THE FLOUR IS A POPULAR SPORT FOR FOLKS ON THE RUN
Schoolboy Game Grows Up and Takes Participants
Through Glitz and Grime
By Hilary Stout
-- Runners are storming Union Station, the capital's
elegant boutique-lined train depot. Slim swift
runners. Sweaty, wheezing, shouting runners.
Weaving around puzzled
shoppers, brushing by perplexed commuters, loping
past diners at a candle-lit cafe, they peer at the
floor as they run, like hounds on the chase. Tiny
blotches of flour, discreetly sprinkled on the
polished marble floor, mark a secret trail.
"On, on!" cries
one runner, spotting another white splotch. Someone
at the front of the pack blares a toy horn.
And on they streak, out of
the station doors into the autumn dusk, where they
art into a busy traffic circle in search of the next
dusting of flour.
Horns honk. An angry
motorist shouts. The mark is found.
This is hashing -- a sport,
Just Like Junior High
"A lot of us suffer
from psychiatric disorders; mania, schizophrenia - my
kind of crowd," says Mark Gross, a bearded,
shirtless 31-year-old businessman who has navigated
the roughly five-mile trail.
Once a week lawyers,
bankers, bureaucrats, diplomats, teachers, and
otherwise respectable types take to the streets here
in search of trails through the theater lobby of the
Kennedy Center, for instance, or a drug-infested city
They are members of the
Hash House Harriers, a boisterous and rapidly growing
international running club that has airs of a secret
society and an undisciplined junior-high class.
"It's like a controlled craziness -- a sort of
semi-controlled craziness," says Pam Semon of
San Diego, who recently became so taken with
"hashing" that she has decided to give up
precious time with her daughter to hash every Friday
Hashing -- basically an
excuse to run on a surprise-filled trail and finish
with beer, food, and song -- has reached the U.S.
after years overseas, mostly in the Far East. Based
on the 18th century English schoolboy game called
hares and hounds, hashing was dreamed up in the
1930's by two Englishmen and an Australian living in
what is now Malaysia. The trio sought to shed a few
pounds and shrug off a few hangovers by running
around a Kuala Lumpur park.
But mere running was a
little dull. So the trio decided to take turns laying
trails -- littered with false leads -- through
jungles and rice fields. After navigating the course,
they rewarded themselves, rather to the detriment of
their original purpose, with beer in their quarters
next to a club nicknamed the Hash House. (As some
hashers tell it, the club barred the sweaty runners
because they didn't meet its dress code.) And the
hash was born.
In the ensuing decades,
hashing spread among international bankers, military
personnel, diplomats, and others who tended to find
themselves in places like Brunei with nothing to do.
Now there are 80,000 hashers in more than 700 clubs
in 126 countries on every continent except
In the U.S. hashing has
grown from about 10 clubs in 1980 to 90 today in
nearly every major city and scads of smaller
communities, from Ozark, Mo., to Waukesha, Wis. A
book by a Maine hasher will be published this fall.
The title, "Half a Mind: Hashing, the Outrageous
Running Sport," refers to the hasher's motto: If
you have half a mind to join a hash, that's all you
Hashing, alas, has at times
been misunderstood by the general public. Last year,
residents of Boston's ritzy Beacon Hill neighborhood
noticed some flour at the bases of a few lampposts
and concluded it was poison, intended to kill their
pets. "Mysterious Powder Turning Up On
Sidewalks," the BOSTON GLOBE worried in a
headline. A lab test by an animal protection group
and a phone call from a hasher set the newspaper
straight: The white powder was "only
flour", as the newspaper later reported,
"used for a running game."
Earlier this year the
Monterey, Calif., fire department donned special
masks, called in the county health department and
roped off several downtown blocks for an hour and a
half before determining that the white splotch was
merely flour, a remnant of a run. (In early days of
the sport, hashers used small pieces of paper to mark
the trail, but that practice ran afoul of local
litter laws as the sport spread to other cities.
Flour was chosen because it is biodegradable. In
snowy climes, the flour is tinted with food
The Kremlin hasn't taken
too kindly to the sport. The KGB several years ago
detained an airline executive in the middle of a hash
near Gorky Street. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet
foreign ministry warned all embassies that
"group jogging could lead to accidents with
serious injury to people, and such activities
interfere with the normal life of the city."
People do tend to get
obsessive about it. Couples have hash weddings.
People plan vacations around hashing. After Dave
Fenimore of Washington, D.C., graduated from law
school this spring, he took a trip around the world,
hashing nearly every place he went, including
Katmandu. "The highest hash in the world,"
Some hashers hash to
socialize. "It's a cheap date," says
Melanie Campbell, a member of the San Diego hash.
Others hash to make amusement out of running.
"After a while, when you do a lot of running
it's as boring as hell," says Luther Jones, a
labor lawyer in Dallas.
Hashing may be arduous and
raucous, but it isn't boring. Hash trails have taken
runners through Sea World in San Diego, Neiman Marcus
in Boston, Penn Station and Grand Central Station in
New York, a supermarket in Winooski, Vt., National
Airport in Washington, the neck-deep waters of a
creek in Dallas and the lobby of almost any elegant
urban hotel that comes to mind.
"You name it, we've
been there," says Roark Herron, a deputy branch
manager at Gulf International Bank in New York.
The hash broke new ground
this summer at an event called the Americas Interhash
1989 in San Diego, at which participants were handed
flashlights and sent down a manhole to slosh through
a sewer for about a mile.
But the trail that will go
down in hashing lore was at the 1987 Interhash, held
in Philadelphia. Hashers get a dreamy gleam in their
eyes when they tell that story.
The trail began at the
Liberty Bell, then descended into the subway, where
the trailsetters, or "hares," were passing
out tokens, sending 600 hashers en masse aboard the
train. At every stop, runners jumped out to check for
a flour trail. After about a half-dozen stops one was
sighted, leading the runners above ground, through
the zoo and into a dark railroad tunnel.
Then they heard a train.
screaming, 'Oh my God,'" recalls John Studach,
who teaches at Georgetown Day School here. "Then
we saw a locomotive. You couldn't tell if it was
moving." The noise was coming from two
Hashing is both a ritual
and an anarchy. "The rules are: There are no
rules," any hasher will proclaim. But some
things are always the same.
For one: You cannot win.
The ultimate hash trail would have so many false
leads and checkpoints (X-marked spots where the trail
pauses, sending runners off searching in every
direction for the next mark) that everyone would
finish at the same time. This is hard for some to
comprehend. "It's tough to recruit hashers in
New York," sighs Lee Carlson, a Manhattan tax
lawyer who began hashing in the 1960's when he was
studying in Singapore. "Yuppies are too
competitive. They keep saying, 'How do you
Two: Hashing calls for
beer. "I am a beer-drinker with a running
problem," one hash lapel button reads. The beer
is often imbibed through the ritual of the
"down-down," inflicted on those who run too
fast, those wearing new shoes, those new to hashing,
and other assorted sinners, including a reporter
writing an article on the hash. Sign of the times:
Most hashes now permit soda, water, and non-alcoholic
Three: Hashers speak their
own language. "On, on," for example, both
announces the after-run party and is a signal that
the runners are on the right path. Hashers also
address one another by nicknames customarily bestowed
by the club leaders. "If you don't like your
name," warns one hasher known as "Special
Sauce," "they give you a worse one."