Over the last year or two, I've become a fan of a semi-underground running activity. Some persons call it hare-and-hounds running; many call it hashing after the name of the international (semi-organized) running/social group, the Hash House Harriers (HHH or H3). It's drawn my interest for a number of reasons:
The (relatively) non-competitive nature of the activity - Walkers, joggers, and hard-core runners can all participate at the same time. Recognition (of a sort) only comes if you're the first male or female, the first walker, or the last person who finishes the trail. Besides, out on a back road or stretch of vacant lot or woods, cooperation is often necessary to keep from getting either hopelessly lost or worn out trying to find the true trail.
The (relatively) inexpensive cost - Why spend $50 per couple for a (perhaps accurate) 5K run with a cotton t-shirt, light beer and day-old bagels? My wife and I can spend $10-15 to run anywhere from three-to-five miles on terrain which may vary from paved bike trails to briar-choked woodlands (or worse!), stop for a cheap beer along the way, have a couple of brews and munchies at the end.
Terrain - The two kennels here are night-and-day when it comes to terrain choice for trails. One kennel focuses almost exclusively on paved roadways and sidewalks; hills and street crossings are probably the most hazardous natural features, as long as the hares - the person/s who set the trail for that particular run - don't get overambitious. We prepare to run with this kennel in pretty much the same manner as we prepare to run a 5K or 10K road race, or a training run.
When it comes to the other kennel, almost anything goes. I still have scars on my legs from my first (real) trail. My "hash name," which was given because of my typical response to whining athletes, also fit my typical response to this kennel's trails. After three trails I learned it's not a trail without either a water crossing or crashing through a thorn-laden wooded trail. I'm better now, in many ways. But the first five minutes or so are still entertaining.
I'm still learning what to wear, and what not to, on trail with this kennel. My friend Charley and I have talked at great lengths about the ideal and preferred gear for hard-core trail traipsing. Starting from the top and working downward:
Head, eyes, ears, nose and throat - After a couple of trails where I took shots to the forehead from thorny vines and low-hanging branches, I first considered cranial gear worn by aircraft carrier flight deck personnel. 'Overkill,' Charley said. 'A baseball or running cap with a stiff bill will keep the branches out of your eyes.' I mentioned the thorn branch which struck me directly in the dimple of my chin, to which he responded, 'A one-off situation.'
Depending on the time of the year, running or shooting glasses will aid in the visibility and keep the branch which the cap cannot stop out of the eye.
A bandana is optional, and cannot hurt to have if running in dusty, gritty or spider webby conditions...you don't always have the benefit of a taller runner to go in front of you, right?
Upper extremities - Charley's gone from the canvas gardening gloves to a pair of mechanic's work gloves, which are almost as thick and protect the fingers, palm and back of the hand almost as well. Sometimes it's better to move the branch out of the way with your hand than to try and duck around it.
Torso - Lightweight, layered clothing is a must except in the hottest summer conditions. The nylon ripstop military surplus camouflage shirts are good for carrying whistles (mandatory!), marking implements (semi-mandatory!), and (in case of very bad situations) identification. Fabric is a little tougher than skin where thorns are concerned.
Lower extremities - I've worn what is affectionately known as "shiggy socks" which cover everything from the kneecaps down since that first infamous trail. Compression socks (a little more expensive) or soccer socks (great color choices) are good if you don't want to order any from the H3-related on-line retailers. When it comes to the thighs/quads/hammies things get a little more challenging. There lies the challenge between balancing weight (especially when wet!) and protection from the sharper elements; do you choose nylon ripstop military surplus pants or something closer to a pair of jeans? My wife bought me a pair of tough but heavy camouflage-style cargo shorts which go down to just about my knees. Charley's got a pair which are filled with ripped knees, covered in mud and paint stains, and seem to serve him well.
Feet - Some hashers wear the same shoes for years. Running guys like me cry in horror at the thought of running in old shoes, but I've relegated shoes with more than 400 miles to trail hashing; road hashes merit a pair of training shoes, however. I made the supreme mistake of wearing a minimalist triathlon shoe with drainage holes once. Until a large stick punched through a drainage hole on trail I thought it wasn't a bad idea. And the folks who like the Vibram "toe" shoes or the barefoot running thing often have to keep their eyes open for the many hazards which lay often unseen on the trail. So do you go for foot and ankle protection or for drainage? We considered the merits of a trail-running shoe versus a canvas jungle-styled boot. Horses for courses; we have to be prepared to swim at a moment's notice.
Accessories - with the trail-focused hash it's a great idea to carry whatever you want to take with you but don't want trashed in a waterproof container. I have a DryCase for electronics but haven't used too many electronics on trail. Flashlights and whistles aren't just a good idea, they're a great idea.
And what about cutting devices to deal with otherwise recalcitrant plant matter on trail? Charley's got a machete, what about something a little smaller, like a pair of pruning shears? I'm not in favor of carrying anything on trail which can eventually punch a hole in someone else's body (bad juju) or my own (very bad juju) in the event gravity decides to exert itself. I wonder if something like a Leatherman tool would be better?
So maybe the protective gear is where the cost-effectiveness of hashing goes by the wayside. Not having all of the stuff doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while running a trail, but you might lose just a little blood out there. And it isn't a good trail unless a little blood is shed.