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HEALTH & FITNESS : Hashers Running on Pure Absurdity

March 26, 1992|TOM STACEY

In pursuit of a fit and healthy lifestyle, North County residents have pursued all the usual routes--walking, cycling, running--and quite a few of the unusual routes, too. They climb rocks, chase trails marked with flour and ride their bicycles in circles.

For every variation in taste, schedule and physique, there seems to be a route to fitness out there. Some folks have charted their own way, others have connected with an established program. Whatever your own program or lack thereof, fitness starts--or ends--with a good night's sleep. And whether you exercise occasionally or often you'll feel a whole lot better if you do it without injury.

If you're ready to get up and get going, still just thinking about it, or looking for new ways to put yourself through your paces, we offer these suggestions for getting the lead out:

It's Saturday morning in Oceanside, and the North County Hash House Harriers have been out on their weekly run for less than 10 minutes when a scattering of fat raindrops begins to fall. Intrepid runners, they chortle at the sky, then hoot with delight when the drops begin to harden into little bits of hail.

The runners are following a trail that turns up Sagebrush Drive, a wide residential street on a steep half-mile hill. A few round crystals of ice are bouncing off the blacktop as they start up the grade. But hashers don't surrender to inclement weather.

"On, on!" calls one runner, signaling to the others that he has spotted the white clump of flour that means they are on the trail. The hailstones are getting bigger, and falling faster and harder. A man watching the storm from his garage beckons to the hashers to come and take shelter. Undaunted, they ignore him and charge up the hill.

Any trace of the telltale flour has disappeared in the deluge, and the hashers, soaked and freezing, are being pelted by marble-sized slugs of ice. On both sides of the street, people are leaning out front doors and open garages, waving to them to come in out of the storm. One woman has a camera and is taking pictures of the crazy runners in the hail.

Oblivious, they keep running, to the top of the hill, then back down when they can't find the trail. They end up returning to the start, near Alamosa Elementary School, climbing into cars and driving to the finish, where they compare hail-stone induced welts over a few beers.

It wasn't a typical hash run. But then, there's really no such thing. The only rule to hashing, insist veteran hashers, is that there are no rules. There are a few customary guidelines, however, and these are followed religiously by the North County Hash House Harriers, who stage a 3- to 6-mile run every Saturday at 10 a.m.

Like hash runs in other locales--worldwide, the club boasts more than 100,000 participants, in 1,200 groups, in 130 countries--the North County run is frequently an exercise in chaos. Only a few things are predictable: The run will proceed from a prearranged spot, in this case somewhere in North County; two or three "hares" will be given a 10- or 15-minute head start on the rest of the pack; the hares will drop handfuls of flour every 10 or 20 steps to mark a trail that includes several checkpoints, from which the true trail could proceed in any direction.

Hares often lay false trails from the checkpoints, in addition to the true trail. This has the effect of sowing confusion among the front-runners, who investigate the fake leads and thus slow down enough so that the rest of the pack will catch up. A goal of the hares is to have most of the runners finish together. For serious stragglers, the hares arrange for someone to write in chalk on the ground at the starting area (once the run is under way) where the finish is. This is vital information, because the end of the trail is where the post-run party takes place.

After every hash run, there's a keg of beer, sodas, pretzels, candy and other munchies. The hashers gather 'round to sing bawdy songs, needle each other and guzzle their favorite beverage, which does not have to be beer. A certain amount of foolishness is involved here, but all in good fun. The hash has been described, by its own members, as a drinking club with a running problem, and by the Wall Street Journal as "a rapidly growing international running club with the airs of a secret society and an undisciplined junior-high class."

The rambunctiousness has been slightly toned down, however, in the North County Hash, which has a unique and sobering twist--the family trail. At least once a month, the hares lay an alternative trail that is shorter and easier than the regular trail. It is usually 1 or 2 miles, short enough to allow mothers and fathers with children to walk, jog or push a stroller.

Kids love the idea of giving chase, and parents enjoy it too. Beth Flick, for instance, is an enthusiastic hash parent who doesn't bother waiting for the family trail. She takes her two young daughters hashing almost every week.

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