I was in the early stages of training for an ultra, slowly ramping up the mileage so my plodding self would eventually think that six hours of running on dirt trails was the most natural thing in the world. This day would see me lope joyously along for a blissful hour.
About 40 minutes in to it, I feel a sharp irritation just below my crotch on the inside of my thighs. I keep going. No guts, no glory, right? With each step, caffeinated kittens dug in with increased fervor. Five minutes later, I walked for a while with my legs spread wide, as if I had just left a load in my pants.
A carload of high school students whizzed by, honking and laughing. OK, I thought. This is ridiculous. I'll just tough it out all the way home. The pain never increased, but it never decreased either.
Once home, I peeled off my running shorts and checked the damage. Skin rubbed to hamburger, speckled with blood. Showering aggravated it briefly but severely, replacing the kittens with fire ants. I had a modified full-diaper walk for the next few days.
On tap: a two-hour run through a humid Florida spring afternoon. After the first hour, my cotton T-shirt dripped with sweat. Returning home, it felt like I had picked up sandspurs under my shirt. Every few strides I pulled at my shirt to alleive the irritation, inadvertantly molding Daliesque breasts. Finally, I just took the damn thing off.
When I got home, my non-running wife, noticing my ruby red blistered nipples, asked me, eyebrows squinched and tone suspicious, "Where exactly do you go on these long runs?"
I tried a couple of things to cure the thigh rash.
Vaseline -- I remembered this from my triathlon days when I was skinnier and much more fleet. To cut down on the swim-to-bike transition, I'd do the bike in just Speedo. A glob of Vaseline on the nose of the seat kept the thighs happy and left enough on the skin to keep me friction free on the run portion.
So now, a many years removed and several pounds heavier, I smeared a little between my legs to see if this would work again. Sure enough, it passed test during short weekday runs and a local zippy 5K.
Knowing that any changes have to handle both the speed of the shortest run and the length of the longest, I gradually increased the time of my long run. Alas, Vaseline's lubricating properties pretty much poop out once I got past an hour, 75 minutes being the max before the evil kittens returned. Back to the drawing board.
Different shorts -- I switched to longer, mid-thigh shorts from my tiny racers. Those worked for a little better, but they kept riding up, adding the sensation of carpet burn to an already uncomfortable situation. Combining Vaseline with the new shorts got me to the two-hour mark, but the chafing resumed shortly after that. However, I felt I was on the right track.
Then I had a eureka moment in Target....
Wearing Women's Clothing -- I was actually trying to get to the Lego aisle with SweetFaceBoy when we decided to cut through the store instead of staying on the designated path. This brought me to the Women's Activewear department.
Racks of thigh-length tights, form fitting, like cycling shorts without the padding hung beckoning. Over here, big boy. Give us a try. Hmmm. Navy, white, black, gray, charcoal, hot pink. Feels nice. A soft cotton/lycra blend.
"Dad! Come on!"
Along with some Star Wars Legos, I bought a gray pair, medium.
And I haven't had a problem since. Four- to five-hour runs have posed no thigh-chafing problems regardless of speed or weather. I wear them under baggy shorts each time I hit the roads.
As for those painful nipples, well, they were much, much easier to correct.
Bandages -- Place one over each trembling nipple. Don shirt. Go running. The only problem I've found with this is that sweat and friction eventually will dislodge them, and replacing them won't work. Good for shorter runs, but usually nip rash happens during longer ones.
Synthetics -- Different fabrics, such as moisture-wicking Cool Max may or may not vanquish chafing. I am definitely old school and don't care much for that fancy stuff, sticking with ratty T-shirts mostly.
Vaseline -- This time, it does the trick. Two little dabs keep everything slippery. Some gets on the shirt so by the time you're done a fair portion of your chest will be slippery.
Go Topless -- This solves the whole problem. Luckily, here I can do this most months of the year. Since I usually run in the dark, pre-dawn hours, whatever thread of modesty I still have remains intact. Of course, you girls out there have those yummy sports bras you can wear, but if you choose this option, none of us will mind.
Besides the women's clothing/topless/Vaseline strategy I employ, there are alternate methods recommended by other runners.
Some use a duct tape and Vaseline combo for their nipples while wearing panty hose or pajamas for their legs. Others forego Vaseline in favor of Bag Balm, a salve used to moisturize chapped cow udders.
Remember, we are all an experiment of one. You may need to rub yourself raw and bloody in order to find out what soothes you.