A Running Party
Friday, November 28, 1997
By Dallas Hudgens
HASH HOUSE Harriers full-moon run was
supposed to start 20 minutes ago. Fifty people have
gathered in a muddy Damascus field to take part in
the event, an after-dark run through pumpkin patches,
creeks and briar-infested woods. The moon is up, and
the trail has been marked. Everyone is present and
accounted for. So, what's the delay?
things, one runner has yet to finish his pre-race
cigarette and another is polishing off aglass of
wine. Hey, it never hurts to hydrate and warm up the
lungs before a run.
delaying the start is one of the event's organizers,
Pam Sapyta, who is trying to decide if a male runner
should be penalized for wearing new shoes.
did you buy them?" she asks the accused.
"They're so clean!"
Wine? Punishment for wearing sensible shoes? Make no
mistake, a Hash House Harrier run (more commonly
referred to as a "hash") is not your
typical 10K race. In fact, it isn't a race at all.
consider race to be a four-letter word," says Al
Hendricks, another of the full-moon organizers.
"This is strictly a social gathering. We just
happen to have a theme, which is running on a
won't find running and fitness magazines pushing the
Hash House Harrier agenda of fitness, fun and a
little excess, hashing is a global phenomenon. An
international directory lists 1,600 Harrier groups
worldwide. Whether you're in Malaysia, New Zealand or
Europe, there's always a chance you'll come across a
merry band of runners shouting such harrier speak as
"are you? are you?" "on! on!" and
"beer near!" Washington is no exception,
home to nine Harrier chapters who organize hashes
throughout the year.
Hash House Harriers group (referred to as the mother
hash) was founded in 1938 by a group of British
expatriates living in Kuala Lumpur. The Brits, all
men, drank nightly at a bar and restaurant they
called "the hash house." In an effort to
work the excesses out of their bodies, they started
playing a weekly game of Hares and Hounds, a British
schoolboy game whose rules call for one member of the
group (the hare) to run ahead of the others (the
hounds) and leave behind a trail marked with flour.
The hounds then set off in pursuit of the hare. In
the case of the Hash House Harriers, either a pub or
a keg of beer usually lies at the end of the trail.
catch the hare, you get to pants them," says
Sapyta. "But they can leave false trails and try
to throw you off their track. So, the intellectual
challenge is in trying to think along with the hares
and outwit them."
Each of the
local groups holds a weekly hash. Several times
during the year, all of the area hashers come
together for a special event. The most popular of
these is the annual Red Dress Run, which is held in
September. According to one hasher, the sight of 400
people -- both men and women -- dashing up the
Capitol steps while wearing red dresses is only
rivaled by the cherry blossoms in spring.
are fun-loving individuals who don't mind having
their dignity deflated by humor," says Bill
Panton, who founded the D.C. Hash House Harriers
(also known as D.C. 3) in 1972. "We don't take
ourselves too seriously, especially when it comes to
running. In fact, we've most often been described as
a drinking club with a running problem."
D.C. 3, like
the mother hash in Malaysia and many around the
world, is an all- male crew. The group is small and
the turnover slow, like a long-running Wednesday
night poker game. The other D.C. hashes are coed, and
each tends to have its own personality. Some appeal
to singles, while others accommodate married couples,
couples with children and people who enjoy running
with their dogs.
The White House
Hash House Harriers boasts the largest battery of
local hashers, often drawing more than 100 people to
its weekly runs, which are typically 3- to 5-mile
jaunts held in or near the city and finishing up at
the front door of a bar or restaurant.
lawyers, waiters, stockbrokers and college
students," says Sapyta, who is a member of the
White House Harriers. "We also have a lot of
foreign service people. But it doesn't matter what
you do for a living, as long as you have a sense of
humor. So in that regard, it's a great
accounts, White House is the hash for singles, having
inherited the distinction from the D.C. Hash House
Harriers and Harriettes (D.C. 4), all of whom
according to one hasher "got old, got married
and had kids." The old fogy rap has left D.C. 4
with a new title.
us the Baby Jogger hash," says Larry Cohen, a
D.C. 4 member. "We'll have anywhere from 12 to
20 people for a hash, and about a half-dozen will run
with their children in baby joggers. We're a smaller,
close-knit group. We have the same traditions, but
we're generally less bawdy than some of the other
hashes. And we almost always meet at someone's house
rather than a bar."
are given a hashing name, which they answer to in the
company of other hashers. The monikers almost always
point to a quirk of personality or a
The Full Moon
Hash is a conglomeration of local hashers, a monthly
party under the stars. In Damascus, the hounds slog
through a pasture and into the woods, following the
flour trail left by the hare. Among the briars and
timber, it's easy to lose sight of the trail.
Laggards shout "are you? are you?" and
front runners answer "on! on!" to lead the
laggards back on track.
emerge from the woods and make their way up a winding
country road. One runner sports Cat-in-the-Hat
headwear while another wears a T-shirt displaying a
topless Jessica Rabbit. Another hound, bearded and
wearing jeans, runs beside his Australian shepherd.
The headlights of a car appear at the bend in the
road, and the passengers turn their heads to take in
the hashers. Brows furrowed, it's like they're not
quite sure what they've just seen.
miles from the start (no one is really sure of the
trail's distance) the hashers can suddenly hear the
finish line. It's Ted Nugent, a man who favors
running through the woods in a loin cloth. The hounds
follow the sound of "Wango Tango" until
they reach the backyard barbecue that is already in
As with all
hashes, the runners paid an upfront fee (usually $3
to $5) to cover the cost of the food and beer.
Tonight, the spread includes a beer keg and a picnic
table groaning with chicken.
fill their Gatorade cups with beer and then gather in
a circle. They sing, initiate first-timers and
generally heckle anyone in sight.
drinking and the teasing, there is a communal feel to
the post-run party, a unity more along the lines of a
Deadhead gathering than a fraternity party. Standing
in the shadows of the bonfire, Bob "Hair
Ball" Sheck tilts his Cat-in-the-Hat lid back on
his head and tries to describe the hashing
competitive runners, and we're definitely not an
exclusive club," he says. "We'll take
anybody who shows up and pays their four dollars. If
you have half a mind to hash, that's really all you
HASHES meet weekly to socialize and run. The full
moon hash is held monthly and draws runners from all
of the local hashes. The best way to become a Hash
House Harrier is to show up for a hash. Bring $5, and
be sure to wear dirty shoes. Don't wear a T-shirt
from any genuine races you may have completed. If you
do, you'll be sorry. For information on all local
hashes, call 202/783-5260.
© Copyright 1997 The
Washington Post Company