A running group with a drinking problem

  • 2012-03-07
  • By Steven Traylor

OUT FOR A JOG: Hashers sweating it out on the trail.

RIGA - The call to the run rings out loud and clear with the familiar phrase “listen up, Hasher,” coming from the Tallinn Grand Master.
With this, the self-proclaimed ‘Hashers’(runners to common folks) are about to undertake their normal weekend Hash experience. A few snap to attention, most are anxious to start - the new runners look puzzled. This is run #495 for the Tallinn Hash House Harriers.

The Hash, as it is known, is an international social running group that assembles to begin a tradition that dates back before the start of the Second World War. In the Baltics, Hash running groups, as they are known, have existed since independence from the former Soviet Union.

These weekend warriors, in lackadaisical fashion, are pointed in the general direction. “Go that way” yells the GM. Thus the motley-clad eccentric runners are off once again. Markings with flour are the only guide that leads the way. Most have done this before. The GM doesn’t always run. This time he does.
The team of runners have disembarked from the designated starting point, along with fellow Hashers, to partake in what is solemnly called ‘a running group with a drinking problem.’ Yes, you read correctly, a running group with a drinking problem. However, this is all social running – no minatory alcoholism undertaken along the way… this time. That’s done later at the ‘Down – Down,’ following the run.

The pre-set course is established in secret by the designated Hare and/or Harrier - as they are called - in advance of the run, sometimes that day, or even the day before. This is all social running – nothing to do with crossing the finish line 1st with a new personal best. 

The goal in all of this? Getting to the finish line, without getting lost, and having a fun outing along the way. No one cares who finishes 1st. For most true Hashers, this is yeoman’s work.
On the day of the run, the runners meet fellow Hashers and sometimes new runners experiencing their 1st Hash, who may question their sanity for being there. All follow the lead runners to a pre-determined stopping point. Participants run, walk or crawl (if they so choose) at their own speed. Eventually someone yells out “check point.” This point is identified by a specific marking known to Hashers as well, and a rest period follows. 

However, the serious Hashers will take off helter skelter in various directions in search of the trail. Normally two or three false trails are also set, with arrows leading from the check point in different directions. The remaining pack of participants will eventually follow, On On, to the next check point.
Those that follow the wrong trail must eventually run back once it’s identified as false.

If and when the runners on the correct trail find the designated marking as the true trail, lead runners will yell out “On On” to alert the others – meaning this way is correct. Anyone can yell out, no one is in charge on the run.
Over a period of 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how the run is laid out, where it’s being run, local running conditions - this mix of athletic, somewhat lazy, sometimes walking, often visiting Hasher, all end up at the local watering hole, and begin the serious part of Hashing: the Down – Down. 

Here, true social interaction begins – with a pint or two, maybe more! The just completed run’s memorial experience begins the topic of discussion during the Down - Down’s. Good run, bad run, too many checkpoints – not enough checkpoints. Who did what to whom along the way? All are Hash topics of discussions.
On weekends, a Hashing group can be identified simply by their crazy hats, pants, T-shirts, and traveling musical blow horns a Hasher may carry, in virtually every major city of the free, and not so free, world. 
Hashing is generally an urban affair, but based on where in the world Hashing takes place, Hashers can have a good run as well as a scenic social experience.

An entire network of runners - Hashers of all ages use this generally word of mouth 1st time experience to encourage others to join up, have some fun, and meet new people along the way. 
Stick with it, and eventually runners become true Hashers with Hash names. Suggestive Hash names with sexual overtones are the norm in Hashing. ‘Dip Stick, Squeeky and Thunder Thighs’ are a few that come to mind.
Today throughout the world, Hash groups exist in some 185 countries, with 25,000 plus members. Sometimes associated with the local western embassy, an Un-official Hash Bar, or simply a pre-designated weekend gathering spot, Hashers will take to the streets for their urban runs.

The hierarchy of self-appointed leaders follows this mantra of Hashing, and lead local chapters in the organizational style suited for each. This is known as Hash Mismanagement, a Hash phrase that describes the senior manager.
The Down - Down is where all Mismanagement takes place, organized with updates from previous Hashes, what’s next on the Hash agenda, plus gossip known as Hash trash on fellow Hashers, just like school children, ratting and telling on each other - only these are adults. 

Those found in violation of unwritten Hash rules pay the price. This is done by individual Hashers having to down - down a pint of beer, followed by Hash songs. Peer pressure is the norm. The rules of Hashing? There are no rules. Simply show up, run and drink. Generally, the equivalent of $5 is all that is required, plus your running gear to partake in Hashing.

However, there is indeed much that has to be organized when it comes to scheduling and laying out trails, the logistics of getting food and refreshments sometimes ON the runs, and notification and newsletters, and planning of special events
A successful Mismanagement makes these chores seem transparent to the runners, but it is much work and time consuming never-the-less.
The founder or most experienced of the local Hashers will sometimes take on the title of Grand Master (GM). This position is ceremonial – sort of like the monarchy in England. During special events, the GM will open the activities and welcome new runners. Visitors, of course, will have to partake in the Down - Downs, a requirement for running their 1st Hash.

The Hare and/or Harrier – those that set the week’s Hash, take the first abuse. The RA will call the Hares into a circle and chastise them for the quality (or lack) of the run just completed. Of course, they too will have to down a pint of brew, and pay the price for ‘having set the Hash.’ Sarcasm is in full display. Can’t finish the pint in one swoop at the egging on of fellow Hashers? No problem, simply pour it over your head – you are forgiven!
Today, the Hash has somewhat matured since its original inception and a wide variety of groups exist. From family Hashers to adult only groups to pub crawls all are numbered today throughout the world. But in reality, Hashing is Hashing, and adult antics are the name of the game for most Hashes worldwide.

