It’s a rite of passage (hazing?) for every new marathon trainee: the first time you go home after a long run and howl in the shower due to skin that was rubbed raw.
The nemesis of many a runner has stuck again: chafing.
Runners and Chafing
Chafing is the friction between your skin and something else: other skin, clothing, your hydration pack, anything.
A recent issue of Health Magazine reported that 16% of marathon runners who report to the medical tent have severe chafing. (Health Magazine, June 2016). At first, I thought that percentage seems very low, but I guess the combination of ‘severe chafing’ and ‘reported to the medical tent’ are really big qualifiers. I’ve had really bad chafing several times after a race, but never been to the medical tent for it.
If you run enough miles, chafing will happen. There is no getting around it. Even with the best gear and ideal preparation, some days something just rubs you the wrong way (literally) and bam!
You have chafing.
Be Ready – Chafing Prevention
Know Thy Hot Zones
Step one in minimizing chafing is to know thyself. Every runner and every body type has different areas that tend to cause trouble.
The common culprits:
- Panty Line
- Butt crack
- Nipples (an issue mostly for men)
- Chest/Bra (most commonly, bra straps and underboob)
Know Thy Fit and Fabrics
Running clothing should:
- Fit well. Well-fitting gear is worth every penny. I know this from experience – don’t get gear that is on sale but slightly the wrong size. You will (and I did) pay for it in the end.
- Fit snuggly. Loose clothing just means more potential to bulk up and chafe.
- Be made from synthetic fabrics. Cotton can stay damp. Synthetic fabrics wick sweat and are less likely to cause chafing.
You can’t always predict what will cause chafing. Some days, and maybe just for a single run, even the most tried and true piece of clothing will act as a cheese grater.
Pay attention to the gear you are wearing when you have chafing issues. A while back, I noticed a pattern of getting underarm chafing, but only when wearing the shirts from one local race company (whose shirts are all made from the same fabric). I stopped wearing any shirts of that brand and I haven’t had underarm issues since.
Go Seamless and Tagless
Use gear that has the fewest possible potential trouble spots:
- Wear seamless shirts and underwear.
- Cut the scratchy tags out of shirts.
- Wear gear inside out so the bulky material at the seams will fall on the outside.
Break Gear In Slowly
Not only should you never wear new gear on race day, you shouldn’t wear your new jog bra for the first time on a 15 mile long run (again, I know this one from experience).
Even a new piece of clothing that is identical to a piece you love may vary slightly and cause issues.
Take Care Your Gear and Retire The Old
This is TMI, but here goes: my number one chafing issue is the chest strap of my jog bra. This is my own fault. My bras are well past their useful life and the elastic is giving out. But since they don’t make my favorite bra anymore, I’m keeping the ones I have on life support.
The cost to me is a bit of chafing.
Gear with just the right amount of wear is perfect and fits like a glove, but those same pieces quickly turn into old gear.
Old gear is past its prime. It doesn’t fit as well. The fabric gets worn out. Elastic breaks down.
Do as I say, not as I do. Retire old gear.
Body Glide, Aquaphor, and Vaseline act as lubrication between you and your clothing.
Use them. Love them. Apply them liberally.
There are dozens of options here in all textures, application styles, and active ingredients. I’m a user and lover of Bodyglide Original (the stick) myself, but whatever your preferred application process and formula, there is a product for you.
If you have trouble…um… down below, consider getting a second tube of your product of choice dedicated to use in those areas.
Nipple Guards. The one area where guys suffer more than girls on a run is nipple chafing. I’ve never seen a woman with bleeding nipples at the finish of a marathon, but men with bloody nipples are fairly common.
I have no personal experience with the product, but the number one recommendation I have heard is NipGuards. Band-aids work too.
I have read that staying hydrated minimizes chafing. This is either due to the skin being well-moisturized or that being hydrated lessens the salt concentration in your sweat (the salt can act as sandpaper).
I don’t know if this is true. Personally, I’ve never found a direct link between my hydration and chafing levels.
However, since you should always be well-hydrated anyway, I’ll add it to the list.
There is no downside to being well-hydrated. If there is the smallest chance of the unintended upside of minimizing chafing, so much the better.
Too Late To Prepare: Problems Mid-run
Carry a small container of Body Glide or tube of lip balm that you can apply mid-run to lessen the impact of chafing-in-progress.
Adjust clothing or turn it inside out if you notice an issue mid-run.
Oops, Too Late: Treatment
It has happened to the best of us. You plan, you try to prevent, you adjust mid-run, and yet…
Please: If you are at all concerned about your chafing, please see your doctor (or the medical tent if you are at a race) and follow their advice.
Rinse with Water
Rinse off the chafed area with lukewarm water.
Fair warning: the first 20 seconds of a shower after a run where you have been chafed hurts like hell.
Literally, salt in the wounds.
Cover the chafed area with Aquaphor.
If the chafing is more severe you can use diaper rash ointment or Neosporin. These products both protect the skin and minimize/prevent scarring.
If you run, you will eventually chafe. But with some preventive measures, the severity and frequency can be greatly reduced.
3 thoughts on “Runners Guide to Chafing”
Thanks for this great article. Chaffing has ruined so many runs for me. The only thing that went well for me at Boston was that I didn’t bleed from chaffing. My secret- I vaselined every 2 miles. Every 2 miles I grabbed a stick of vaseline and rubbed it in my hot zones (do marathoner have no shame?). It really helped. Getting into a well needed shower after a marathon and screaming in pain is no way to finish 4 hours of grueling work! So glad you are calling attention to this problem!
I’m a guy. I’m not an expert runner, but I consider myself an expert on Nipple Chafing! Nip guards are good, but can be pricey. I buy this stuff called ROCK TAPE (available online and at Sports Basement in Berkeley.) It’s a long roll of fabric-y tape. I cut it into small pieces, maybe half inch to 3/4 of an inch, but put them on each of my nipples. No issues, no problems, the tape is sweat proof and stays on until I’m ready to take it off. Much more comfortable than raw, red nipples.
Nipple chafing is the one area where the guys are so much worse off than us ladies.