A drinking group with a running problem

  • This was printed in May of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 52nd installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Today I’m running with no GPS watch on. I have no idea how far I’m running and I don’t

know what terrain I’ll be running on. What I do know is that it’s going to be fun.

It’s hash night.

I’m running along a neighborhood road, following dollops of flour thrown hastily on the

ground by today’s Hare, who happens to be my husband.

The dollops of flower lead to a brick wall. There’s no way around it, there’s no way

through it, but at about five feet tall there’s a way over it — with a little teamwork and

some upper body strength.

Some of the runners around me hoist themselves over the wall and I follow suit. Madera

runner “One Eye” asks another runner (whose “secret” hash name — like most — is

unpublishable) to crouch down so she can step on him to make it over the wall. He

obliges.

We continue to run, blowing our dollar-store plastic whistles to signal to others that we

are on the correct trail. I’m running with one hand on my whistle and the other hand

cradling the huge bell that is tied around my neck — punishment for qualifying for the

Boston Marathon — to keep it from making too much noise.

It’s no use. Kids playing outside and elderly residents watering their lawns stop to stare at

us as we run by. Look at all of these freaks running around blowing whistles! Are they

hoodlums? Vandals? Up to no good?

None of the above, actually. We make up one “kennel” of Hash House Harriers, an

international group of non-competitive running social clubs based on a tradition that

began in 1938. It’s been called “a drinking group with a running problem,” as many of

H3’s traditions involve beer — but some hashers are sober and never touch a drop.

The concept is simple. One or more H3 members called Hares lay a trail, which is then

followed by the rest of the group members, the Hounds. The trail includes “checks”

which could point the Hounds in two or more directions, only one being the “true trail.”

False trails, shortcuts, dead ends, splits and other obstacles slow the pack leaders down,

so that the less-athletic Hounds aren’t left behind.

Hares also slow down the pack to keep from being snared, or caught, by leaving beer and

other beverages in areas designated by a large “BN” (Beer Near) written in flour or chalk

on the ground. Hounds stop to drink and socialize, giving the Hare ample time to lay the

rest of the trail, which average about four miles.

After completing the trail, the Hare(s) and Hounds gather for the down-down, during

which “crimes” on trail are reported and the criminals must drink beer or some other

beverage in the middle of the group to pay for their crimes. Crimes range from pointing

with a finger to public displays of affection to using someone’s real name to … just about

anything a hasher decides is a crime. Hashers sing songs, many of them vulgar, while the

criminal drinks. Hashers who show up in new shoes are required to drink their beverage

from said shoes. It’s all in good fun!

Tonight, our trail leads us through some “shiggy,” the hash term for water, deep mud or

anything else that is bound to mess up your shoes. We are halfway done with our

beverages (beer and water) when we realize that semi-submerged, dirty waterlogged

mattress in the canal has a dollop of flour on it. That dirty Hare is going to make us

trudge through canal water up to our calves to continue on the trail!

The rest of the hash is run with squishy shoes, around neighborhoods, through a sketchy

apartment complex and over and through a couple more walls. There are two more BNs

and a whole lot of checks. About 90 minutes after we began, five miles from where we

started and now in darkness, we reach the Hare, who is waiting in a near-empty parking

lot with a huge smile on his face.

Madera runner “Bionic,” One Eye’s husband, hands everyone a beverage and the down-

down begins.

“Any crimes on trail?”

Like always, there are plenty.

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