienist, a Wichita State University student and an Air Force officer.

"It's an opportunity to just break out of the norm," said Clark, who works in marketing. "Until you go to a hash, it's kind of hard to understand the hunt, the thrill of trying to find the trail and solve the trail and get to the end."

The members of the group share a familial kind of warmth. Many are transfers from out of state, and their fellow hashers are their best friends and their primary social contacts.

Most admit that they're in the group more for the fellowship and unique, roguish brand of fun than they are for the running. In fact, many hashers don't run and choose instead to walk all or part of the trail.

Many hashers also don't drink, and that's OK, too, members of Wichita's group said. There's no peer pressure to consume, and those who choose not to drink often swig water or cola instead of beer.

The hashers are always trying to recruit new members, some of whom have to be convinced that no harm will come their way.

And although it's true that hashing is not for the easily offended, the raunchiness factor is all just part of some healthy grown-up rebellion, said Wichita hasher Natalie Angeron.

"Nothing bad goes on here," she said. "It's good, clean fun."

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Sidebar

Your turn to hash

Wichita's group of hashers is called the Tornado Alley Hash House Harriers and they meet about twice a week. They're always looking for new club members, so if you're interested in trying it out, call the group's hot line, 292-HASH .

Members record weekly updates with times and locations of the next hash. To learn more about hashing, check out www.hashhouseharriers.com

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The Wichita Eagle

The hash is later mistaken for terrorists - see the December 18, 1999 article.

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