New runners usually don’t know that among the running community, we only have one rule: there is no TMI. I don’t know if other sports are the same way as running or if it’s unique to us, but between snot rockets, “runner’s trots,” and uni-boob, there’s nothing that’s off-limits when it comes to asking questions and getting advice to help us run more comfortably.
So let’s talk about chafing. It’s something that can totally kill a run, ruin your weekend, and even leave a scar. That’s why you need to prevent it, and when it strikes, you have to treat it asap.
What is Chafing?
Chafing isn’t exclusive to running, but usually it happens because something like a seam, zipper, or just a weird spot of fabric rubs on your skin and starts to irritate the area. You can experience this irritation where your body rubs itself, like between your toes, underarms, or thighs. Chafing can happen just about anywhere, but the common problem areas are nipples for men, bra areas for women, and in your shoes, along a waistband, under a piece of gear like a belt or water bottle, or along the sides of your extremities where there are seams or clothes that rub against your skin.
Prevent Chafing with the Right Fit
The first way to prevent chafing is to pick your clothing wisely. Many brands offer seamless designs, or tight, low-profile seams that are meant to give a flat surface that won’t cause any bunching or irritation. That usually does a good job, but there are items that are great gear and still may be problematic just because of how we’re built. If you have a sports bra causing irritation, looking into other brands and styles that may eliminate the problem. Pants and tops can be a culprit, too. You may be able to keep your chafey apparel for shorter runs and gym workout, but you have to find comfortable things to wear for long runs so that you don’t face the wrath of friction. Be extra sure that your clothing fits correctly. Get fit for a bra! You’ll be glad you did.
If you are having trouble with chafing inside your shoes, look for double-layer socks. These specialty socks allow your feet to move inside the shoe without your skin rubbing on stationary fabric. People who get bad blisters between their toes have options like Injinji toe-socks, or other brands that offer special “blister free” designs and materials. Some people who just can’t get relief from their socks like the gel toe caps that cover your toes and protect your skin. I don’t know how comfortable that may be, but if it eliminates chafing and your feet are happy, go for it!
Lubricate: Oil Can!
The next step to prevent chafing is to try a lubricant. Most people are familiar with Body Glide. It’s a pretty common option available at most running stores. RunGuard is another lubricating product that a lot of people like, but there are countless other brands if you want to try a few and see which one works best. Occasionally I’ll hear runners talk about using petroleum jelly or something like Aquaphor, but they aren’t meant to stay-put in tough conditions and to eliminate friction for mile after mile. I don’t doubt that maybe they work for some people or work short term, but I’m skeptical that they’d be better than an anti-chafing balm made specifically for runners. I mean, I’ve had some swampy feet after a long run in the rain and found that my Body Glide was still sliding between my toes. Just sayin’!
Oh Boy: Nipple Chafing
For men, protecting your nipples is high on your list of priorities. Without a nice comfy sports bra to buffer between you and your shirt, this is something male runners have to worry about. You don’t want to be one of the sad dudes with a bloody shirt at the finish line—ew, and OUCH! Some runner guys swear by athletic tape or bandages, but there are things called Nip Guards that exist solely for this problem. There are a lot of creative ideas around the internet, but we’re not so sure about those. Some interesting home remedies include using two layers of liquid bandages, or even super glue. I’m definitely not suggesting glue (yikes), but make sure you’ve got something that works to keep you from chafing.
When Chafing Attacks
If you are on a run and chafing strikes, try to adjust as best you can and see if it gets better. You may be able to move your fuel belt or tuck in your shirt to alleviate it. Some races offer petroleum jelly at aid stations, so it’s worth a shot to ask or even to ask a pacer since the good ones are well-equipped. If possible, you may be able to turn your gear inside out. That depends on what’s bothering you and how shy you are. Even if you don’t usually chafe, getting into much longer runs can bring up this problem, and weather can be a factor. If you’re an all-weather runner or training for longer distances, you may want to pick up a sample size of a lubricant. They’re smaller than lip balm and easily fit in a fuel belt alongside your gels. You’ll be glad you had it handy!
If you can’t get your gear to ease up and you can’t find emergency lubricant, you may end up with a raw spot or even open skin. They really suck. It’s like a rug burn that stings a lot and may form over several hours, so you may end up rubbing on it while it’s raw and—ouch! You’ll want to take care of it asap when you get done with your run. Take off the offending gear, wash the area, and apply an ointment when you can.
If you are about to go on a run and you have an area that is chafed, some runners suggest using your preferred ointment, placing gauze on top, and then using an athletic tape like KT Tape over the area. You can even put lubricant on the tape. Just be careful—you don’t want to make it worse, and you don’t want to sweat off a bandage and then be stuck out on your run. If a piece of clothing was what caused the issue, switch to something that hasn’t bothered you.
Chafing can be painful and gross, but luckily you have lots of advice and tools to use. And runners are pretty frequent tellers of TMI anyway, so you can pretty much ask any runner for their chafing advice and they’ll tell you what has worked for them. You might get some creative answers and find something that works great for you, too!
A similar post that I wrote can be found at Track Road Trail. Maybe. I can’t find it now, but supposedly it’s there somewhere!