Sweat

Sweat: it is a natural product of running. In the summer we ran in such warm and humid conditions, the sweat would not dry, but flowed down into our socks and running shoes, causing a squishing noise to emanate with every footfall. At the end of our runs, especially the long Sunday runs, I could wring a cup of sweat out of my socks and shorts.

Sweat has great symbolism. It is the symbol of hard work. Picture a steelworker, sweat dripping from his face and staining his shirt as he moves a plate of steel destined for the side plating on a tanker ship. There is the sweat of the farmer as he runs his tractor up and down rows of sorghum, the sun unobstructed by clouds in the summer in Oklahoma. In the stifling air of a clothing factory in Bangladesh, the sweat of the woman in the tenth hour of a twelve hour day threatens to ruin her work.

Sweat represents fear. This is the sweat fueled by a flood of adrenaline. It is triggered by the flight or fight response which, somewhere in our past got built into our DNA to give us a jolt of strength to fight off an attacker. The alternative, running away, I imagine was an even better survival plan. Now, though, this sweat comes out in awkward ways, discoloring the armpits of a nervous lecturer, or both of a couple out on a first date. It comes from apocrine glands, different from the eccrine glands of the sweat that drips off our foreheads which is mainly water with a bit of salt in it. The sweat of fear is thicker and has in it protein and debris which bacteria seem to like. They are what cause this sweat to smell. Interesting, though, that this odor is thought to have strong pheromone effects for the opposite sex. Makes sense, one’s nervousness about that first date might be just the thing to get her strangely attracted without really knowing why.

Sweat can be cleansing. Who doesn’t like the idea of sitting in a sauna, allowing the pores to open up and be an exit for stress? For the ultimate experience of sweating out the bad stuff, try a hot mud bath. I had the opportunity to do this with my wife in Calistoga, at the upper end of the Napa Valley.  Water from a natural hot spring, full of minerals, is pumped into a large tub containing a peat-like substance. The tub looks like a relic from ancient Rome. My wife and I got the couple’s room, with two tubs, which I suppose you could share with a stranger, but you would really need to stow your inhibitions in the bag they give you for your clothes.  In an interesting maneuver, we both shimmied ourselves into the peat, with naturally prominent parts still peaking above the level of the mud. It’s hard to get deep into the mud as your body’s buoyancy keeps you close to the surface. Good thing, too, since it gets hotter the deeper you go. You can only take about ten minutes of this immersion before you would start to get cooked like an egg. But, the pores open and the sweat flows. From the tubs, we stepped into a very powerful and hot shower, to get rid of the peat, which clings particularly well to hairy parts. From there, it’s into the Jacuzzi, for another sweat fest. Then, finally, donning striped terry robes we were escorted to the cool-down room, a dark place with cots where we were wrapped in clean white sheets and allowed to recover under the glow of a five watt bulb, listening to “ambient” music.

Frank, in the Hot Mud Bath in Calistoga.

Frank, in the Hot Mud Bath in Calistoga.

Frank and Kat in the couples room at the mud baths.  Note the Romanesque tubs.

Frank and Kat in the couples room at the mud baths. Note the Romanesque tubs.

 

Now that the cold weather is here, we still sweat. Running just turns up the heat in our bodies, which try to get rid of it by sweating. Starting out in sub-freezing temperatures, we need the warmth of tights and, for me, usually two layers on top, plus gloves and a hat. Soon, the gloves are off and I’m turning up the sides on my knit hat so my ears can radiate away some of the heat. At the end of the run, my face is streaked with salt from the sweat which dried as I ran, and my two shirts are wet. If I don’t change to a dry shirt rather quickly, the sweat starts to cool and I start to shiver. At the finish of the Philly marathon, a friend pointed out that I had a “bit of salt” on my face. When I got to the hotel and looked in the bathroom mirror, I looked like I was being preserved, the salt was so thick.

This is my homage to sweat. I know what it can mean, and I don’t pretend my recreation has the seriousness of what sweat can symbolize. But, I’ve experienced all those types of sweat, from hard work, to fear, to sheer indulgence, (and that pheromone thing, too!). I like the sweat of running. At times, it can be all of these.

Frank K.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Michele S.

     /  December 2, 2012

    I like how the thick layer of sweat on my face after a marathon acts as a natural exfoliant once I wash my face. The rest of my body might feel awful after a marathon, but my face feels smooth and bright. 🙂

    Reply
  2. So that’s your secret! I’m not sure it works for me that way 😉

    Reply

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