Chafing: the runner’s rite of passage

Chaffing: don't even try to picture it. Illustration by Jim Carroll
Chafing: Don’t even try to picture it.
Illustration by Jim Carroll

Over the past several weeks, I feel a certain bond of trust has formed between us. For instance, you know that at my core I generally hate running, am capable of weeping from calf cramps and call carrot sticks “boring bites.” So, I think I’m ready to share on a topic that makes every runner cringe. It’s a sensitive subject, but I think it’s time we had the talk about…


Just the word alone makes me uncomfortable, like the word “moist.” Both words so perfectly sound like what they describe, that the word guys who invented them must have high-fived when they nailed those two. And, when it comes to running, “moist” and “chafing” go hand-and-hand (what a disgusting visual that is).

Chafing happens when clothing rubs repeatedly against an area, causing it to blister and become highly irritated, more so when moist or wet. It tends to happen in key areas like thighs, underarms, the groin and nipples (in men), which are particularly vulnerable, causing the nipples to bleed (sorry, I know you can’t unread that.)

I’ve had personal encounters with chafing. It’s almost impossible to avoid getting it at least once. In some ways, it’s a rite of passage — an “oh, look I didn’t know my nipples could bleed buckets of blood” rite of passage.

Besides the nipples, the groin sees a lot of action, where chafing can mercilessly brutalize you on its own timetable. It’s the Joseph Stalin of skin irritations (I just compared chafing with Joseph Stalin — sweet.) By the time you realize chafing has started in the groin area, it’s too late — a week of wincing as you walk is in your future.

There are no real warning signs when it comes to chafing. One minute you’re running in the rain, actually feeling great, the next your nipples feel as though they are the burning man at Burning Man. And it’s even worse the next morning as it tortures you like a one night stand that won’t go home and has already used your toothbrush (I guess it’d be like hooking up with Joseph Stalin … now that’s weird.)

Because chafing can bring even the most hardened runners to a stop, an ever-growing list of ways to prevent it has been handed down from runner to runner. I’ve gathered some here: don’t wear cotton shirts, wear seamless shorts, wash your sports bra after every run (women), use Vaseline, use Body Glide, wear Band Aids over your nipples (men), wear tight clothing that won’t move, just don’t run (me), wear spandex shorts, stay hydrated, use Shea butter, use baby oil, put a sandwich in your shorts (OK, I made that one up.)

I hope today’s post gives you an idea of the pain that chafing causes runners, so that the next time you see a guy with Band Aids on his nipples, you’ll just give him a knowing nod and realize that it’s not some freaky fashion statement — it’s survival.


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