The first rule of hashing is there aren’t really any rules.
Enthusiasts of the alternate-universe running clubs insist there’s no one correct way to hash. There are, however, some constants: crude nicknames, invented terminology, devoted friendships, and a healthy dose of debauchery.
But the basics go something like this:
A lead runner—known as a “hare”—lays out a trail in flour or chalk. Participants then run, jog, and sometimes crawl along this trail until they reach their ultimate destination—typically a local pub, street corner, or private residence—where drinking ensues. One hasher described a trail that required the group to swim across the Potomac. Twice.
No two hashes are alike. Some are punctuated by mid-run pitstops at a “check,” a spot to drink (beer or water), catch your breath, and figure out the trail. Others require unusual dress or themes. All require uninhibited revelry. Male runners are called harriers; female runners, harriettes.
Though it may sound a bit fratlike, hashing is intended to be inclusive. “We don’t care what you do or what car you drive,” says Jim Howard, a member of two DC kennels, or hashing clubs, including the White House Hash House Harriers. “What we care about is that you’re genuine and have a good sense of humor.”
Suitably for an athletic activity that involves drinking, you can take part even if you’re not in top shape. There’s always a walking trail along with the running route, and the hares take great care to plan trails so that the two intersect at end at similar times. Because of this, the walking route is usually shorter than the running route, or the running route is more complicated and keeps the hashers running around in circles longer.
Hashing in DC has been around for decades. Though it has roots in Kuala Lumpur, the American version was pioneered by William “Tumbling Bill” Panton, a hashing legend who founded the DC Hash House Harriers in 1972 and still participates today in his 80s.
There are hashes most days of the year. (Here’s a full schedule.) If you’re interested in trying out hashing, get in touch one of the dozen-plus clubs scattered throughout the city. Make sure to wear sneakers and bring a change of clothes (and shoes), as well as a little cash.
Howard has been hashing since 2001. He first learned about hashing while stationed abroad with the Navy, but he didn’t end up experiencing his first race until he had moved back to the States and was looking for a 5k run while training for the Marine Corps Marathon.
What he got instead was 14 years worth of friendships and rollicking memories. His favorite? A hash through Great Falls during a “driving rain” that ended with a splash in one of his fellow runner’s swimming pools.
One local runner who asked to be identified by her hashing name, Little Spermaid, said one of the most appealing aspects of hashing is the ability to assume a new identity. What you do and where you live doesn’t matter, what matters is who you are.
“Hashing is kind of democratic,” Little Spermaid says. “You could be running next to a guy who just bought a one million dollar apartment in Arlington and you’re a student, and you’ll be side by side sharing a beer. It’s just a great way to go outside your usual social circle.” Like many DC newcomers, she moved to the area and joined a social kickball league to make friends. A teammate introduced her to hashing, and she described her initial hash as magical. “I tried it and immediately fell in love. It was just this moment of ‘where have you people been all my life.’ We’re just strangely dependable, or dependably strange.”