I love racing. I obviously like to run, but I love to race. Every year the weekends in my planner are booked up with races, whether they are tradition, are USATF team championships, offer great schwag (more on that later), benefit a great cause, or are random races my club is doing. I love the competition and the push to work harder than I would during any regular run. I also love representing my club and the incredible team of hardworking women I race with.
But once in a while I ditch the structure, the competition, my uniform… and my pride… and I hash.
Hashes are organized, non-competitive runs where a course is marked using baking flour or chalk. The baking flour or chalk markers are designed to keep the hashers together, so no runner has an advantage over another (and no one gets hideously lost). Courses are set by a member of a hash club, the “hare,” and are typically off-road, off-trail, and totally off-kilter runs. Hash clubs, or Hash Houses, exist all over the world and their members do these runs on a weekly or monthly basis. Most hashers, also known as harriers, would describe their club as “a drinking club with a running problem,” and the focus is purely on the social aspect.
During a hash, pats of flour on the ground or on trees confirm that you’re on the right trail. When the group passes these all are required to yell, “On on,” indicating to others that they’ve seen the marker. Vocal cues are especially important in hashing, and are sometimes backed up by horns or whistles, carried by seasoned hashers.
A circle of flour indicates that the trail has ended and hashers must search for the new trail. Those who see a circle should say, “Checking,” as they run approximately 100 feet in every direction searching for a pat of flour marking the new trail. On on!
Hashers may also encounter a flour “F,” which unfortunately means you followed a false trail from the last checkpoint. The group must retrace their steps back to the checkpoint and search for the right trail. Those who were in the front of the pack are now in the back!
Thirsty hashers will find aid shortly after passing the letters “BN,” which stands for “beer near.” Depending on the length of the hash there could be multiple beer (and/or liquor) stops, and all runners are encouraged to have a drink and relax before setting off again. These stops are a large part of what makes hash runs so… colorful.
I have had the pleasure of taking part in a large hash held every January, as well as several unpublicized hashes. I have waded through chest-deep water in Wall Township, run through a Superfund site in Edison, crested several landfills in Middlesex County, dodged machinery on an active construction site in Piscataway, run on the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike, and, most recently, fallen into sewage (yep). I have scars from thorns, ice, fences, and barbed wire, and I keep one hat and a pair of old shoes solely dedicated to hashes (don’t worry, I retired the sewage-shoes before I even got to my car).
I don’t prefer to do these aimless and potentially dangerous runs too often, but I really enjoy the spontaneity and creativity a couple times a year. If you’re looking for a break from the pressures of racing or just want to try something off the beaten path (literally), find a hash group in your area and join the harriers for a run. Just be sure to wear your crummiest shoes and keep an open mind.