While it might sound a bit absurd or even comical, it is a serious issue many runners have to deal with during long races: bleeding nipples.

Of all the things racers have to put up with: sore knees, broken toenails, bad backs – bleeding nipples sounds like the oddest of ailments. Hong Kong’s Nic Tinworth, who runs the Hong Kong Trail Runner blog and is one of the founders of the Race Base Asia, said two common medical supplies help when the chafing and rubbing against fabric create enough friction to open cuts.

“Band-Aids and Vaseline,” said the 45-year-old, who recently ran the QNET Gurkha Trailblazer after a cancer diagnosis and treatment regime. “There’s a couple great photos floating around of my early days with streaming bloody nipples before I got the clue.”

Runner’s World has an entire article dedicated to photos of runners who have taken shots of themselves after races, blood streaming down their shirts in gruesome fashion. Most said they didn’t even notice they had started bleeding until after the race was done, or when they went to a Porta Potty for a bathroom break.

While cotton shirts are the main offenders, tightness can also play a role as many runners like to wear form fitting T-shirts. The development of new fabrics, such as Dri-Fit, has helped, and companies such as Azani have developed shirts specifically designed to “prevent chafing during your workouts”. The shirt is made of polyester and elastane.

Peter Hopper, who is a partner at Gone Running, said Pjur, a lifestyle products company initially supplied a lubricant that runners found solved the problem of bleeding nipples. The original one was called “Backdoor” and was developed for reducing irritation in a completely different application but runners were using it to prevent chafing. When the company realised this, said Hopper, they produced a rebranded version called “2Skin”.

Hopper, who is also a regular runner, said “chafing is a serious problem in Hong Kong’s damp environment but Pjur, with experience of preventing irritation in all kinds of aggressive environments, have managed to make bleeding nipples a thing of the past”.

Livestrong, which refers to the ailment as “jogger’s nipple”, lists a number of ways to prevent cuts, noting it is “fairly common in male athletes”.

“The technical name for jogger’s nipple is fissures of the nipple or dermatitis of the nipple. It’s more common in male athletes than female since most women wear a bra when working out, and that protects the nipple from jogger’s nipple.”

Livestrong also noted rowers and cyclists can also get it.

Amazon sells a product called NipStrips, which are clear stickers that go on the nipples before a race. One review noted NipStrips “were like magic. Putting them on was like the hand of a sweet angel, comforting me, telling me to ‘Run, run far, mortal earthling. I’ll take care of your nipples.’”

John Ellis, who is an ultra runner and also a director of Gone Running, which also has a store in Wan Chai, said the issue is something that can be inflamed by the elements as well. Ellis, who came third earlier this year at the Nine Dragons Ultra, has completed every race he has ever entered.

It’s a serious problem, especially as the weather warms up, as a soggy top carries more water weight and can exacerbate
John Ellis

“It’s a serious problem, especially as the weather warms up, as a soggy top carries more water weight and can exacerbate the up-and-down rubbing action.

Ellis, who has been photographed numerous times without his shirt after completing a race, said de-robing is also an option, for some.

“Personally, I’m a big fan of just removing the offending chafe material and running topless but I appreciate it’s not an option for at least half the population. Failing that, a couple of Band-Aids will do the trick. Just remember to trim any nipple and chest hair first.”