It has been a hot, sticky summer. It's been a challenge to feel comfortable on a run, even in the early morning, with the problems our weather has posed for hydration, electrolytes and for me, my skin.
Chafing is real, and it holds a lot of women back from enjoying a run or sometimes even running at all. We chafe at the typical spots on our feet and thighs, but our curves and the fit of our gear can actually create worse chafing along our bra lines.
First, get to know your gear on short runs in comfortable weather. If you get hot spots on cooler, dry days, you're going to need a better plan for longer adventures or hotter weather. If the seams of that cute tank top rub along the hem of your best bra, you're not going to be able to wear them together for much longer than 5 or 10k--I have kits that are for shorter runs and clothes that are proven to go the distance.
Next, don't compromise on your running bras. Don't save $20 on something that fits awkwardly or doesn't offer adequate support, because you will never wear that garment and you've ultimately wasted your money. A secure fit eliminates half of your chafing, and a bra cut well for your body shape will help with much of the rest. Don't think cute, think functional. After your shoes, this is the most important gear investment in your comfort and success.
Be ready to upgrade your socks. Personally, I find that lightweight wool wicks moisture better than synthetics. I have increased my running distances but decreased my foot and toe chafing by changing up my sock fibers. I have surprisingly less ugly feet than you'd expect to see on a distance runner, and much of that is due to chafing management. Wool FTW!
If you like wearing hydration packs or vests, choose a women's specific design. There is an incredible difference between unisex designs (which companies sometimes offer in pink to suggest a custom fit that you won't achieve) and and ultra vest that has been specifically engineered for women. Women's vests are intended to hug our curves and bounce less; less bouncing will translate to less chafing. Some of you will fit into garment-style packs and others will appreciate the ability to adjust straps on more traditional designs. This is a function of your specific shape, so make sure you try on several brands and styles before you decide. This is a larger financial investment, so take the time to get it right. I went through three packs before I found the one that eliminated chafing the best. If I had slowed down my process, I might have gotten it right the first time and saved a bit of money along the way.
Finally, there are some hot, sweaty days that you'll chafe even with the best combination of your most comfortable gear. There are some anti-chafing products that work great. Steer clear of petroleum jelly--it doesn't work well enough or long enough to justify the mess it's going to make in your laundry. Instead, take a look at some products designed especially for athletes. Body Glide has really convenient packaging and lasts well in even in humidity and rain. It's easy to reach the back of your bra band with the deodorant-stick style application. Squirrel's Nut Butter comes in big tubs to slather on before your run and mini-sized to carry with you if you're going to be adventuring long enough to reapply. My minimalist strategy is to carry an unflavored lip balm on long runs--great for chapped lips, great for touching up your hot spots in the backcountry.
We can't prevent every instance of chafing, but that stinging you get in the shower can be mostly managed. Good fabrics, good fits and good lube go a long way to protect our skin.