When workouts become a chore, it may be time to hash
Health & Science
When workouts become a chore,
it may be time to hash things out The sport of
hashing is part dash, part
bash -- sort of a cross between a 5K run and
Animal House. The idea is to put some fun
back in to working out.
As post-run gatherings go, this
one was mighty strange. The air was thick with cigar
smoke and libidinal steam. No one was talking about
places or times, splits or PRs. Instead, people were
guzzling beer and gobbling tacos and calling each
other by raunchy nicknames -- men and women alike.
The event took place at the
home of a lanky computer programmer who lives in a
modest brick house in a pleasant neighborhood
somewhere north of Wilmington. To the rest of the
world, he's known as Malcolm Hayes, 63, a
soft-spoken, seemingly cerebral man. To his fellow
hashers, he was one of the hares who'd
plotted the devious and diabolical course for the
Winter Warmer Hash of the Hockessin Hash House
The sport is called
hashing. It's not for the uptight or
squeamish, the terminally earnest or politically
correct. It's been called part dash, part
bash,'' part frat party, and part connect-the-dots.
It's Animal House Meets a 5K -- a rowdy,
rip-snorting, rut-boar romp that's like a hunt
without animals or guns, a cross-country race without
stopwatches, orienteering without compasses, and
bar-hopping without guilt.
In short, it's about fun.
If staying in shape and working
out have become a grim obsession, one more duty and
obligation, just another chore and bore, you need to
pick up the phone right now and call the Hash Hotline
The Hockessin Hash House
Harriers -- H4 for short -- may be your salvation.
The outfit bills itself as the drinking club
with a running problem. The only rule is
that there are no rules, says Bob Auer, 48, the
affable electrical inspector who founded the hash a
year and a half ago and serves as its GM, or grand
master. Actually, the only rule that's taken
seriously is the one that forbids taking hashing
H4 is one of about 200 hashes
in the United States (including one in Philadelphia)
and about 1,100 worldwide. A degenerate bunch of
British soldiers and civil servants is blamed for
inventing this perverse pastime in 1938 in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, possibly to relieve boredom,
possibly to recuperate from weekend hangovers by
concocting a weekday excuse to retire to the local
hash house to knock back a few. Clearly, hashing's
pedigree owes something to fox-hunting, beagling, the
English children's game hare and hounds,'' and
the unquenchable desire of kids everywhere, whether
age 7 or 70, to search for clues and play in the
At its best, hashing knows no
confines or constraints. A typical hash lasts from
half an hour to two hours, and may cover from two to
five miles. It may meander across field and stream,
over the river and through the woods, along railroad
tracks, under highways and through storm drains. It
may also zigzag through suburban subdivisions, urban
ghettos, shopping malls, train stations, and even
your local K-mart or the main reading room of the
Library of Congress.
H4 is based in northern
Delaware and boasts about 150 members. As many as 40
or 50 show up regularly for weekly hashes (Wednesday
evenings in summer, Saturday afternoons in winter).
That's a pretty good turnout, says Auer.
Probably because nobody has a life here.
The hash is fully coed, and the
field for any given hash may include teenagers and
grandmothers, lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers,
accountants, engineers, students, teachers,
professors, housewives, plumbers, carpenters, truck
drivers, ex-Marines, and many reformed or recovering
SRs -- Serious Runners, those hopelessly compulsive
running heads who are addicted to routine and ritual,
who log every mile, obsess over every calorie, ache
and twinge, who monitor the consistency of their
bowel movements and collect and save every race patch
Many hashers are upstanding
white-collar stiffs, pencil-pushing bureaucrats and
mortgage-paying suburbanites who relish the hash as a
chance to decompress; to shed bourgeois poses,
pretensions and affectations; and, generally, to
behave in a manner totally without dignity, taste,
class or redeeming social value.
Not to mention the undeniable
fitness benefits. As one female hasher put it:
I used to drink beer, and I used to run. But I
had never done both at the same time, so hashing has
definitely changed my perspective on exercise.
Indeed, hashing is at the
cutting edge of current thinking, painlessly
combining moderate (?) alcohol consumption and
moderate exercise. Add the stress-relieving fun
factor, and I ask you: What could be better for your
As your health-and-fitness
ambassador, I felt duty-bound to experience the
benefits firsthand. So I showed up for the Winter
Warmer Hash (H4's 88th hash), for which the suggested
attire and accessories were cigars, smoking jackets,
brandy snifters, cummerbunds, etc. Hockessin hashes
often have a sartorial theme, to wit: togas, red
dresses (for everybody), bras and boxer shorts (for
everybody). I wore a sweatshirt but ornamented my
bare neck with a festive bow tie.
