Runners enjoy making a hash of things

Sense of humour essential ingredient


[photo: Hashers run with horns]
TALLY HO! If you think that running is a solitary affair, then you haven't met the Hash house Harriers. Their outings are as much about socializing and downing a few pints as they are about running.
(photos by DAVID LAZROWICH, Calgary Herald)

Calgary Herald

The Calgary Hash House Harriers is a running club which cheerfully describes itself as "totally irreverent."

The first clue is the nickname given to each harrier: The ones we can print include Wett Butt, Party Pumper and Slippery Armpit. I considered myself extremely lucky when I was christened, upon joining the harriers for a run, with the respectable nickname, Lois Lane. (The other newcomer was Call Girl.)

Like it or not, once hashers are given a handle, they're stuck with it. As they rack up runs, they're awarded with sports jackets, beer mugs, a bronzed running shoe - all personalized with their special nickname.

In a post-run ceremony called a "down-down," awardees are regaled with ribald rugby songs or other creative ditties before guzzling their allotted flask of beer to the chant of "down, down, down..."

The first hash club was started in 1938 by a British colonial civil servant living in Kuala Lumpur. About a dozen civil servants started running regularly through the jungle, marking a trail to ensure nobody got lost and the pack stayed together.

After the runs, they would retire to the officers' club, known as the Hash house. Thus the Hash House Harriers, which is frequently referred to as "a drinking club with a running problem," was born.

Today, there are about 1800 clubs and over 300,000 people in the world who hash every week. In Calgary, anywhere from 15 to 75 hashers run year-round every Monday evening, come rain, shine, snow or blizzard. All a mean-spirited, Calgary blizzard means to a hasher is that he or she will get to the pub all the sooner for the down-down, which is as much a part of hash tradition as the run.

"We haven't missed a Monday yet," says Jonathan Foweraker; who has hashed all over Europe, the United states, Canada and the United Kingdom. In the even of foul weather; the worst thing that can happen, says Foweraker, is that the hare gets only a few minutes head start on the harriers to set the trail.

A run is set up beforehand by an appointed "hare" who also gets to chose the route. The hare marks a trail with flour, chalk, coloured ribbon, felt markers, or whatever works best on the terrain.

[photo: The hash runs cross-country]

On our recent run though the De Winton countryside, we jogged (I puffed) past cowpatties marked with flour. The only rule for the night (hashers aren't big on rules) was to honour the farmers' request not to tramp on their crops.

LEAPING FOR JOY: Two hashers get in the fun swing of things during a recent run south of the city.
One mark could signal a "check" which means the path splits in different directions and you must choose a trail. Another mark -- a circle with an X through it -- indicates a "checkback," which means you've chosen a false path set by the crafty hare and must retrace your steps. Another mark means it's time to stop and regroup.

The fastest runners navigate the route through trial and errors, yelling "on-on" and blasting on a small horn when the correct trail is found. Slower runners benefit from their trailblazing, which makes the hash ideal for all levels of running ability. Hashers who run out of stamina and end up walking are given shortcut tips so they can meet up with the rest.

The idea, like the early days, is to keep the pack together.

The hash is comprised both of marathon runners and people like Twisted Sister; who says when she joined the hash she was 35 and had never run a day in her life. Now she can run five kilometers and has participated in 150 runs in three years. The mother of three calls the weekly hash runs her "sanity night."

This, despite the fact that lots of times you find yourself plunging through brush, wading through a fast-moving river or hanging off a cliff. "You do learn to be open-minded," says Twisted Sister.

Hashers represent a diversity of ages, marital status and professions, including doctors, geologists and accountants, who find hashing is a good stress release. As one hasher puts it, "It's a chance to run around the streets of Calgary and shout off your heads like a small child!"

While the hash is not a singles club, you can find people with a similar mindset, says Foweraker; and there have been a lot of marriages in the hash. Foweraker met his significant other at a hash.

If you're a business traveller, you can hook up with a hash group via the internet practically anywhere in the world. It's like having a global extended family with similar traits; a love of running, a little weird, fun loving and definitely irreverent.

Calgary also has a Kid's Hash, which meets once a month and hashes from park to park, meeting afterward for a pop down-down. As well, there's also a full moon hash, a motorbike trail hash, a cycling hash and a challenging Rocky Mountain hash.

The primary goal of hashers is to get their exercise without taking themselves too seriously. you don't have to be a beer drinker to enjoy hashing and, in fact, there are harriers who don't drink, I am assured. But all harriers must have one ingredient in common.

"The best thing to bring with you," says Foweraker, "is a sense of humour."

This story appeared in the Calgary Herald's "Neighbors" on May 27, 1999.

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