Marathon Maniacs – Washington Post

Marathon Maniacs
Hashers Go for the Gold. And the Blue Ribbon. And the Guinness And the Sour Apple Martini Shots.

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 24, 2002; Page F01

The lawyer can’t get his pants off.

He pulls down his sweat pants, then his underpants, to the shouting and booing of 80 frenzied runners grasping plastic cups of Guinness in a leaf-spattered back yard in Arlington. They have been drinking and running and drinking, and now — at the ceremonial end of their beloved sport known as hashing — they’re getting quite a show.

In the midst of the circle on this Thursday evening, the 57-year-old lawyer for the Department of Transportation sits on the leaves to work the sweat pants over his sneakers. The crowd groans. The man struggles. The crowd drinks. The man triumphs, standing up (groan) and pulling on a pair of honorary shorts stamped with a hashing logo. He seems not at all embarrassed. But when you’ve been hashing for 10 years, when you’ve hashed in Kuala Lumpur, Tasmania, Goa, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Beijing and Madrid, as he has, you pretty much master the art of disinhibition.

“What goes at the hash stays at the hash,” says the man, and thank goodness for that.

Hashing is freedom, baby.

Hashing: worldwide phenomenon, 64 years old. It is a running and drinking sport that feels like a traveling frat party. Hashers run through woods, along bike paths, along city streets and through tunnels, stopping en route for alcohol, ever more alcohol. Some call hashing a cult, though it’s way too disorganized for that. Some say it has the same atmosphere as college rugby, with all the beer and none of the rugby.

There are at least 10 hashing groups in the D.C. area, and each runs a different route each time and follows slightly different customs. Here’s how one of the larger chapters, the White House Hash House Harriers, did it on a recent Sunday.

They drank beer, then they ran through the streets of Ballston, following a trail laid out in flour by folks known as “hares.” They stopped at a park — panting — and had sour apple martini shots. Then they ran some more and had more shots. Then they ran some more and stopped for beer. When they’d run a total of four miles to the end of the hash — temporarily set up in an empty parking lot — they had more beer and sang songs and made fun of each other for an hour. Then they went off to a bar.

Hashing is based on Hares and Hounds, a British schoolboy game going back at least to the 19th century. The first hash was held by British expatriates living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938 and then was spread around the world by the expat and military communities, according to Paul “Flying Booger” Woodford, of Tucson, who maintains a hashing Web site,

The hash works like this: The hares lay a trail marked with symbols in flour, chalk or paper, which the rest of the pack later follows. False markings make the run more interesting. The point is to keep the pack in a state of collective confusion. “Racing” is considered a dirty word, and anyone who seems to be trying to finish the hash first may be guilty of a violation (more on this later).

But hashing is more than an activity; it is a culture. There are about 1,400 hashing groups worldwide, according to hard-core hashers who keep track of such things. Last month, 937 people from around the country descended on Washington for its annual Red Dress Run. Hashers consider themselves part of an international family. When they travel, they explore new cities via hashing. They stay with hashers they’ve never met before. There are ordained ministers, like Woodford, who perform hash weddings. (In one he performed, the bride and groom were the hares and everyone ran in white gowns.) One married couple in the White House hashers has 1,000 hashes between them. Some hashers live together as roommates, like the four who live in the so-called Pleasure Palace, a house in Arlington.

But cut to the chase: How does one drink and run? As a “virgin” hasher, you may get to a beer check partway through a run and find yourself nauseated at the very thought of swallowing suds. (The groups provide water and soda as alternatives.) Even some veteran hashers drink only, say, half a beer during their run, and wait till after to drink more. And there are those who hash for the camaraderie and don’t drink at all. But for those who wish to test their drinking-and-running stamina, the trick seems to be practice.

During the last Marine Corps Marathon, one hasher, a Marine officer who wants anonymity made use of his extensive hashing training. Before the race, he says, he had five beers, a glass of merlot and a cigarette. During the run, he had a bloody mary, then — along with other hashers — another beer at the 22nd mile.

