Here’s the thing: there are a lot of things in life you can fake… excitement, happiness, sincerity, interest, anger, being busy at work, even love. But you can’t fake sweat. When it comes to sweat, you’re either working hard or you aren’t- granted some sweat more than others, it’s simply impossible to mask the physiological changes that occur in the human body due to hard, physical work. Sweat is an absolute truth- concrete evidence of a person’s hard work.
A funny thing happens when we humans sweat together- as that perspiration pours out of our bodies, the truth of our mutual hard work begins to magically bind us together in some sort of weird, salty, exhausted-yet-euphoric family. Something about the common suffering we all experience binds us together as a unit- you can’t fake the sweat, the work you’re putting into this… and you can recognize the others around you as they do the same. Your own pains and efforts are reflected in the glistening sweat of those around you, and you know you’re not alone in your struggles. Our perspiration becomes the cement that bonds us together stronger than any verbal commitment ever will.
This is not a sport or occupationally specific phenomenon. It happens all over this place- sports teams, basic training in the military, yoga classes, dance floors, CrossFit gyms… if you want to see a tight knit community, go drop into a 6 AM spin class at your local gym. Any place where people sweat and “suffer” together, friendships are being forged. I believe this is part of the reason people who start CrossFit tend to stick with it- the bonds you form with your fellow athletes become unbearable to break… even if you do want to sleep in instead of going to class, you can’t stand the thought of letting your brothers-and-sisters-in-sweat down.
Last weekend exemplified this principal in its most pure form. I ran in The Bourbon Chase (a 200 mile relay on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail) with 9 of my closest friends. If you’ve never heard of a 200 mile relay race it works like this: 200 miles are broken up into predetermined (varying) distances with established “exchange points.” Runner 1 will begin running at the start line while the van drives to the first exchange point. Runner 2 will begin to warm up and stretch so that as Runner 1 arrives, the bracelet that serves as a baton can be passed off and Runner 2 can run to the next exchange point. The van will collect Runner 1 up and drive to the next exchange where Runner 3 will take over. This process is simply repeated for 36 legs. We run through the night, eat and “sleep” in the vans, and “shower” with baby wipes, etc. It sounds absolutely insane and yet it is one of the most challenging, life changing, remarkable experiences you’ll ever have. And if sweat is the tie that binds- the bonds forged during those 30 hours are incredibly durable.
I love working out as a group- I’m a competitive person, and CrossFit classes always push me to a level that is tough to maintain by myself. But if you think pushing each other during a WOD is motivating- try running one of these relays. When your performance directly affects the team’s performance, you will give relentlessly of yourself until there is nothing left to give. Time and time again, as my legs screamed and begged me to stop, and my lungs burned with the cold night air as I constantly battled the hills, the only thought that ever passed through my mind would was “I would rather run until my feet are bloody stumps than give up and let the team down.” Stopping was simply not an option- letting myself down was one thing… letting my teammates down was completelyunbearable. It’d be easy to blame the infantry for my “I’d rather die than stop” attitude, but the reality was everyone on our team felt the same way. We were completely drenched in sweat, but it was the sweat of the team, not the individuals.
I realize not everyone is as passionate about running as we are… so try a team WOD. Or a cycling relay. Or whatever you happen to be into. Oddly, physical activities tend to attract people with similar mindsets and attitudes- runners get along well with runners, CrossFitters with CrossFitters, triathletes with triathletes, and so on. You’ll be surprised at how similar we all are- and how close you can become when truly working hard to complete a collective goal.
Of the 9 who ran last weekend, I only knew 3 before I started running. Three of the other teammates I only knew from a relay race I ran in with 11 strangers last year… we had never met one another before the race, and yet we became such close friends in the matter of about 30 hours that we kept in almost constant contact, running several other races together since. One of our runners I knew from CrossFit Discovery in Charleston, and while we had become friends sweating together in CrossFit, this weekend took us from being acquaintances to close friends. The last two runners I had never met before, but, somehow, by the ride home it felt like I’d known them all my life. The sweat we each shed in an effort to achieve the common goal of completing the race has forever bound us together as a team- regardless of whether we ever run together again, we will always have that race, and the truth of all the hard work we each put into it. You can’t fake sweat, and you can’t fake the bonds it forms.