I am not referring to a new cartoon comedy trio, or a dodgy legal firm here. This post is probably not for those of a delicate disposition.
Earlier this year I threw my hat into the arena and tried my hand at race direction organising a 3 race event. Many of my helpers and marshals were new to the task and included friends, work colleagues and family members. I recall one person's look of slight surprise and consternation, possibly even distaste, as the winner of the 10k blistered across the finish with the effort written across his face and dripping with sweat and snot, and spitting ‘like a good ‘un’ as they say.
Where does it all come from? It never ceases to amaze me how much moisture and slime you can produce when running, regardless of the environmental conditions or your own body temperature.
Running is not the most dignified of activities. Yes, we now have access to some pretty stylish and technical kit, that promises comfort and moisture wicking, but no matter how good we are looking as we toe the start line, by the time we reach the finish line we are all in a pretty anti-social state. Something my husband and daughters can readily confirm. On the first occasion a friend came to support me at a marathon, my husband’s helpful advice was a warning, ‘Just stay down wind of her when she finishes, and don’t get too close. It can be pretty pungent’. Nice.
I don’t glow, I don’t perspire: I sweat, and I sweat by the gallon. On warm days it will evaporate leaving a gritty white dusting salt. One thing I disliked when my daughters were small was ‘jam hands’: I get ‘jam hands’ too as I heat up and sweat. Horribly sticky jam hands that I find hugely irritating and distracting for some reason.
I also get chafed. Sweat and fabric, and seams in fabric are not a good combination. You know you are in trouble when your sweat starts to nip and sting. So often, as I have eased into a lovely post run bath there has been the sharp intake of breath as water hits raw skin. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Alasdair says it sometime looks as if I have been flayed alive or practicing some form of self flagilation. My body bears the scars from repeated chafing.
One thing about technical, manmade fabrics, is that they quickly start to pong once you stop. One great thing about the merino kit that I will be wearing in Antarctica is that it does not smell. Merino’s natural anti-bacterial properties neutralise the smell. My base layers combine merino with wicking technology to keep me warm, dry and hopefully niff free. Just as well really as I will not be able to wash for 4 days. The real trick in Antarctica though will be to manage the layers and manage the effort. Heavy sweating is not recommended as it can cause problems when you slow down or stop and start to cool down. Sweaty jam hands are not an option. I will need to take particular care with my gloves and mitts. Moisture in the gloves and on the finger tips run the risk of frostbite. I hope that the lifa-dry technology in my liner gloves will deal with any moisture.
My first foray into running events was the Glasgow Ladies 10k back in the days when it was a relatively small affair that was run north of the river Clyde. I got used to running with women, and apart from the odd elbow or two and the odd groups walking 4 abreast and effectively blocking the route they were friendly, supportive, well mannered affairs. Imagine my discomfort the first time I ran in a mixed event and found myself dodging blobs of spits being fired in all directions. Euuw! After a number of events I realised that is how it was. I would spend the first 5 minutes of any race dodging the flying spit. I did not like it, but clearly it was something guys felt that needed to do.
Jump a few years on and to the Cape Wrath Challenge Marathon. I was not having a great day, and was trundling along with a couple of friends who were putting up with my whinging and encouraging to keep going. But also cue the comment: ‘Spitting like a guy, there Audrey’. Ah, yes, I was truly a runner now, as I ran along using the ditch at the side of the road as a spittoon. I have found as I ran more that there was sometime just no alternative. The build-up of mucous and spit in my mouth just had to be dealt with and the easiest thing to do is spit. It has taken a lot of practice and a few disastrous misses ending with me covered in my own spit, but I have finally mastered the technique. There are still times though when I do feel a tad shame-faced about it, and I always apologise to my fellow runners if I am in company. I am unsure what will happen in the Antarctic. It is a dryer atmosphere and cold, so maybe it will be different. Also, I suspect that we are not supposed to spit. In much the same way as the ‘no yellow snow’ rule I imagine that we are not supposed to pollute the environment with spittal either.
Finally, the snot: where does it come from? I don’t have a sinus problem, I generally do not have colds or hayfever, but I always end up with a runny nose. I am not a material hanky user and tissues are hopeless because they inevitably get soggy and disintegrate either from sweat or rain or the snot that that you are blowing into them. So, having given up on tissues, the next recourse was to sniff. I sniff a lot when I run. Just over a year ago whilst running with a friend (in fact one of the friends that ran with me at Cape Wrath) he passed comment whilst on the phone to his wife that he was in good company as I sniffed too. The pair of us sniffed in unison for the best part of 33 miles. I have to admit though, that as with the spitting I have adopted a rather less polite approach also: the finger and thumb nostril pinch and flick. Again it has taken a fair amount of practice to hone the technique, but I have it pretty spot on now. I suppose that will be another no-no in the Antarctic, although there is potential for some interesting icicles, as there might be with spitting.
We really are a truly disgusting lot, aren’t we?