Chafing. How bad can it be? Really bad.

I think chafing should be one of those words that when you say it or type it, a short blast of ominous music plays.  Otherwise it just seems like a dish you heat food in. There is one thing that running and chafing dishes have in common.  They both involve heat and moisture.  Ay, there’s the rub.  And that’s the last piece of the puzzle for running: friction.

Put more succinctly, rubbing (friction) + heat + moisture = chafing (pain).

You may or may not have seen pictures from a recent marathon of some poor guy who really didn’t know that it’s not a good idea to run 21 km (half marathon) or 42 km (marathon) in a cotton tshirt.  Missed that photo?  Let me show you what you’re missing:Don't Let This Happen To You! I’ve been reading the Sookie Stackhouse series of books (from which True Blood is based) and I can’t help but think this poor dude looks like gigantic vampiric fangs attacked him. He would probably be in less pain if that was the case.

Nipples on men are a common area for chafing.  Other areas to watch: around the band of your bra, inner thighs, under arms and feet.  Note that when chafing usually happens with feet, that turns into something completely different and equally crippling: blisters.

So, how do you avoid chafing? Here are my key rules that have kept me chafe-free for the most part:

  • Avoid cotton.  Invest in a technical style shirt that will wick away moisture.  This type of clothing doesn’t have to cost a lot.  Winners and Costco can usually be counted on to provide a good shirt at a reasonable price.  Same for shorts and socks, bra and undies – avoid cotton!  Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin.  The repetitive motion from running will cause the fabric to rub and voila: chafing.
  • If you’re blessed with quads like myself, once you find shorts that are comfy, buy more than one pair if you can.  Or at least take really good care of the ones you have (wash after every wearing either by hand or on a delicate cycle and hang to dry) so they’ll last.
  • If you’re a guy, consider putting something like Vaseline or Body Glide on your nipples before your run.  If you’re not too hairy and can stand it, consider applying Band Aids over your nippes to protect them.  Just make sure they’re waterproof so they stay put while you sweat.
  • If your inner thighs rub, consider putting some Vaseline or Body Glide on the affected area before you run.
  • If you’ve got a mole or anything that you need to cover, go for the Band Aid solution, again making sure the Band Aids are waterproof.
  • If you’re trying a new piece of clothing, test it out before you wind up in a situation where you’re half way through your run and your skin is burning.  If you have any doubts about the comfort of a piece of clothing, don’t wear it.  This was my mistake on a run last week.  (If anyone is looking for a Champion brand running skirt, size Medium, I’ve got one for you.)

Listen to your body.  If you feel a hotspot, adjust whatever you can to take the friction away.  My first experience with chafing was on a long run.  At the 12K mark of a 15K run, I finally stopped chatting with my running partner long enough to realize one of my legs of my shorts had ridden up and had been like that for who knows how long.  I know how long.  Long enough to do some real damage.  Even though I adjusted my shorts and they stayed put for the remainder of my run, my skin looked like this (note: not my skin; some other unlucky devil’s):Ouch.

The thing about chafing is that it repeatedly reminds you it’s there.  When the water from the shower hits – ouch.  If it’s in an area where you sweat: ouch.  If it’s in an area where clothing normally sits/hugs (think: bra band): ouch.    Hopefully by now, I’ve convinced you that there are a lot of reasons to try to avoid getting chafed.  And now you understand why I think the ominous music should play when chafing is mentioned.

Okay so you’ve done everything right and yet somehow, something went wrong.  What to do?

Clean the area.  Put an ointment like Polysporin or Vitamin E (ointment, not cream!) on it.  Dress it with a piece of gauze if it’s going to rub and it’s really bad.  If it’s in a place that will be aggravated by further running, hang up your shoes for a day or two unil the area heals.  Analyze what went wrong and make a note not to repeat it.

Happy trails!

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