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Social jogging: around the world with the Hash House Harriers.

Hashing is Jogging Run Amok!" "Harriers Out to Develop a Good Thirst!" The front page headlines grabbed my attention. As a Marine Corps officer, I had to run regularly under duress and without enjoyment. The article under those headlines described the crazy and barely tolerated antics of the Hong Kong chapter of "Asia's oldest and most eccentric sports club," the Hash House Harriers.

As I was about to depart for a year's tour-of-duty in Okinawa, I clipped the story and packed it with my things. Visiting Hong Kong half-a-year later on leave, I telephoned one of the names mentioned in the article. He invited me to meet the Hong Kong Hash House Harriers early in the evening on the following Monday at a soon-to-be abandoned British Army Gurkha base.

After arriving, introductions were made and runnings togs donned. A bugle sounded and the group bounded off yelling "On On" and cursing its fate in the muggy, tropical air. We were on a seemingly mad stop-and-go exercise which took us on steep, off-road inclines--first down to sea level and then painfully up to the crest of Hong Kong's spiny ridgeline, completely avoiding the level. Just when I decided that I'd made a mistake, our run mercifully ended on the base's parade field next to a well-provisioned wagon loaded with icy tubs of liquid refreshment.

What followed was an hour-or-two of raucous but good-natured camaraderie with song, insults and ribald humor which the Wall Street Journal likens to "an undisciplined junior-high class." We then took off in our sweaty gear to a giant communal meal called the "On On" at a large Chinese restaurant. I was hooked on "Hashing." To over 80,000 members of perhaps the largest international jogging fraternity, a "Hash" is an entertaining run followed by a party, devised by and for a breed of irreverent runner, the "Hash House Harrier" or "Hasher."

Hashing is a sport that "travels" better than golf or tennis. When a Hasher plans a business or pleasure trip, he/she consults a directory for other Hashes along the way for a run. At last count the rapidly growing number of local "Hashes" numbered over 900 in 132 countries. Most of these local Hashes welcome visitors to join in their most unusual runs. Hashing's a wonderful, unique way to meet like-minded friends in an otherwise foreign environment. The jogger who joins in a run with the Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, etc. Hash will not only have fun but will see an exotic, far off land from a unique perspective and instantly make friends in that local community as I have on many trips.

Hashing is quite simple in concept, but provides an infinite variety of running experiences. It is not a race but happily, is designed to accommodate both the fit and the less fit. Hashings is modeled on the gentrified British sport of "Hounds and Hares" (dogs who hunt hares are "harriers") and may seem like a combination of steeplechasing and orienteering. Hashing resembles the ancient British public school's (read "private school") "paper chases." Prior to each run, one or two Hashers are volunteered as "Hares." The Hares' responsibilities are two-fold, first to design an interesting course, then to arrange for the apres-run refreshments.

A well-designed Hash run will last approximately one to one-and-a-half hours and will be generally circular, finishing for practical reasons, at or near the start. If not, transportation must be arranged. The Hares mark the trials with bits of paper, flour, chalk or whatever will be visible. Crucial to the success of the run are five or six well-chosen check points. Check points are elected to create the maximum of confusion. There may be three or four possible exits from the check, perhaps even a false trail. The trail markings will pick up again a 100-or-so yards away and out-of-sight from the check. A false trail will last only about 25 yards.

Checks are the key to Hashing's uniqueness and universal popularity as they both make the run interesting, but more importantly, allow the slower runners to catch up to the rest of the pack. Athletic ability is not a requirement. In a well-designed run, the slowest runners (this writer included) should be able to finish alongside the fastest runners.

While checking, runners will call out, "Are you?" Until the trail is found, the reply will be, "Checking." When the trail is found, the call is "OnOn," and the bugle sounded, rallying the spread-out runners to the pack. While the runs can be testing, they are strictly non-competitive and therefore appeal both to the marathoner and casual jogger. Hashing's increasing popularity is due to an unjogging principle, "running should be fun."

Hashing's rapid growth is in large part due to the missionary efforts of British, Australian and American members. Until a few years ago, Hashing was pretty much confined to the British Commonwealth communities in the Far East. It has since spread throughout the world as the Hashers-- many of whom work for the government, military or professions--are transferred.

While membership in most Hashes cuts across occupational lines, many in the United States were founded by our returning military. So too our British allies. The Falklands Hash is supported by Royal Marines who have so far avoided minefields. It's so windy there, the Hares use cardboard cut-out check signs weighted down with stones. British Army Gurkha officers run the Dharan and the Kathmandu ("The World's Highest Hash") Hashes. Shipboard Hashes must run on shore leave. Among these is the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, the flagship of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet. But fear not, the "civilians" from all walks of life have long dominated Hashing.

Unfortunately, Hashing is barely tolerated in some communities as Hash trails have taken runners through churches, elegant hotels, Nieman Marcus, Grand Central and Penn Stations and on. We passed startled Chinese dusting off a relatives' bones in a Taipei Cemetery. The Hong Kong Hash makes a point of charging through the lobby of the posh Peninsula Hotel each New Year's Day.

While each Hash is in essence, a private club, members are usually happy to invite out for a run anyone who asks. Hashes are not listed in any telephone directory, but can be sought out with a little ingenuity. Usually in the British, Australian and New Zealand embassies, particularly those in the Far East, someone knows a Hasher. Often the U.S. Marines, who guard virtually every American embassy and some American Consulates, run in the local Hash.

The best Hash directory is the World Hash Handbook and Hash history, "OnOn!" A Golden Jubilee by Tim "Magic" Hughes. Both may be ordered from Harrier International, GPO Box 1670, Bangkok, 10501, Thailand. The book describes the character (and characters) of each Hash and equally important describes Hashing's origins and world-wide growth. On the humorous side is, Half A Mind by Alice A. Johnson, aka "Mad Rushin."

Hashes are self-governing. The rules are: There are no rules. However, two members are usually elected to head a Hash and are called the "Joint Masters." The secretary is the "On Sec" and the "Hash Cash" is naturally the treasurer. Dues vary, but may average as little as $3 a week. A weekly newsletter describes the most recent run in disparaging terms and also gives the location of the next few runs' starting points and Hare assignments.

Rs are numbered and each 100th run is celebrated as a special event, complete with commemorative t-shirts and mugs. Invitations are often extened to spouses, children and other Hashes. Periodically, Hashes come together for joint runs on a regional basis or internationally.

On even-numbered years, Hashers from around the world join in a giant Interhash (also called a "Hash Unconvention"), usually held in the Far East and sponsored wholly or in part by the local major brewery. So far, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur ("The Mother Hash"), Jakarta, Sydney, Pattaya Beach, Thailand, Bali and Manila have hosted Interhash.

Hashers from all around the world are planning to meet July 3, 4 and 5, 1992 in Phuket, Thailand for Interhash '92. Contact Interhash '92, P.O. Box 33, Patong Beach, Phuket 83150, Thailand.

If you can't locate a Hash, youcan easily start one with a few friends. As Phil Kirkland, late of the Hong Kong Hash, put it so well, "If you've got half a mind to join the Hash, that's all you need."
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Title Annotation:includes related article on social walking; worldwide jogging and social clubs
Author:Cavagnaro, Dennis A.; Dvorak, Jeanette
Publication:American Fitness
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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