As the dirt around them steadily turned to mud, a small group of generally unconnected people convened outside of a Cobb’s Hill Park bathroom. All of themmale and female alike came clothed in green dresses. And when the group leader brought out a case of beer from his car, all of them partook.
That is how life goes for the Flour City Hash House Harriers, a motley group of runners who convene each weekend to participate in hashing, a mixture of distance running and social inebriation. The runners are of all ages and many locales, and include a number of UR participants, including undergraduates, graduates and alumni. This weekend was the Green Dress Run, which explains the choice of attire, as well as the stunned looks on the faces of passers-by.
The general premise of a hash is based on hare hunting. Just as hunters send out dogs to track rabbits, the hashers are sent out to follow trails laid by the week’s designated ‘hare.” Most trails are at least three miles, although six mile treks are not abnormal. Although running is a large element, it is by no means a competition.
‘People will get called out for treating it like a race,” UR senior Ethan Burnham-Fay said.
Burnham-Fay has not been racing long, and therefore is known in the circle as ‘Just Ethan.” After a certain number of races, hashers receive hash names, which are often grounded in sexual innuendos or occasionally in certain memorable experiences that occur on the trail. Most with hash names are reluctant, if not altogether resistant, to divulge their real names.
Despite the loose, coarse manner of the hashers, there is a certain decorum to which they strictly adhere: Use hash names. Wear a green dress if you’re going to participate in the Green Dress Run. Don’t say the word ‘race.”
As the hashers gathered in Cobb’s Hill Park, the rain started to pick up and the beer supply started to run low (luckily for them, there were also Jell-O shots). In attendance were the two hares, ‘Robinswood” and ‘Male Slot,” who have already finished planting the trail using green flour as markers. They stood near ‘Mount Me in the Mud,” a middle school teacher from Buffalo.
Hashing is arguably nothing short of a global subculture, complete with its own lingo. Entry fees are ‘hash cash,” first-time runners are ‘virgins” (which also means they don’t have to pay) and time is neither military nor standard races can start at 1:69 p.m. Races are convoked with the phrase ‘On, On!”
What began as a British military hobby in Malaysia in 1938 has spread worldwide; the first American hashers began in Boston, Mass. The Flour City chapter in Rochester has drawn hundreds of participants, and currently has just north of 300 established members. A substantial number of them venture to the city from the greater regional area, including Buffalo and Ontario. Most are runners by nature although walking is both permitted and welcomed but most come for the atmosphere.
‘You never know where you’re going, you never know what you’re going to do, you never know how far or what’s entailed,” Robinswood said. ‘You get to see old friends you haven’t seen in a long time.”
Robinswood, a bit of a curmudgeon yet fierce devotee of hashing, recently received an award for participating in 50 Buffalo-area hashes. He has run over 300 hashes in Rochester and laid over 50 trails.
Hashing does not seem to be for the faint of heart, wide-eyed innocents, unduly competitors or under-aged kids (although it’s not entirely apparent that drinking laws are a primary concern, given the prevalence of open container violations).
Burnham-Fay, for one, was drawn in by his friends, and enjoys the weekly adventures.
‘Other people I knew did it and had a blast, so I came out. And it’s a great community feel,” he said. ‘Another side effect is, you get to do stuff like run around in green dresses, and swim across the [Erie] Canal and run through bamboo swamps in Fairport if you even knew there were bamboo swamps in Fairport.”
As the hashers started the Green Dress Run about an hour late, or so, per custom the runners in the group peeled ahead, only to come upon a false trail. By the time they recovered, the walkers had already caught up and surpassed them, which is probably a benefit of navigating the course with one of the hares. They poured into Jeremiah’s Tavern on Monroe Ave., to the surprise of many bar patrons who, while themselves were decked primarily in green, were nevertheless speechless when confronted by 29 strangers in green dresses. This is the first of multiple ‘beer stops,” and at the end of the trail was, unsurprisingly, more beer (a custom which actually does carry over from the first Malaysian hashes).
Though alcohol is a benefit, the main reason for the hash’s success is undeniably the bonds between the hashers.
‘They roped me in because I love to drink beer,” Mud said. ‘[But] they are the nicest people in the entire world.”
A woman named ‘Mouthful of Girlfriend,” getting set to leave Jeremiah’s, concurred.
‘These are the best people you’ll ever meet,” she said. ‘You meet them for a second and they’re already your best friends.”
As the rest of the hashers took off, grabbing pictures along the way and merrily slinging insults, the runs continue to be a fulfilling adventure with best friends who are total strangers.
Brenneman is a Take Five Scholar.