Last Updated on January 29, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
What do you get when you combine running (or walking), a combination scavenger hunt/hare & hound game, silly songs, inappropriate jokes, kilts, and beer?
Meet the Hash House Harriers, a drinking club with a running problem.
Chances are you’ve seen them or heard of hashers already, and simply didn’t realize it.Perhaps you were enjoying lunch with a friend at an outdoor cafe when a group of men and women clad in sneakers, tall socks, and bright red dresses enthusiastically went running by. Or maybe it was when you were crossing the IKEA parking lot, and stumbled upon the letters “BN” written on the asphalt in chalk.
The Hash House Harriers are an underground, alternative, world wide “running” club (sometimes the term running is used very loosely) with a rich history dating back nearly 85 years. And if you like running in random places, post-run beer (and sometimes a pre-and/or-during-run beer too), and laughing both at yourself and with your friends…the Hash House Harriers might be right for you.
In addition to being a fitness professional, mom, ultrarunner, etc…I am also a named Hasher. And yes, even as a sober runner, I absolutely love the hashing community.
Once upon a time, a stranger from Reno introduced me to this “running club” if you will. I tagged along, because I kind of had a crush on him, and ended up having far more fun than I ever imagined (at the hash, and with him. I ended up marrying him.)
That first trail, I laughed so hard my abs hurt and tears came to my eyes. I kept going back to more trails, and have since not only learned how to laugh at myself (even more so than before), but I’ve met some amazing people that I truly call friends (but only sometimes by their real names).
And so today I’m going to tell you (almost) everything you need to know about the wild world of hashing. (Though I will not, in fact, be telling you what my hashing name is. Some things are better left off of the internet.)
Meet the Hashers: A Drinking Club with a Running Problem
Beer and running. They sometimes go hand in hand. It’s not unheard of to see organized group runs ending with a cold pint at a pub, or friends hanging out at a trail sharing a 6 pack of a local microbrew after sharing a handful of miles together. And almost every big race offers you a 12 oz plastic cup of their sponsor’s beer at the finish line.
And beer – in a roundabout way – is how the Hash House Harriers came to be.
History of the Hash House Harriers
Hashing originated in December of 1938 in Kuala Lumpur (then the Federated Malay States, now Malaysia) as a Monday night group run, created by a group of British colonial officers This run, designed after the traditional British paper chase or “hand and hounds” game, was designed as a way for the officer to “rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend”.
In other words, they were trying to outrun their hangovers.
The original members of the group included: Albert Stephen (A.S.) Ignatius “G” Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick “Horse” Thomson, Ronald “Torch” Bennett and John Woodrow.
A. S. Gispert suggested the name “Hash House Harriers” after the Selangor Club Annex, where several of the original hashers happened to live, known as the “Hash House” where they also dined.
After the end of World War II in an attempt to organize the city of Kuala Lumpur, they were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a “group,” they would require a constitution. Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.
The objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950:
- To promote physical fitness among our members
- To get rid of weekend hangovers
- To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
- To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
So, is hashing just a great big, worldwide, organized pub run?
No. Not even close.
How Does Hashing Work?
As already mentioned, hashing originated based upon the “Paper Chase” outdoor racing game.. At the start of the game, one person is designated the ‘hare’ and everyone else in the group are the ‘hounds’. The ‘hare’ starts off ahead of everyone else leaving behind a trail of paper shreds which represents the scent of the hare.
According to Wikipedia: “Just as scent is carried on the wind, so too are the bits of paper, sometimes making for a difficult game.” After a specified amount of time, the hounds chase after the hare by following the paper trail, with the goal of catching the hare before they reach the ending point of the race.
Hashing is just like Paper Chase…with a few twists.
Note: Hashing is, if anything, chaotic and unpredictable, but as already mentioned, rich in tradition. So while the following may seem pretty random and nonsensical, I assure you that for the most part, what you are about to hear is standard practice world wide.
Step One: Circle Up!
At the beginning of a hash run, otherwise known as a “trail”, the pack (all of the hashers that show up that day) will meet at a designated location and starting time pre-determined by the kennel (essentially, the hashers version of a running club), and will start with opening circle.
Opening circle is a ceremony of sorts led by either the kennel’s grandmaster (GM), or the kennel’s religious advisor (RA).
Before we go any further, please know that hashing is anything but religious…though they do sing their own version of hymns, and one of them is, in fact, about Jesus. But I digress.
Opening circle usually begins with introductions, followed by a “blessing of the hares” (the one, two, or sometimes three or more group members designated to set, or “lay” the trail), before the hares are sent off to start laying trail.
