A Good Sweat

Sweating doesn’t just boil bad stuff out of us – it makes room for creativity and our better selves

The Turin Shroud juxtaposed with a sweat-stained T-shirt
One may be the face of Jesus, the other is a sweat stain shaped like a stubby cock and balls
Turin Shroud image: Wikimedia Commons

OH, I NEEDED that!

I’ve just run a fast five miles because I was turning into a bit of a nasty bastard at home.

It’s never a good sign when I threaten the cat with a kicking – swearing and jabbing a forefinger at him like someone I was squaring up to in a pub – and just because he keeps getting under my feet.   

But I’ve been feeling tired, stressed, and a bit ill for the past couple of days.

I had a couple of pre-holiday vaccinations 48 hours ago and have been sniffing and sneezing quite a bit.

It’s probably just the injections but – like everyone else in the world – I’m secretly terrified that Covid-19 has tracked me down.

I’d become thoroughly dislikeable again, so I went for a run”

Add to this some home stress things, some work stress things, and voila! I’d become thoroughly dislikeable again.

So I went for a run – and when I stopped 40-odd minutes later, I found myself mentally in a different country to where I’d started.

Now I feel that I can cope – of course I can cope – with everything that was oppressing me less than an hour before. All that feels at a distance now, not right up in my face any more, nor rattling around claustrophobically inside my skull.

And all it took was a good sweat…

“It’s not just weakness we sweat out during exercise – but pessimism, depression, stress and meanness…”

A few years ago, I saw a picture of Andy Murray practising in a T-shirt with the slogan: “Sweat is weakness leaving the body.”

As an exercise semi-obsessive – and a notably sweaty man – I thought it was pretty cool.

But now I think that it’s not just weakness that we sweat out during exercise – there’s also pessimism, and depression, and stress, and meanness, and upset, and hopelessness

To me, sweat is also a form of measurement: a way of physically recording virtue, noble suffering and honest effort.

When I come back from a run and dip into my stretches, the sweat falls from my forehead and splashes on the pavement below, making little puddles that testify to how hard I’m trying. 

And if I go on a long bike ride, an outline of dried salt always forms on my T-shirt, where the sweat on my back has cooled in the shape of my rucksack.

These sweat stains are somehow meaningful to me, because I always show them to my family, or take photos to remember them.

They’re a kind of relic – a sort of Turin Shroud to my own self-belief – even if my sweaty imprint isn’t like the sweet face of Jesus, but a stubby little cock and balls (see picture above).

“Once sweating has boiled away the bad stuff, there’s room for creativity.”

There’s one more great thing about sweating, however: the fact that, once it has boiled away all the bad stuff, there’s room left for our better qualities – and above all creativity.

Another of the things that was doing my head in lately was a complete absence of ideas for this blog.

But, as I stretched and sweated after this morning’s run, phrases and connections suddenly began pouring out of me, like a water pipe cleared of crud and free to flow again.

Picasso once said that “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”, and I’d say that exercise is – in this sense – a useful form of work. An African running great also said in an interview once that he felt more creative after a run, and it’s almost always true for me, too.

Often, straight after stretching, I have to zip into a café and type ideas into my phone before they fly away and I lose them. Two, or maybe three, future blogposts came to me after this morning’s run alone.

They don’t call it working up a good sweat for nothing…

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