On a recent, chilly Wednesday night I found myself in the parking lot of a run-down strip mall on Atlantic Boulevard. I wore a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes. My mission was to meet up with a group of similarly dressed folks who call themselves hashers.
Hashers are members of a larger, decentralized organization known as Hash House Harriers, or H# for short. Each chapter of hashers, sometimes called a kennel, is individually mismanaged (part of the hasher lingo) with no uniting organizational hierarchy. There are more than 1,700 chapters spanning all seven continents. Most major cities are home to at least one chapter. Chapters typically contain between 20-100 members, usually mixed-sex, with some metropolitan area Hashes drawing more than 1,000 hashers to an event.
But, what is “hashing?” Perhaps the way hashers describe the organization will shed some light on that question. When asked what H3 is, the typical response from a hasher is that it is a “drinking club with a running problem.” Still a bit ambiguous? Let me explain further. This is a group of adults who meet on Wednesday nights in various locations around the city to drink beer and run what can only be described as cross country through fields, streams, swamps, briar patches, streets, woods, and whatever other terrain they can find. But, before they run, they drink beer. And they drink beer during the run. And they drink even more beer after the run. Indeed beer plays a major role in why these intrepid souls brave the crazy running courses that are set before them.
The origins of hashing harkens back to December 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, which was then the Federated Malay States and is now Malaysia, when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British Paper Chase or “Hare and Hounds“, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend. The original members included Albert Stephen (A.S.) Ignatius “G” Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick “Horse” Thomson, Ronald “Torch” Bennett and John Woodrow.
After meeting for several months, they were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a “group,” they would require a Constitution and an official name. A. S. Gispert suggested the name “Hash House Harriers” after the Selangor Club Annex, where the men were quartered. The club was known as the “Hash House” for its notoriously monotonous food.
The Constitution of the Hash House Harriers is recorded on a club registration card dated 1950:
· To promote physical fitness among our members
· To get rid of weekend hangovers
· To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
· To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
As I stood in the parking lot, several other vehicles arrived and a loose group of people began assembling. There were jokes and stories being told, people began to come over and introduce themselves to me with odd sounding names like Bobber, and Aids. Others introduced themselves as Just Mike or Just Cindy. As it turns out, one of the many traditions of a hash kennel is to name its members with an outrageous name after they have fulfilled several qualifying runs. I was christened Just Marc until such time as I qualify for a kennel name.
After a few moments of chit-chat a cheer arose from the gathering group. The all-important beer truck had arrived and everyone crowded around to grab a cold beverage. I tall gentleman dressed in a t-shirt invited me to have a beer with everyone and just mingle. The hash, he said, would begin in a few moments.
Someone called for a circle and we all stood around for an explanation of how the hash would be run. Hashing has not strayed far from its roots in Kuala Lumpur. At a Hash, one or more members (Hares) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the Pack or Hounds). The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again; often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together regardless of fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up. The hare(s) mark a trail through the area with paper, chalk, sawdust, or colored flour, depending on the environment and weather. Trails may contain a Beer Check, where the pack stops to consume beer, water, or snacks, allowing any stragglers to catch up to the group. Trails may pass through any sort of terrain, known as shiggy within the group, and hashers may run through back alleyways, residential areas, city streets, forests, swamps, or shopping malls and may climb fences, ford streams, explore storm drains or scale cliffs in their pursuit of the hare.
On this particular night we started our hash behind the strip mall were we had parked. The course of the hash took us through a ditch filled with broken tile, a briar patch (in which I quite ungracefully flopped to the ground and emerged with plenty of scrapes and scratches to show for it), through a field, over two fences and through a residential neighborhood. In all, the entire course was about two miles long.
At the finish location – located in another strip mall parking lot –the event ended with more beer drinking and a group gathering known as Religion. Led by chapter mismanagement, Religion provides a time to socialize, sing drinking songs, recognize individuals, formally name members, or inform the group of pertinent news or upcoming events.
During Religion, down-downs are bandied about. A down-down is a means of punishing, rewarding, or merely recognizing an individual for any action or behavior according to the customs or whims of the group. Generally, the individual in question is asked to consume without pause the contents of his or her drinking vessel or risk pouring the remaining contents on his or her head. Individuals may be recognized for outstanding service, or for their status as a visitor or newcomer. Down-Downs also serve as punishment for misdemeanors real, imagined, or blatantly made up. Such transgressions may include: failing to stop at the beer check, pointing with a finger, or the use of real names. Commonly, hashers who wear new shoes to an event can be required to drink from that shoe.
Hashers are a hardy, if somewhat insane bunch. But, I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy myself scratches and all. The camaraderie and skullduggery of the group is infectiously fun. It’s like a college fraternity party with its vulgar jokes and vocabulary, but on a running trail. It is definitely not for the thin-skinned or easily offended. But, if you have the constitution, and want to have a hilariously unrefined evening running through who knows what and drinking beer while doing it, I highly recommend you come out. You can get more information at the Jacksonville Kennel’s website: http://www.JaxH3.com. Tell them Just Marc sent you and prepare for a raucous good time.