Step Two: Hares Away!
After the GM/RA bless the hares (which usually involves a ton of flour) the hares will head out. Their job is to leave a literal trail through the woods, streets, etc. typically using flour or chalk and predetermined marks (otherwise known as “hash”) for the pack to eventually follow.
Step Three: Chalk Talk
Once the hares take off, the rest of the pack sticks behind to give the hares a bit of a head start. This time is filled with what is known as “chalk talk”. The RA/GM will explain what all of the hash marks that will be seen on the trail on that particular day mean. Further, any pertinent announcements will be made.
Depending on the kennel, there may be some absolutely ridiculous “warm up” songs and exercises, to ensure the pack of hounds are thoroughly ready to go.
Have I mentioned yet that there’s endless singing in hashing? Because there is. Every time you turn around, someone is singing a song, and usually, they’re the kind of songs that’ll make you blush.
Parental Advisory Warning
(Leave the kiddos at home for this one)
This is part where I should probably tell you that while some kennels are what we would call “PG”, many others, and much of hashing, are more in the “rated R” category. The songs, while hilarious, are often
dirty “adult”. The jokes are crude, the kind you would never tell in front of your mother…unless of course, she’s a hasher. Like mine.
And chances are you may end up seeing more skin than you bargained for (wear your sunglasses, pale butt cheeks are often blinding). As an article about the Hash House Harriers published by CNN states, the hash is “part scavenger hunt, part exercise and part debauchery.”
Step Four: ON-OUT!
After the 15 (or so) minute lead start, the pack takes off to follow the pre-marked trail, with the intention of trying to “catch” the hares before the end of the run.
When a Hasher finds a mark, they yell “On-one” indicating the first hash mark has been found , and the pack keeps searching. “On-two”: comes next when the second mark is found. And finally, after three hash marks in a row, “On-on”: signals that you are, in theory, on the correct path.
However, the trail is not straight forward. There are false marks, dead ends, and tons of other “checkpoints” that involve things like singing, notifying beer and other adult beverages are hidden nearby (the infamous “Beer Near” check), and various other possibilities depending on the particular “kennel” and what sort of shenanigans they’ve come up with. Hares will purposefully drag you through the most ridiculous, anything but direct, routes, both for fun and to slow you down.
The purpose of these checkpoints is to slow the pack down, and hopefully prevent them from catching up with the hares.
And out there on the trail, you will see kilts, learn hasher names (typically earned and/or given after a certain number of trails, or some particularly worthy incident), hear whistles,laugh at the sayings on shiggy socks, and see/hear/learn so many things I could tell you, but I’m certain you simply wouldn’t believe until you see it with your own eyes. And I’ve probably already told you too much anyway…
Step Five: Closing Circle
The hash running trail culminates with closing circle, eerily similar to opening circle. But this time, the RA or GM will lead the group in making accusations of infractions made on trail, airing of grievances of how well the hares laid the trail…and of course, more singing and some more drinking in the form of “down-down’s (your “penalty” for aforementioned infractions)
Step Six: On After
Last but not least comes the “On After”, which varies from kennel to kennel. But, much like a traditional group run may finish off their run with some drinks and food at a pub, the Hash House Harriers will too. After closing circle, the group may head to a local pub, or maybe even someone’s house, for what is known as the “on after”, a chance to refuel and rehydrate (or, continue hydrating or imbibing, as it may be.)
Does Hash Running Mean I Have to Actually Run?
Not a runner? Not a problem!
A typically Hash House Harrier kennel consists of hashers of all ages and fitness levels, with both runners and those who prefer to walk every single step. In fact, part of the purpose of the aforementioned “false checks” and other check points is to help keep the pack together, allowing time for the walkers to catch up with the runners.
Further, I have attended trails where the kennel exclusively walks. Of course, you’re always welcome to run…but you’ll be waiting around at the song check for quite some time if you’re the only runner out there.
Point being: the hash is not the place to be worried about your pace. Everyone is welcome.
But I Don’t Drink Alcohol, Can I Still Be A Hasher?
Absolutely. As I write this post, I myself am 155 days sober. My hashing friends have been some of my biggest supporters on this journey.
I have run with Hash House Harriers kennels up and down the East Coast, and never once have I felt pressured to consume alcohol. Hashers are friendly, patient, and some of the most wildly understanding people I have met on earth (also some of the wildest people I have met on earth, but I digress).
If you do not want to drink alcohol, you do not have to drink alcohol.
