mundane adventures in running
Blah. Do I need to explain what hashing is? I think of my friends as a pretty clued in, culturally aware bunch, and I was surprised at how few of them had a clue what hashing, why hashing, how hashing. So for the uninitiated, hashing started amongst a group of British ex pats working in Kuala Lumpur. It’s running meets drinking, drinking meets running. A hare sets a trail with chalk or flour (originally with pages from the Malay Mail) with false trails, dead ends and whatnot. The hashers follow the trail. Front runners fruitlessly explore false trails, double backing on themselves, giving slower runners a chance to catch up. Hares set short cuts for the slowest. People run as a group (ish), don’t compete against each other, and finish the race at roughly the same time. A fast runner will have run further than a slow one, but they’ll have completed the same event. Post run, hashers drink. In some hashes, hashers drink during the run. In others, hashers drink before the run. The drinking is a part of it. It’s a weird students rugby club type drinking with filthy songs, sexually themed nicknames. Bants and bonhomie.
The most common ‘joke’ touted around the community (and one which people writing about hashing seem to pounce on as though it were an original bon mot) is some variation on “Hashing is less a running club with a drinking problem, more of a drinking club with a running problem.”
There’s no international committee of hashing, there are no set rules, but despite the lack of formality, there’s an agreement on what constitutes a hash, how you should behave, what you do. It’s democratic and non hierarchical. It only happens because people choose to do it. No one is trying to make money or get famous by hashing. It defies officialdom and so is immune to the excesses, scandals and dull regimentation of other strands of athletics. There are no Sep Blatters in hashing.
Last night I went on my first hash. I love running, I love booze, I hate banter. Two out of three’s not bad.
I turned up early at a pub in North London. I changed into running gear in the loo, carefully keeping my Ronhills clear of the piss covered floor. There was a scattering of people there. I introduced myself to the crowd and was pounced on by “hascash” (hashcash = the treasurer: hashing costs, this one is £2 a pop to cover beer and fireworks).
“Ah! Virgin! Virgins run free!”
There was some interest in my presence… less that I was there, it seems like they get newbies a lot, more that I had come of my own volition, and hadn’t been dragged along by a friend. As people started to arrive, I was looked after by Sir Humpalot. Sir Humpalot had a cold and wasn’t running, just walking and drinking. He kindly looked after me and made me feel welcome: chatting to me, giving me tips on how to hash and introducing me to the other runners.
By about half seven the pub was packed with a bunch of people in running gear. Less lycra and more cotton t-shirts and hoodies, baggy shorts, long rugby socks. The crowd didn’t look like other running clubs I’ve seen. Lots of the runners were wearing shirts commemorating past hashes, or other hash groups, or just calling out obscene nicknames. Me So Horny. The crowd was surprisingly young, most of them in the 20s and 30s. More surprising was the gender split. I’d expected mostly men, and yes, it was mostly men, but not overwhelmingly so (perhaps 60%?)
Some bellowed instructions and we headed outside. I was ready for a Circle before we started in earnest. Newbies were introduced to the group. A “front running bastard” was made to do a down down (down a beer) and to don a tutu and what looked like a pubescent girl’s trainer bra. Yup, that kind of humour. It wasn’t going well for me. There’s a slight undercurrent of misogyny which makes me bristle, and that humour which passes as roasting and taking people down a peg, but that can feel very close to bullying (especially to someone who has suffered the experience of an all boys private school).. my lips went tighter as I forced a smile.
But the run. Oh my, it was sublime. Wonderful, anarchic, and crazy. Social in the best way possible. I loved the run.
We set out and started up Holloway Road. It was easy to follow the other runners. Shouts of “on-on” erupted every time a front runner found a chalk arrow. We were running in a pack, fast and together, not trying to beat one another, just running together. There’s an excitement in not knowing where you’re going. I focused on the other runners, not the chalk, not the road. As we turned off the main road and into the twisty side roads I lost my bearings. I had no idea where we were headed. There is a joy in delegating to the pack, to being collectively responsible not individually; you can feel other people looking after you and looking out for you. Despite the ribaldry and joshing, these people like each other and care for each other.
We reached our first empty circle. The front runners spread out without discussion to look for the next marker. When they find the right way, they shout out to the pack to follow, and the run continues.
The trail took us through estates, dark parks, leafy streets. I had no idea where we were, just that I was running with these people, through the city, to the surprise of people passing. running through Finsbury Park bus station, clouds of ganja smoke on Tollington Park, dodging onto the roads to avoid busy pavements, across three lanes of traffic with a gang of other runners. It felt like dissent, like a deliberate, contrary act of disruption: the construction of a situation.
We chatted and were silent. We found communion in the run. We ran fast too, faster than I expected, satisfyingly fast.
Eventually the pack arrived at a beer stop on Highbury Fields. Rehydrate on Fosters. I chatted to the others. People seemed so happy and relaxed: delighted at having run, delighted at stopping. No victory or defeat, just the satisfaction of doing it.
The beer stop got cold quick, I was wearing a t shirt and hadn’t thought to bring a jacket. We were warmed by the spectacle of health and safety free fireworks and a rocket hurtling slowly into the crowd (no one injured). It was something of a relief to saunter back to the pub.
The end of the run is marked by the circle. The Religious Affairs person (I think, I got a bit lost in the terminology) has to try and find material for a witty skit about the run. She did well. People laughed, but to be honest by that time I think people actively wanted to laugh together, just because they were so into the vibe of sharing an experience.
The virgins were forced to do down downs. I’ve downed a pint before, but never as part of a drinking game, only from a desire to quickly leave a pub without wasting booze. This was my first time under pressure, downing beer as a ritual. I felt like I’d let a standard slip. After down downs, there were songs, and pillorying of Australians. There was back slapping, joking and banter.
My verdict: the run was amazing, the social was peculiar, not the sort of thing I’d usually do, but surprisingly fun. The people doing it were far less rugby club-ish than I had expected, and just friendly, normal people. I want to go again.
Then, with a bladder full of beer, befuddled and exhausted, I ventured out into the night. But I will be back.