The Minneapolis Hash House Harriers aren't the type of runners with Olympic aspirations. In fact, mediocrity is encouraged among the colorful crew that bills itself as a "drinking club with a running problem."
More than a track background, all one really needs to get in on the sprinting or ambling antics is the right sense of humor (a taste for beer doesn't hurt). I joined the club on a recent run to better understand the oddball sport.
"I was skeptical at first," said veteran hasher Eric Starkey, aka Touch My Monkey. "I was all, 'Who are these weirdos?'"
Turns out the weirdos in question are a fun-loving bunch who adopt aliases -- often sexual in nature -- to protect their "civilian identities" and get together roughly once a week for a noncompetitive game that combines running, orienteering and beer stops (nonalcoholic beverages are also provided).
"I've run with some people for 10 years and I still don't know their real name or what they do," said Norm Plumb (aka Slippery Dick), MH3's grand master.
The sport of hashing dates back to 1938, when British military officers in Malaysia coined the derivative of the English children's game hare and hound. There are now more than 1,000 Hash House Harrier chapters worldwide. Runners follow a chalk- and flour-marked trail set by the "hare," laden with "falses" (dead ends) and "checks" where the trail could splinter off. The game itself is relatively intuitive, but for a "virgin" hasher deciphering the insider jargon, calls and rituals can be tricky.
Initially, being told to call adult women I've never met "Foreskin" and "Ginger Snatch" felt a bit awkward, but as people began affixing fake mustaches to their faces (or groins) and I was instructed to don a black-and-white prisoner's outfit, inhibitions drop.
"All the R-rated stuff is meant to be politically incorrect," explained Mr. Ed (named for his supposedly horse-sized manpiece), or Tom Griffin in real life, as we followed the 4-mile trail through parks, streets, parking ramps and Alary's Bar around downtown St. Paul.
Quizzical bystanders watched as 15 men and women in their 30s through late 60s scattered through intersections, at one point irking a crossing guard as we nearly interrupted a bike race, searching for the next trail mark.
"This is a great opportunity for me to get out and meet a diverse cast of people," said Magically Delicious, a grad student who declined to give her real name, as we jogged along Kellogg Boulevard.
The liveliest part of the day came after the dipsomaniacal dash during the "circle," a closing ritual filled with lewd punch lines, debaucherous songs (one involving the licking and flicking of nipples) and the awarding of "down-downs" (penalty/honorary sips) for trail infractions and accomplishments. (Slippery Dick and I drank for hopping a cab to avoid a steep hill, i.e. a "Chevy Shortcut.")
As a virgin hasher and guest co-hare I was subjected to a little extra good-natured ribbing, at one point being required to tell a joke or show a body part. With a limited arsenal of appropriately inappropriate jokes, I got by hoisting my shirt for a nipple tweak. Later, a motion to dub me "Pencil Dick," due to my incessant note-taking, was thankfully defeated.
At the root of all the dick jokes and sing-alongs is a group that has found a way to make exercising fun and bring people together. Whether you appreciate the harmlessly prurient humor, it's not as if they're hurting anyone.
"We're not spray painting or molesting children," Slippery said at the "on-after" (post-trail gathering) at Costello's Bar & Grill. "Well, I molest Magically Delicious, but that's different!"
MINNESOTA HASH HOUSE HARRIERS
- What: MH3 weekly run
- When: 3 p.m. Sun 6/10
- Where: Arlington Athletic Field, 1200 Arkwright Av., St. Paul
- Cost: $5