If you’re made of leather (like John Boehner or Keith Richards) then you can ignore this post. If you’re not made of browned cowskin, pay attention.
Because I have run a few marathons, new runners tend to ask me for tips, at work, at social gatherings, or when I accost them, uninvited, on the streets. It always starts with the shoes. “What kind of shoes should I wear?”
“Anything but barefoot shoes,” I tell them, “unless you like stress fractures and you want to head down a deluded, minimalist road where you’ll soon be patterning your diet after what a bunch of weirdoes think cave men used to eat. (I’ll tell you what they used to eat: Whatever they could find, for weeks at a time, and then nothing, and then the next thing they could find. But the “Paleo Plum Sauce” column – as God is my witness, I have seen that on a menu – will appear another time, when I’m sufficiently prepared for the humorless Paleo backlash.)
Sometimes they’ll ask me about how fast to train. “Get my app,” I suggest, with no shame at all, “even if you have to buy a new Nokia Lumia to do it. Alternately, speed up until you puke. You’ll learn something either way.”
More rarely, they’ll ask me about on-the-run nutrition. “Do you tolerate the mainstream gels OK, or should I roll my own vegan maltodextrin sucrotryingtohardalose syrup?”
“Eat Power Bar gels, or whatever’s runniest,” I tell them, “because there’s nothing worse than trying to shove a thick, TripleChocolatePudding gel down at race pace – especially when cold weather has firmed the thing up into a diamond-hard, snack-sized candy bar. Better yet, learn to eat and drink anything. Practice by chomping down a greasy, spicy Italian sausage, drowning the flames with a beer, then heading out for a 15-mile run.”
But almost no one asks me about the single most important factor in determining if you have a comfortable marathon: means and methods to avoid sanding off your nipples, filling your shoes with blood, or lighting your crotch on fire.
For the record, I am firmly opposed to the flaming crotch, dead-set against abrasive nipple removal, and decidedly un-keen on shoes full of blood. Over the 35 years I’ve been sanding off my nipples, filling my shoes with blood, and lighting my crotch on fire – by which I mean, running – I’ve come up with some pretty fool-proof methods to avoid it. Best of all, they’re (mostly) cheap and easy to implement.
Let’s review the procedures, in order of anatomy, beginning up top.
Keeping the belt sander away from your precious nips
Ladies, you don’t need to be told this one. I see you on the trail, all sports-bra-ed up, keeping things under control, even if it takes a pair to keep your pair in line. You get a big thumbs up. You can skip out until the next lesson, maybe have class out there on the green under a tree.
Dudes, you have no clue. It’s not your fault, you don’t have don’t have the life experience with chesticular dangers.
Step one is ditching the cotton. All fabric gets worse with sweat, but cotton performs as well as a burlap potato sack. Besides, you impress no one with the torn-sleeved Bubba shirt, not even the one expressing your love for favorite [beer, sports team, sunny vacation spot, touring musician]. Since Target sells adequate wicking gear (G9), there’s no reason not to pick something up there. Just pay cash, unless you want some Romanian teenager using your credit card to charge up his Friday night with canned whipped cream and prune wine.
Whatever you choose to wear, it’ll be inadequate for the long run. You don’t need to be sporting a perky pair of moobs to need some help. I don’t care how downy soft your fancy tech fabric kit feels at the start. Three hours of sweat turns the slickest fabric into the world into Satan’s own hair shirt. At the same time, your waterlogged skin is soft and durable as a baby’s butt. By the finish line, that bright yellow tank is going to be sporting a gnarly-looking orange-to-red gradient as your blood wicks through it. It’ll look like a 9th grade girl designed it for MySpace. Worse yet, the entire, blood-craved cast of Twighlight is going to be chasing you down, and you won’t have enough energy left to straighten Pattinson’s crooked schnozz for him, nor even politely critique his wooden, slack-eyed performances.
So, men, whether you’re packing crossfit-built, muscle-y pecs; bacon-fueled, squishy moobs – no judgment here, bro, safety zone – or you’re a flat-chested, 157-pound toothpick like me, you need to guard those nips. Over the years, the running world has come up with some decent products to help you get this done, from plain old athletic tape (It works, but it’s not always comfy.) to funky, foamy nip-guards that look like a miniature version of a hemorrhoid donut, or those geriatric toe-corn dealies you read about when you’re stuck in line behind a penny counter at CVS. A lot of you will whip out the drug-store bandages, but if you’re a really sweaty guy, those can delaminate 16 miles into a marathon, giving you an hour with the belt sander that has suddenly morphed out of your $80 wicking shirt.
The best solution I’ve ever found is the 3M waterproof bandage. These wonders of modern science, when correctly applied, are impervious to water. You can’t sweat them off. Trust me, I’m a world-class sweater, and I live in a place where the summer trail 50Ks feature lovely, 80-degree temps with 80% humidity. These things stick so well that, as you sweat beneath them, they actually pressurize. No joke, wear some safety goggles when you take these off after the race, or have a couple beers and invite your friends and relatives over to watch you pop the caps. It’s gross and awesome, all at once. Oh, close your mouth, too.
To apply these correctly on race day, first use a little alcohol on a cotton ball to clean the oil off the nips. It’ll give you a chilling, thrilling start to the day. These are made of really thin, rubbery plastic, so they come with these little paper stiffening frames around the edges so you don’t mess them up. Fair warning: You will mess them up anyway, because they stick to themselves like Kim Kardashian sticks to a buffet table. You put them on with the little paper frames on, then, after they’re stuck down, you peel off the little frames.
If you sweat straight up testosterone or think your manly secretions are really going to challenge them, prep with a little tincture of benzoin, which is tree gum in an alcohol suspension. Apply it, enjoy the disgusting, bloody-brown look, the funky, hippy-cologne-ish smell, and wait for it to dry a minute. Soon, you’ll have sticky, brown skin, suitable for catching flies at the feed store. Then put the 3M wonder bandages on, and I’m pretty sure your neighbor Harold’s pressure washer won’t take these off, though if you issue that challenge, please have your spouse rolling the GoPro video, and send it my way. If you fly to races, be sure to get pre-packaged alcohol prep swabs (dirt cheap at the drug store) and benzoin sticks (cheap-ish from Amazon) so that you don’t get the TSA’s bomb-sniffing dogs on your case.