Sweat like a “horse”

“Don’t forget to prewash”………. Pre wash – what’s a prewash? “And wash them at 60 degrees!! I don’t do laundry. This is not a bigoted or sexist stance; it is merely an appreciation of my limitations.  Washing machines are clearly designed for women; the simplest machines offer at least 15 washing cycles….. Yes 15, so where does one start. The problem is I sweat; I sweat lot, particularly while running. So after a long morning run I stink. Luckily for me the brain actually adapts to bad smells, if it didn’t it would be overloaded by the constant sensory input.  However the reaction to scent varies. In  fact the sense of smell may to be linked to personality traits – people who are more uptight are more sensitive to bad smells (Seo et al., 2013) Unfortunately for my wife women consistently out-perform men on all tests of smelling ability, probably because they are more uptight, so Michelle won’t wash my running gear (Sergeant, 2010; Novakova et al., 2013) . So here I am again naked in the utility room, with my running gear in the washing machine whilst trying to choose the correct combinations of cycle and temperatures, and hoping I’ve put the powder in the right tray!!!


But why do I sweat so much? In fact it is just one of the several characteristics unique to humans which suggest endurance running played an important role in our evolution. Most land animals can outsprint humans over short distances — having four legs gives them the advantage. But over long distances, humans can outrun almost any animal because we cool ourselves by sweating rather than panting (Lieberman & Bramble, 2007). We can stay cool at speeds and distances that would overheat other animals. On a hot day a human has even outrun a horse in a marathon. The annual Man versus Horse Marathon takes place in the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells every June and is raced over 22 miles (35 km). Runners compete against riders on horseback. Since the event started in 1980 runners have only won twice but there are explanatory reasons for this. The world’s elite runners rarely compete in novelty races in rural Wales, and the 22-mile race is shorter than the standard 26.2-mile marathon. It runs through a damp, shady landscape which doesn’t usually heat-stress horses much, largely negating the human runners’ edge. Not surprisingly, the weather has been particularly warmer when runners won.


The bad news for your family, co – workers and friends is the fitter you become during your running training the more efficient you become at losing heat – so you sweat more and smell worse after your runs (Jay et al., 2011). More than a million humans run marathons voluntarily each year, sweating and endurance running is clearly something that identifies us as humans and we have evolved to be amazing at it. But evolution has not given some of us (men) the necessary skills to cope with the smelly aftermath and do the washing!





Jay O, Bain AR, Deren TM, Sacheli M & Cramer MN. (2011). Large differences in peak oxygen uptake do not independently alter changes in core temperature and sweating during exercise. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 301, R832-841.


Lieberman DE & Bramble DM. (2007). The evolution of marathon running : capabilities in humans. Sports Med 37, 288-290.


Novakova L, Varella Valentova J & Havlicek J. (2013). Olfactory performance is predicted by individual sex-atypicality, but not sexual orientation. PLoS One 8, e80234.


Seo H-S, Lee S & Cho S. (2013). Relationships between personality traits and attitudes toward the sense of smell. Frontiers in Psychology 4, 901.


Sergeant MJ. (2010). Female perception of male body odor. Vitam Horm 83, 25-45.


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