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After I ran my very first half marathon in November 2014 I went back to the AirBnB rental, hopped in the shower, and screamed.
I hadn't realized during the run that my sports bra had been chafing me for several miles, and when I finally took a shower the water rinsed all my sweat and salt into the bloody wound. Yeah, they don't have that saying "to rub salt in a wound" for nothing - that was a shocking bit of pain!
The best way to handle chafed bits is to prevent chafing in the first place, but this can frequently mean tweaking a combination of factors to find the perfect chafe-free experience. Here are some tips:
1) Wear wicking fabrics
As much as I love cotton in my daily wear, it's not a great option for running. Cotton can soak up water and keep it next to skin which can result in chafing. Wicking clothes* on the other hand keep moisture away from skin and help reduce chafing. It's particularly important to wear wicking socks* to prevent blisters on feet.
2) Wear seamless clothes
There's nothing worse than going on a long run and this one seam or tag just keeps rubbing and rubbing. It's the kind of chafing that you're going to feel on the run and will drive you crazy over the miles, and it's a wound you're going to regret come shower time. While I find "seamless" a misnomer - you're very rarely going to find a piece of clothing with NO seams at all - it's helpful to find athletic clothes with flat seams*, fewer seams, and no tags to minimize the potential for chafing.
3) Body Glide or other Lubrication
This is a runner's secret weapon. I remember when a friend of mine showed up at a soccer game after YEARS of playing soccer through grade school, high school, college, and adult recreational leagues, and she exclaimed, "OMG Liz!! I found this thing that keeps you from chafing, it's amazing! It's so much better than powder deodorant!!"
She had just discovered the magic of Body Glide*, a balm that comes in a stick like deodorant that helps protect against chafing. I laughed at her for finally discovering the ultimate runner's secret, but better late to the game than never. If you're in a pinch then petroleum jelly or white powder deodorant can work well, though they're messier and less effective. You can also use baby powder*, talcum powder, or Gold Bond powder if you're going for a short run and don't want to go with the other lubrication options.
4) Correct Bra Fit
One of the most common culprits of chafing: a sports bra that doesn't fit. If you're the sports bra-wearing kind, be sure to get measured and fitted for an appropriate size. And, once you've found your happy bra, make sure you take good care of it and pay attention to when you need to replace it because of wear and tear or because of a change in size. Case in point: I had been running happy and chafe-free in a certain couple sports bras only to run into a major chafe issue after a recent run. The culprit? My sports bra. It had either stretched out or I had lost a tiny bit of weight (I probably shrank in the cooler weather from skin cells contracting, ha!) or a combination of the two, but either way my sports bra did a number to my torso. One big, raw, red band of skin later and I'm back to copious amounts of Body Glide around the band area and double-checking my sports bra size.
5) Compression Shorts
In cooler weather you're likely to see runners in leggings or capris that hug the legs and prevent chafing, but in hot weather those cute printed runner shorts* will do very little to protect rubbing thighs. Solution? Compression shorts. I started using the Nike compression shorts* when I played soccer in high school, but I've most recently been using the Oiselle Long Flyte shorts*. They have a little less compression so they're a little more comfortable than other shorts that squeeze the life out of my legs. (Also, let's go ahead and make this quite clear: thigh rubbing is not a "fat" person's problem. Elite runners have chafing problems too, so embrace the thigh rub and pick your favorite form of protection!)
But okay, that's all great, but what happens if you're already chafed?! Don't just grit your teeth and bear the pain: here are a few tips on how to handle the chafing.
1) Pat dry
Grab a damp washcloth and pat the chafe wound to get some of the immediate salt out.
2) Apply Petroleum Jelly
No guarantee on this since I've had mixed results, but you can try to apply some petroleum jelly* to the wound before you hop into the shower. The idea is that petroleum jelly is an oil, so it's hydrophobic meaning the water from the shower won't mix with the petroleum jelly* and get into the wound. I find this is more effective if you don't go straight to showering with high water pressure but slip into the tub for a quick soak and then rinse.
3) Use anti-bacterial soap
Chafing counts as an open wound, so make sure you clean it as such: use anti-bacterial soap and maybe apply some hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol if it's really bad.
4) Use ointment
Neosporin or other anti-bacterial ointment is a good idea, or for minor chafing you an use Desitin* or some diaper rash ointment* to protect the wound. (Zinc oxide is anti-microbial so you may prefer a rash ointment that has zinc oxide).
The good news is chafing usually heals quickly, sometimes as quickly as overnight, so just make sure you treat it well and protect that area on future runs.
Are there any methods you've tried that worked for you? Or do you have any chafing horror stories? (I love exchanging running horror stories!) Let me know in the comments!