But, the disclaimer here is that hashing and drinking are intertwined. So while you don’t have to drink, definitely be open and understanding to the idea that others will be consuming alcohol.
What’s a Red Dress Run?
The Red Dress Run began in San Diego in 1987. A non hasher (referred to as a “virgin”) was visiting a friend who happened to be part of the local Hash House Harriers. She unexpectedly found herself at a hash with her friend…except she wasn’t exactly dressed for the part. Instead of wearing running clothes ready for mud, shiggy (brush/bushes/tall grass/etc.) she was wearing a red dress and heels.
As the story goes, after getting some good natured flack from the hashers for her attire, the “Lady in Red” as she would come to be known hit the trail wearing her red dress and heels.
The following year (1988), to commemorate the event, the San Diego Hash House Harriers sent “The Lady In Red” an airline ticket to attend the inaugural Red Dress Run. Hundreds of male and female hashers adorned themselves in red dresses for a spectacle widely covered by California newspapers and TV news. The Lady In Red suggested that Hash House Harriers hold the Red Dress Run annually as an occasion to be used to raise funds for local charities.
Now, Red Dress Runs happen among kennels across the globe. Sometimes as simply a fun event, other times tied to a non profit organization, as a way to raise charitable funds (see? Hashers aren’t all beer and debauchery, they can be philanthropists too!).
How Do I Find a Hash House Harriers Kennel Near Me?
Want to give hashing a try, but not sure where to start?
As I mentioned earlier, as an “underground phenomenon”, hasher’s aren’t necessarily advertising their kennels on billboards. You’ll have to do a little bit of digging to find a kennel near you. My suggestions are as follows:
- Ask Around. Start within your local running club, or perhaps at some of the more seedier local pubs (you’re not likely to find a kennel stopping at the local Applebee’s for their on-after.)
- Check the internet. Again, this isn’t going to be as straight forward as you might hope. Individual kennels are responsible for their own web presence (or lack thereof). Gotothehash.net, Half-Mind.com and HashHouseHarriers.com are a great place to start.
- Can’t Find Anything Local? Ask Another Kennel. Hashers are known for hashing while traveling. Therefore, if you can’t find a kennel near you, ask hashers from another kennel if they have suggestions. Chances are someone has traveled to the area you are looking for, and may have suggestions.
10 Things to Know Before Running With The Hash House Harriers
There are over 2,000 kennels world wide, and chances are, there is one near you. Want to give hashing a try? I think you should. But here’s a few things to keep in mind before you go:
- Go with an open mind. (The easily offended should probably stay at home)
- Don’t wear new shoes (don’t ask why. Just don’t do it.)
- Bring along your sense of humor. Laughter is good for you!
- Respect other hashers privacy/anonymity: I have run trails with stay at home moms, and I have run trails with international diplomats. I have hashed with members of the local school board, and Lieutenant colonels. One of the greatest parts of hashing is the ability to remain somewhat anonymous from the “real world” while you are hashing. Be respect of other hasher’s privacy. Don’t take pictures (“hash flash”) without permission. And remember: what happens in the hash, stays in the hash.
- Be smart. We all love to let our hair down and have fun, but don’t forget you are a grownup and not an obnoxious fraternity pledge. (And if you aren’t an adult over the legal age of 21, please find something else to do.) Have a designated driver if you choose to drink, be respectful of those around you (including trails and other surroundings), and by all means, don’t do anything
I wouldn’t doyou wouldn’t want to possibly show up on Facebook.
- Remember that you don’t have to do ANYTHING you don’t want to do. That most definitely includes drinking alcohol. It’s not required.
- CONSENT MATTERS. This means that no one else has to do anything they don’t want to do either. And that despite the relaxed nature of most kennels and trails, you should always respect other hashers. Keep your hands to yourself, unless you have explicit consent.
- Don’t point at anything with your fingers. Seriously, we don’t know where that thing has been.
- You can’t’ actually “win” the hash trail. Trust me, I’ve tried.
- BE YOURSELF & HAVE FUN. You will meet people from all walks of life, from elite athletes, police officers, professors, housewives, to grandmothers, and everyone in between. Hashers are some of the most friendly, welcoming, hysterical (and sometimes drunk) group of runners you will ever meet.
So there you have it. Hashing in a
nutshell blog post. So many of us take our training and running incredibly seriously. But sometimes? It’s fun to just let loose and have fun. And the Hash House Harriers certainly know how to do just that. ON ON, my friends!
Have you ever heard of the Hash House Harriers? Ever run a trail?
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.