Hashing is not simply limited to running and Down - Downs, but meeting new and different people, developing international friendships, traveling the world to other Hash events, and having a good time along the way. 
This year Hashers will descend on Orlando, FL in late September for the 18th InterHash. A gathering of runners worldwide will assemble for three days of running, fun and frolic that will include runs through Disney World. Local police will be warned of what is taking place.

The Hash House Harriers, as it is known today, was founded in Malaya (now Malaysia) by Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert, an English chartered accountant.  It was sometime during 1937 when Gisper - or simply ‘G’ as he was known to his friends - acquired a taste for the paper chase with the Springgit Harriers in Malacca in Malaya. Shortly after being transferred by his accounting firm to Kuala Lumpur, he gathered together a number of fellow expatriate businessmen to form a harrier group. The first run was held in December 1938.

Gispert took the idea of Hare and Hounds as an adult sport that actually began in 1867 with a group of London oarsmen who wanted to keep fit during the winter. Also called ‘Paper Chasing’ or the ‘Paper Chase’ then, the game became very popular after its introduction on Wimbledon Common in 1868 by the Thames Hare and Hounds. Early clubs called themselves ‘Hare and Hounds,’ or simply ‘Harriers.’

Hashing in Kuala Lumpur was suspended during the Second World War due to occupation by Japanese forces, but then reestablished after peace returned. It wasn’t long before the Hash idea began slowly spreading around the world.
Former members of the original Hash House Harriers started a Hash in Milan, Italy in the late ’40s. But it wasn’t until the early ’60s that the next group was formed in Singapore. By the early ’70s Hash groups existed in some 14 countries.
The group’s name came about primarily because local authorities required legal registration of the club. While the ‘Kuala Lumpur Harriers’ would have appeared a logical choice, ‘G’ decided instead to use the nickname for the Selangor Club, where a number of the local harriers both lived and took their meals. It seems that due to its lackluster food, the dining room was commonly referred to as the ‘Hash House.’

Most chapters gather on a weekly or bi-monthly basis, though some events occur sporadically, such as Feb. 29 - leap year - Friday the 13th and, of course, Full Moon Hashes where the moon ‘provides the light!’ Yes, Hashing can take place at night.

Hashing reached the shores of Estonia following independence, when one Cor “Blimey” Schouten organized the 1st ever Hash run attended by a ragtag group of Finns and hearty Vikings. To their pleasant surprise, they discovered the price of the local brew was “as cheap as water,” so says their current Web site. Thus, Hashing was born in Estonia. 
But it wasn’t until the arrival of Bob “G-String” Filby in the late ’90s that the true Hash spirit put down firm roots. Today, none of the original members of the Hash exist in Tallinn, but “their spirit lives on,” says current GM of the Tallinn Hash, Estonian Tanel Raud, aka ‘Stains The Couch.’

The Tallinn Hash runs on a bi-monthly basis with runs of about 30 Hashers, more in the spring and summer. On Feb. 26, the Tallinn Hash commenced their 526th run, celebrating a continuing Hash experience un-broken since 1999.
“Estonian Hashers love this time of year,” says the GM, although precaution is the name of the game when it comes to sub-zero temperatures.  “We all look out for each other along the run. No one gets left behind in frigid temperatures,” he adds.

On a typical Tallinn Hash run, the run starts “pretty uneventfully” but with a lot of check points, set by Estonian female Hegne (last name with-held), aka ‘Damsel In Distress.’
“Checkpoints are overdone, with a checkpoint at nearly every corner of the block,” says Hasher ‘Tilted Dick,’ who reported on the run.

This, along with other mistakes while setting the trail, can be excused, though, as it was the 1st trail for the new Hare. It so happened that she got assistance from one ‘Hooker Sniffer,’ but it was reported he must have been ‘busy’ in the bushes somewhere while the trail was being set, thus leaving it to the ‘newbie’ to figure it out for herself, how to set a Hash run.

During the run, it was reported that a lady appeared and used gibberish and nonsensical threats on a number of Hashers. They were able to fend off these verbal attacks by using ignoring skills and the ability to simply run away.
In August 2013, Tallinn Hash House Harriers will host EuroHash, a gathering of Hashers from all over the world. “There are already 200 plus registered Hashers for the event and we expect at least 400 participants,” adds Rene Saare, aka ‘Short n Curlies’ of the Tallinn Hash.

The diversity of the Hash is made up by all types, with the Vilnius Hash headed by none other than Barbara Little, aka ‘Squeeky’ as the GM. The British expat last scheduled The Hash on Boxer Day, Dec. 26. “Following the holidays we were all away on travels, and Hashing became somewhat of a secondary past-time when extreme cold temperature settled in,” says the mother of two.

Hashing will resume “around Easter time” when the weather permits for these spring to winter Hashers in Vilnius, concludes Squeeky. “All will return again,” adds this British Vilnius business woman, interviewed during her day job.
An Internet search suggest that the Riga Hash House Harriers have been on ‘hold or in hibernation.’ The last known run was several years ago. No contact was available for this story.

For true believers, Hashing is a state of mind. A friendship of kindred spirits joined together for the sole purpose of reliving their childhood or fraternity days, releasing the tensions of everyday life, and generally acting a fool amongst others who will not judge you or measure you by anything more than your sense of humor, states the world Hash House Harriers home page.