Runners race for the beer at end of the trail
Some people drive on highways throughout their lives, spying communications towers perched on top of an otherwise tree-covered mountain and say, “Gee, I bet the view from there is really cool.”
A local crew of hard-partying runners known as the Pittsburgh Hash House Harriers refuses to be curious about such important matters. They run up that hill to find out what is at the top — and have a little happy hour.
“Some people go to happy hour. We go running,” said H-3 member Matt Graver, of Swissvale.
“And have our happy hour drinks in the woods,” added Pam Cato, of West View, president of the Pittsburgh H-3 chapter.
Three parts fraternity and two parts running club, the 80-member strong Pittsburgh Hash House Harriers have been gathering to run over the rivers, through the woods and straight to the bar since 1980. Hashers go to the nicest places in and around the ‘Burgh.
Last week’s trail took runners to a cell tower in Carnegie, among other places. The week before brought folks to Forest Hills. According to runners’ accounts, fishermen’s hip waders were needed for that one.
The scenery changes, but the process is the same each week: One or two hares use flour to mark a trail between three and five miles long.
The other runners play hound to the hare, trying to follow that trail — without getting sucked into false paths — to a final destination, usually a pub or restaurant.
An additional beer stop or two are strategically placed along the trail.
Runners encounter roads, established running trails and lots of shiggy, as brush, swamp and otherwise impassible terrain are known.
Hashers run and walk or just walk to the hidden beer stops and an Après — the party at the end of the run. If running is too tough, “Pimpers” skip the run and show up for the Après.
The Harriers’ focus is on friendship over competition. Anything that looks like competition is considered a faux pas and grounds for a “down-down,” as they call their good-natured hazing.
Other practices garnering a down-down are laying really hard trails, making a particularly comical fall on a trail, and pimping your way to an Après.
Pittsburgh’s chapter goes drinking, er, uh, cross-country running, every week with special occasion hashes planned on full moons.
Even more occasional are interhashes — weekend-long events drawing hashers from around the country.
The Hash House Harriers appear to be in it simply for the beer — but that isn’t all. They’re engaged in the serious business of preserving a practice established 170 years ago in England.
Some have placed the practice’s origins in a 19th-century English boarding school. According to hashing historians, runners were loaded down with pounds of paper to mark trails across the countryside and back again, starting and ending at a local pub.
The game became popular in the 1930s after an English expatriate brought the practice to Kuala Lumpur.
The revived sport still enjoys a devoted underground following of 1,600 chapters worldwide. The paper has been replaced by flour to mark the trails, but the original focus on beer and noshing live on.
Hashers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and levels of running experience.