Running on empties
social club combines exercise with imbibing.
The Wichita Eagle
MONDAY November 15, 1999
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.
the fun of it is that it's a little strange,"
said hasher Steve Clark. "But it's really not
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
branch of the Hash House Harriers has existed since
March of 1997, but hashing itself goes back much
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.
people running down the street blowing whistles,
dropping flour on the sidewalks, singing and
stretching and indulging in rambunctiousness in full
people scaling fences, running through shopping malls
and being stopped by police officers wanting to know
what the heck they're doing.
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
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,
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
formed a perfect circle and half-heartedly stretched
as they sang an NC-17-rated version of the old tune
Then they were
off, running, hollering and blowing their whistles
throughout what would turn out to be a four-mile run.
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
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
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
sang and carried on, fully engaged in good-natured,
if not potentially insulting, ribbing.
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.
just a social club. It's just a fun club," Flint
admits. "Generally, you don't really keep many
The story goes
that hashing was conceived by a group of British
soldiers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the 1930s.
were restless and in need of exercise, and they
decided that adding beer to their workout routines
would provide needed motivation.
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?"
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
bad goes on here," she said. "It's good,
Your turn to hash
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 .
weekly updates with times and locations of the next
hash. To learn more about hashing, check out www.hashhouseharriers.com
© The Wichita
The hash is
later mistaken for terrorists - see
the December 18, 1999 article.