He finished within 3 hours 10 minutes, good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Hashing is a way to try out an alternative persona: more fun-loving, more bold, more debauched. Because they run in packs, hashers tend toward a collective lawlessness. When they stampede across streets in packs of 50 or 100, they do it at the red, the green and the in-between. They storm through shopping malls. Sometimes they flash body parts at each other. This is made easier by their relative anonymity — hashers would rather sing dirty songs than discuss what they do for a living. For a few hours, they forget that they are consultants, military officers, a lobbyist, a former officer with the CIA. (There is also an editor, an out-of-work hotel manager, a marathon trainer.)

Hashers are also afforded freedom by the fact that they go by nicknames, which tend to be derogatory and loaded with sexual innuendo. Here are some of the tamer ones: Pimp of Sarajevo, Summer’s Eve, Big Bird Turd, Dumb&Dumber. It’s entirely possible to hash with someone for years and not know the person’s last name. It’s also possible to forget just how foul someone’s nickname is. It’s the darnedest thing, says one hasher, when you’re walking down a street in Alexandria, see a hashing buddy and start to call out his expletive-loaded nickname. Alas, the rules of life are stricter than the rules of hashing.

Speaking of rules . . .

“Hey, how ya doin’, Swings-Both-Ways?” says a hasher named Twig, greeting a buddy during a running break where people are downing shots. Twig, who in real life goes by Wendy Lageman, a program analyst, is a scribe for the White House hashers, and she runs with a notepad and headset. It’s her job to record the violations of other hashers and then read them during the evening’s closing circle ceremony, at which time the violators have to drink beer or soda. Hashers say they don’t believe in rules, but they do have some — they’re simply arbitrary and subject to change. You might be cited for wearing new running shoes or doing something stupid, like forgetting your dog at a beer stop. (A handful of hashers run with their dogs.)

Hash hazing is equal-opportunity, because the group itself is “all about inclusion,” Lageman says. “We don’t care if you’re fat or thin or bucktoothed or have a lisp.”

They do care, however, if a participant takes things too seriously.

“Prissy doesn’t work,” says John Hayward, 39, the outgoing Grand Master of Every Day Is Wednesday Hash House Harriers, which runs Thursday evenings. “People are just very crass. What I like about it is that everybody is pretty honest. There’s no PC. If you want to hit on somebody, you just go over and do it.”

Indeed, you do. Every Day Is Wednesday is considered the youngest hash in D.C., with many members in their twenties, and a good deal of flirting and dating takes place there. Annette Dumont, 27, says this is made easier by the absence of her non-hashing friends.

“It’s kind of like my moral sidekicks aren’t here to say, ‘Nettie, what are you doing?’ ”

Perhaps Hayward — who goes by the nickname HolyTit! for his one pierced nipple — explains the hasher’s free-spiritedness best by alluding to a split personality. “John was not jumping in the fountain on the waterfront,” he says. “John wasn’t jumping in people’s swimming pools. HolyTit! does that stuff.”

Hayward teaches people how to create Web sites and also works as a personal trainer. In his spare time, he’s an ultra-marathoner. He has hashed during themed runs dressed as a cheerleader, as Little Red Riding Hood, as a geisha and in a “very nice Victoria’s Secret French maid outfit.”

He is very glad that his girlfriend is also a hasher, because she understands him. Recently, she was sorting through their clothes and found a single leg hose.

“She’s like, ‘Whose is this?’ I’m like, ‘It’s mine.’ ”

Hurrah for hashing! It means irreverence, abandon, the killing of convention. After a Thursday night run, a horde of hashers descends on Dr. Dremo’s Taphouse in Arlington, conspicuous in their jogging pants and sneakers. Over in a corner sits Sandi Tartisel, a 33-year-old legal secretary, her blond hair still wet from her beer baptism. She was nicknamed this evening, an honor that is bestowed only after many hashes. She explains that kneeling on a mat in front of a large group of people and being given a lewd name and doused with a full pitcher of beer would have once flustered her. But no more. She has broken through to another dimension. Because no matter what you do in hashing, “somebody else has already done something much more embarrassing.”

Consider what she is capable of these days. Before hashing, Tartisel had never “peed outside.” Now, “I’ll do it without even thinking about it,” she says, beaming. “Long as I have a bit of coverage between two cars.”

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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