by Pat Davies
From time to time you might notice small piles of white or colored flour around Forest Hills, as well as mysterious chalk marks in the form of circles or arrows and lines. No, our neighborhood is not being marked out for an alien invasion, but we have obviously been the location of a run by one of the many Hash House Harrier groups in the Washington DC area.
As those of you in the diplomatic or international communities might know, the Hash House Harriers (usually just known as HHH, H3 or just Hashing) is an international group of non-competitive running clubs with a definite emphasis on social activities. One of the local groups – the White House Hash, which has been in existence since 1987 – calls itself ‘a drinking club with a running problem’, as do many other Hash groups! The traditional symbol of Hashing is the outline of a human foot, often including the phrase “On-On”.
The idea originated in 1938 in Malaysia when a group of expatriates began meeting every Monday evening to follow a British style paper chase run, where one of the group would act as a ‘hare’ and set a trail marked by pieces of paper, and the rest of the group – the ‘hounds’ – would follow the trail. At the end of the trail the group would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes. The name Hash House Harriers was suggested by one of the original members, A. S. Gispert after the Selangor Club Annex in Kuala Lumpur, which was known as the Hash House. There are now almost two thousand groups in all parts of the world, and even a biennial “Interhash” where several thousand Hashers gather to run and consume vast quantities of beer!
A typical Hash group will meet each week in a pre-determined place and follow a trail, now usually marked with flour, which has been set in advance by the ‘hare’. Each group usually has its own website and telephone information line. The general information number for the DC area is PUDJAM0.
The hare uses flour to mark a 4-6 mile trail which can go anywhere – streets, public buildings, train or metro stations, parks, fields, streams, mountains, woods, etc. Every so often, the trail ends and the runners or “hounds” try to find where it begins again. The only rule in Hashing is that there are no rules… and fast runners often run very fast in the wrong direction while the slower runners or walkers take time to decipher the ”chalk-talk”, stay on the trail, and catch up.
During the run the pack communicates by yelling “On-On” when they see flour. Experienced runners mark the trail for those who are further behind, so that everyone makes it to the finish. Information about the various marks can be found at www.hasher.com/marks.html.
At the end of the run the group gathers for eating, drinking and socializing, but the Hashers will first stand in a circle, each with a large plastic cup of beer, and the “Religious Adviser” or another member of the Hash “Mismanagement”, will lead the group in activities such as singing drinking songs, formally naming members, or giving “down-downs” for various misdemeanors.
A “down-down” is a means of punishing, rewarding, or recognizing an individual for actions or behaviors according to the customs or whims of the group. Generally, the individual in question is asked to drink, without stopping, the beer in his or her cup, or risk pouring the remaining contents on his or her head (often to the chant of “what does not go in you goes on you”!). Individuals may be acknowledged for outstanding service, or for their status as a visitor or newcomer. Down-downs also serve as punishment for offenses – real, imagined, or made up. Such transgressions may include: failing to stop at the beer check, stopping during the run to answer a call of nature, or wearing new running shoes. Often, Hashers who wear new shoes to an event will be required to drink their “down-down” from one of their new shoes!
All Hashers are typically given a “Hash name,” often related to a particularly notable incident (for example ‘Barf Fly’ was named after a specially long evening of post-Hash socializing!), a personality trait, or something related to their appearance. In some groups the name must be earned, and Hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant a name. In other groups the process is more routine, and Hashers are named after completing a certain number of events (5-10 being the most common).Some Hash groups focus on “family-friendly” names, others focus on meaningful names, and many groups go out of their way to make the names as bawdy or politically incorrect as possible. In general, Hash activities tend to be rather bawdy, and for many years I was a member of the White House Hash. However, I would probably only agree to tell you my Hash name, and how I came by it, after we’d had all had several glasses of wine!
Hash runs are sometimes themed, and include themes such as the “Red Dress Run,” the “Out of Africa Run” and the “Victoria’s Secret Run.” So the next time you see a large group of people running through DC and all wearing red dresses or ladies’ underwear you will know exactly who they are, and you will now also be able to decipher those mysterious chalk marks and piles of flour.