It was not the most propitious
day for me, inasmuch as I'd just thrown out my back.
So keeping up with the pack of hounds'' --
about 40 men and women hashers showed up at the
parking lot of the old Brandywine High School -- was
out of the question.
Kindly, Auer, wearing a gaudy
flowered shirt (my Jimmy Buffett smoking
jacket''), faded peach swim trunks and torn-up blue
tights, agreed to hang back and be my escort, thereby
enabling me to learn the fine points of hashing from
a true expert.
With hunting horns a-blowing
and whistles a-tweeting, the pack set off at an easy
pace. We lagged behind, watching for marks left by
the hares -- in this case, splotches of flour. Pretty
cinchy, I thought. But then we reached an
intersection where the flour formed a circled X, and
Auer told me about the real fun -- all the false
trails and checkbacks that are designed to fool,
befuddle, frustrate and generally ensure that the
FRBs (Front-Running Bastards) don't zip too far ahead
of the pack.
Hashes are vocal, convivial
affairs, with the hounds constantly baying RU''
(as in are you on the trail?'') and the FRBs
bellowing in reply either checking''
(translation: we're not sure where we are),
looking'' (where are we?), or On-on''
(full-speed ahead, you slouches and slackers).
Auer and I were so far behind
we had to rely solely on visual cues. This became
somewhat problematic once we left the pavement and
ventured into the wild -- what hashers fondly call
shiggy.'' Here, with my legs cut and bleeding
from prickers, brambles and thorns, Auer casually
informed me that he can't see too well, that
actually, in the woods, in this kind of crepuscular
gloom, he's half blind. On the plus side, since he's
been hashing for more than a decade (he picked up the
sport in Saudi Arabia in 1985), Auer has keen hashing
instincts and a sixth sense about false trails and
where to look for the next mark.
A good thing, too. I was barely
able to walk, the sun was slipping behind the trees,
the dusky air was refrigerating, and we had
crisscrossed the same muddy creek about 20 times, as
my wet, formerly white running shoes amply attested.
Those dogs! Auer exclaimed several times,
partly in annoyance, partly in admiration of the
hares' devilish ingenuity. We were so far behind we
missed the mid-hash beer stop entirely (a pickup
truck with coolers of brew), and when we reached
Hayes' house, all the beefy taco filling was gone.
Still, there was a big,
boisterous crowd at the traditional apres
so I had a chance to talk to such die-hard hashers as
Barbara Barone, 34, of New Castle, Del., who
rhapsodized about hashing in mud so deep she had to
use duct tape to hold her sneakers on, and Stan
Cherim, 67, of Wallingford, who's run 18 marathons,
including one on Mount Everest, but who loves hashing
because of the jolly folks and let-your-hair-down
camaraderie. It's such a refreshing
change, the retired Delaware County Community
College chemistry professor told me. No
numbers, no starting lines, no finishing chutes, no
times. Hashing helps keep me young.
The Hash Circle, the
quasi-religious ceremony that highlights every apres,
took place in Hayes' backyard, illuminated now by
floodlights. To the accompaniment of lusty cheers,
jeers and ribald lyrics, various members of the hash
were saluted and penalized for such offenses as
finishing first, taking shortcuts, or wearing
T-shirts from road races.
In every instance, the
punishment meted out was a down-down'': Being
compelled to publicly chug a mug of beer. If you
can't drain it in one suckdown, you must pour the
remainder over your head. As a virgin hasher, I was
duly sentenced to a down-down, which I performed in
an exemplary fashion, thereby earning a souvenir
Hockessin Hash House Harriers plastic mug bearing the
memorable motto Beer -- It's not just for
Truth to tell, in keeping with
the laissez-faire spirit of the hash and its strictly
enforced no-requirements requirement, you don't have
to drink. Several H4 members are teetotalers, and
it's not held against you in the least if you prefer
water, Pepsi or Hawaiian Punch -- even for the
Still, beer does tend to make
things a mite merrier. As Auer so aptly phrased it,
The hash is just like a fraternity -- only
we're older, we've got more money, and we can buy