Monday, February 26, 2007

Running, Marathons, Chafing, and Vaseline

While running my first marathon I saw volunteers dispensing vaseline at about mile 20, and I couldn't imagine what it could be used for. Honestly. After the marathon, though, I found out. A soapy shower was a painful ordeal for the next few days.

I've never discussed this issue with a woman runner other than my sweetheart, so I have no idea whether it applies. Maybe a woman shouldn't even read this. For that matter I haven't discussed it with men either. When I raised the subject once in an all-guys group run I was quickly shouted down! I had crossed a boundary into uncomfortable conversation.

RRS Running ShortsWhat can happen to me is that certain uniquely-male parts will rub against the inside of my thighs, causing chafing on the thighs. After all, we land on each leg perhaps 20,000 times in a marathon, and stuff does bounce around. I'm certain that the chafing could even result in bleeding, eventually, though that's never happened to me. The damage is limited to the thighs; the other parts are apparently tougher. Go figger.

I have never used vaseline in any of 22 marathons, or in runs of any shorter distance, and never seriously wished that I had used it. When I prepare properly, the chafing isn't bad enough to bother. I do apply hand lotion to the inner thighs before the race.

The real answer, though, is in the shorts. Running shorts have an inner liner which fully contains a gentleman's uniquely-male parts, and which forms a barrier between those parts and his thighs. Looking at my four pairs of shorts, two problems are evident:

  • The liner is made of a mesh-like material with a rather low thread count. A little like cyclone fencing versus window screen. Even though the cloth feels soft to the touch, it is rough against skin sliding past it. I believe that it acts a little like drywall sandpaper over 20,000 bounces.
  • The liner is too loose and stretchy. At least for me it is (have I given away any information here?). Because it's loose, the male parts bounce around too much, giving the sandpaper plenty of work to do.
I like shorts with lots of pockets (cell phone, gels, extra gloves, ibuprofen, whatever), especially for marathons, and that limits my choices. I use Road Runner Sports "Stamina Plus" shorts. I love these shorts, except for the liner. Lots of pockets. And inside the shorts I use another pair of shorts: Brooks "Runderwear" Briefs. This means that the RRS liner is still in contact with the thighs. However, the Brooks shorts are considerably stronger and less elastic, thereby cutting the chafing by reducing the bounce while running. At least I think that's true; a guy could break his neck trying to check on that bounce.

Brooks RunderwearUntil my last marathon (here and here) I normally finished a marathon with a tolerable amount of chafing. But for this last one, the liner in my RRS running shorts had worn so badly that I just scissored it out of the shorts and depended entirely on the Brooks undershorts.

A runner really shouldn't try something new for the first time during an important race. But I got lucky; the result was zero chafing. None. I suppose that the Brooks briefs prevented most of the bounce, as always. And in addition, because the briefs are very smooth with a high thread count, there was apparently no sandpaper effect at all on the thighs. I'm tempted to remove the liner from all my running shorts.

No doubt there are many makers of good running shorts and of good briefs. When I found these, I stopped looking. If you know of running shorts that combine it all, lots of pockets and an inner liner that does what it should do, please leave a comment.

1 comment:

Chris Duckworth said...

Preparing for my first ever marathon tomorrow, and I found your post. Thank you for this, and I'll keep reading!

For what it's worth, I have a few pair of compression shorts - Nike, Under Armor, and Road Runner Sports store brand, I think - and I find these to be perfect. I can't run without them. My thighs rub against each other, not to mention the the other anatomy ... the compression shorts are perfect.

Well, thanks again.