Ultrarunning: Chafing Problems and Some Solutions

February 21, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Chafing Problems and Some Solutions”, please leave it below in the comments section…

It may not sound like much, but chafing is one of the injuries that a runner faces constantly during training or racing. It’s hard enough in a half or standard marathon, you can easily imagine how terrible it will be in an ultra. A runner with some blood stains showing through shirt or shorts is not an uncommon sight for aid station crews. Fortunately chafing is one of the more easily preventable and treatable of the injuries related to running.

Common areas of occurrence

Chafing will occur wherever there are two skin surfaces rubbing together. Clothes too are a common cause, particularly those that have tough edges or seams that are in constant contact with the skin. The friction rubs your skin raw and the unavoidable sweating naturally makes it worse. The most susceptible areas on your body would be the upper thighs, crotch area, nipples, and armpits. For an ultramarathon you might be carrying a small belt bag or some other pack for fuel and hydration, so it’s not unusual to get chafing on your waist or lower back too.

Clothing

The first aspect to fix is clothing. Wearing shorts and shirts or singlets specifically designed for running can go a long way to prevent or at least reduce chafing in the areas mentioned above. Special mention goes to lightweight moisture wicking fabric. This kind of cloth is made in such a way that it draws sweat and perspiration away from your skin and onto the outer layer of the fabric. Besides the kind of cloth, the fit is important as well. As much as possible go for something that’s snug. Loose clothing is only comfortable in between sessions. All that loose cloth is just going to rub at your skin because of the constant movement of running.

Lubricants

This is another solution that can greatly reduce the friction between opposite skin surfaces that constantly come in contact. Petroleum jelly type products are the most frequent choices. Apply it on the relevant areas and on clothing or undergarment seams as well (such as the straps of a training bra for example). You may have heard that some ultrarunners even use a product called Bag Balm which is actually a salve for milking cows to lessen the chafing on their udders caused by the milking machines. The typical concern about skin lubricants for ultrarunners is how long it can stay on and offer effective protection. You may want to include this among your drop bag contingencies for races that will last a day or more.

Other solutions

Microporous medical tape is often cited as a good way to protect the nipples. This body part is probably considered the most sensitive and thus the most painful when chafed. Band Aid and other similar adhesive bandages serve the same function just as well. Since keeping your skin dry as much as possible is instrumental in preventing chafing, some ultrarunners report to have successfully used medicated powders specifically designed for skin irritation.

Treatment

Chafed skin is not simply going to go away after the race. Treat it like you would any other open wound. Chafed skin is just as susceptible to infection. Clean it with water, try not to irritate it with soap, and apply some anti-bacterial ointment on the more serious cases. It wouldn’t hurt to load up on vitamins, minerals and proteins to bolster your immune system.

Summary

Do you have questions about chafing problems and their solutions, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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