A Quite Unusual New Running Experience
For many years I have noticed runners with ‘Hash House Harriers’ on their running vests prefixed with nationwide locations to their name. Bizarrely, despite having an occasional momentary wonder about the meaning of the name, I had never yet discovered it…….until……
The hashing ‘hounds’ hareing off “On On” the trail…
A spontaneous visit to Tamar Valley’s weekly ParkRun which was having a takeover week by the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers resulted in, not only my premier ParkRun experience, but also an invite to join the ‘hashers’ for their next weekly ‘hash’ ….I had it on good authority that the ‘hares’ this week were particularly excellent – a bit worrying as I mostly follow a vegetarian diet!
Be sure to give the ‘Chalk Talk” your full attention!
To clarify my confusion a little the enthusiastic Harrier recruiters explained some background. The Hash House Harriers (which from here on I will refer to as HHH or H3 in an effort to avoid repetitive strain injury from all the additional typing) is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs, with a strong emphasis on the social. So social in fact it is jokingly said that they are a drinking club with a running problem! ( I say ‘jokingly’ 🤔?!) An event organized by a club is known as a hash, hash run or simply, hashing, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds. The important thing to understand is that these are merely titles and there are no actual animals or indeed ‘hash’ involved!
A Dark Disappearance into the Depths of Dartmoor
It was all originally formed in Malaysia in 1938 when groups of British Military Officers and ex-pats began meeting on Mondays to run in the style of a British ‘paper chase’ in an effort to run off the indulgent excesses of the weekend. After fading away during World War II it restarted during the late 1940’s and in the 1970’s did the equivalent of modern day ‘going viral’ and gaining huge popularity.
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.
Perhaps NOT the best healthy lifestyle advice, though the objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950 were :
There are now over 2000 3H groups globally so a member can get their fix wherever life takes them.
The Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers ready for the off!
So… how do you hash?
The best thing is you don’t have to have a clue what goes on the first time you show up, just follow the madness and soon you will be picking up the meaning of the flour symbols scattered around what seems to be a ridiculously erratic course, understanding the loud cries of ” On On”, probably getting poked in the eye by an errant tree branch and before you know it, sitting in the pub looking dazed and confused and wondering what on earth just happened! A fundamental point of the hash is to be fun and to never be taken seriously. There are zero cares for PB’s or Split times on this run. But they are certainly getting something right as some of the Tamar Valley H3 members I spoke to had been hashing for over 30 years.
Always expect to get your feet wet….and possibly your hair!
A word of jovial warning – levels of ‘wildness’ can vary from group to group with some groups considering themselves “one of the tame ones”. If you are of a more sensitive disposition it might be prudent to find a tamer group for your first experience to avoid potentially being traumatised for life. The course is often no holds barred and forget about sticking to paths – crawling under low overhanging trees through woodland is deemed fair game and watercourses and rivers perhaps just cause for a mere, momentary pause, simply to confirm the route you understand – no one cares about looking for a bridge! I got lucky this first time, returning safely back with ( relatively) dry feet and all my limbs still attached, an outcome that is not entirely guaranteed.
Getting a bit side-tracked on the annual ‘red run’ – and this is BEFORE the pub!
A couple of people whom, it may be insinuated, have slightly sadistic tendencies will volunteer as the ‘hares’ – their job being to lay the trail for the group to decifer and follow. Symbols with various meaning are made on the ground with flour, sawdust or chalk. Then the whole group dart off chasing this trail of floury ‘breadcrumbs’ shouting fairly indeciferable instructions in code back to the rest of the group. . If i had remembered amid all the excitement to start my Strava recording I have no doubt the route would have looked something like this….
As clear as a ball of string!
However, within this madness true genius lies for the creation of the course enables everyone to participate, from super fast cross country sprinters all pepped up on sugar to ambling walkers stopping off for a nice cup of tea along the way. The course plays out so that the speedy spurters get sent off around a big old loop to meet back with the steady shufflers who were on a more direct trajectory. False trails are laid to further fox the eager beavers and give tentative trotters a chance to catch up thus ensuring the whole group stay relatively close together for the duration. Furthermore, though there is some very basic and extremely minimal guidance to hash etiquette normal race rules do not apply and shortcutting , far from being punished, is highly encouraged, though may receive some additional ribbing in the pub if it becomes a common and, more annoyingly, successfully tactical habit. To give you an idea, an example from the Tamar Valley H3 ‘rulebook’ reads as :-
Always try to keep at least one hasher between you and anything which looks at all fierce such as bulls, pit-bull terriers, landed gentry, geese and pigs.
In the interests of safety a ‘scribe’ is elected to act as mother hen, noting all hashers and checking them all safely back in at the end of the hash . H3’s NEVER leave a hasher behind! However, if you do intend to join the group at the pub afterwards you are then on your own so be sure to plan ahead.
Hash House Harriers : Never to be taken seriously!
There is also some unique hash code lingo to get to grips with. As a “Virgin” or “Just John” who doesn’t know their “shiggy” from their “dead trails” listen up to the “chalk talk” before the off, so you can correctly negotiate a “check”, avoid a “check back”, respond appropriately to an “RU” and most importantly keep “On On” to “On home” so you may go “on down” to the “circle” where there may be a “down down” afterwards. Easy for me to say,
Nothing better than a bit of a sing song and a beer after your daily run!
Remember, it is all a bit tongue in cheek and regulars are known by cheeky ‘hash names’ which can be a bit risque to say the least – likely harking back to hashings’ beginnings in a more politically incorrect time. Hashing newbies cannot name themselves but will earn an appropriate name by some head nodding achievement or wild stupidity demonstrated along the trail. Indeed, new hashers should beware of trying to influence their own hash name for risk of being re- christened with a more offensive or inappropriate name. In contrast, any rebels trying to gain a shocking monica will more likely be awarded a softie hash name such as “Twinkle”.
A tea ‘naming’ ceremony?
The highly prestigious Toilet Seat Award for some well sustained hash longevity
Personally, the elements that I enjoyed most about the hash ( aside from “on down” at the pub after ) was being able to run around after dark with no concerns about navigating or worrying where I was, just following the group ; the stop/start nature of the run and the fact that there was so much to focus on that there was none of the ‘this is hard work’ feeling which often accompanies a more convential run ; and that it was just pure, childlike, adventurous, fun!
Hashing chapters also don’t confine themselves to just two feet. Following roughly the same principles you can join a group Hashing by Bike or even Snorkel Hashing – I would be VERY wary of this latter malarkey!
It was lovely to see Charlotte , aka “Footloose” receive her tea pot celebrating 100 hash’s
I can absolutely and heartily recommend visiting one of these fun, mad, highly social events. Look up your local H3 chapter, leave any inhibitions at home and go along and have a fantastic “virgin hash”. If you have been a little alarmed by what you have read here don’t loose hope as there do exist many levels of H3 and very ‘family friendly’ groups are out there if you would rather avoid too much innuendo strewn banter. Checking out a charters website and having a read of one of their hash mags will give you a full ‘heads up’ of where they sit on the scale of Carry On style cheekiness.
See you at the ‘On Down’ 👍🍻
Huge thanks to the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers for making me so welcome and introducing me to this zany pastime as well as their very kind donation to the Running the Summits fundraising for Mountain Rescue England and Wales, the Mountain Rescue Search Dogs and Fix the Fells.
⊙Photos (mostly) courtesy of Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers. Small disclaimer : apologies for any slightly risque double entendre phrasing in this blog – I can only put it down to the bad influence I have been under. (Ooo’err)