From Clean Clothes to Post-Run Showers — Proper Hygiene for Marathon Runners
By: Sara Zipf
Hand hygiene is more than a good habit—it’s your first line of defense! By keeping those palms clean, you’re dodging nearly a third of diarrheal diseases and warding off one-fifth of common respiratory woes like colds or the flu. As you rally for the Key West Half Marathon and 5K, remember that staying healthy is about more than pacing and hydration; it’s about embracing the art of hygiene, on the track and with every gym workout. Ready, set, wash—and go!
Maintaining cleanliness when on the run
Maintaining proper hygiene can seem challenging as a marathon runner, though wearing fresh and clean clothes can be one simple and key way to keep your health and cleanliness at the forefront of any run or workout. Rewearing workout clothes can be tempting (especially if you’ve fallen behind on the laundry) though doing so may result in a few issues. “They can harbor bacteria that can cause acne and folliculitis,” says Caren Campbell, MD, a San Francisco and Napa based board-certified dermatologist.
Julie Russak, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic and Russak + Aesthetic Center agrees with Campbell, stating: “From a dermatologist’s standpoint, I would be worried about fungal folliculitis — when the hair follicles become inflamed, caused by a bacterial or fungal infection — when rewearing sweaty workout clothes.” The Byrdie post goes on to explain why this happens, noting that when you exercise and sweat, pores open up. If you’re wearing dirty clothing, it could push growing bacteria, yeast, and fungus into the skin — thus highlighting the importance of putting on fresh, clean clothing before every run.
Going to the bathroom is another key hygiene point when running — planning to bring along hand sanitizer and consulting the route map for bathrooms beforehand are both fantastic ways to prepare for the Key West Half Marathon. Planning out a trip to the bathroom before the big race, however, can help lessen your chances of needing the bathroom when running. Trailrunner highlights key advice for trail runners, which can be helpful for anyone who runs long distances. “Do a routine to go to the bathroom before your run — like drinking coffee, eating breakfast, or stretching. Before you go outside, note if the bathrooms are at the trailhead, nearby trailheads, or on the way,” said Faith Overall, Community Engagement Manager of Leave No Trace (LNT).
Staying hygienic at the gym
For those who hit the gym for running or who enjoy other forms of working out to prepare for the Key West Half Marathon, proper gym hygiene is imperative. From hand-washing to wiping down equipment, the gym is a common place for both viruses and bacterial infections to spread, according to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). In fact, one study found 63 species of bacteria on equipment, handrails, and other surfaces at four Memphis-area gyms, with the most common bacteria present being the ones responsible for staph infections. According to UMMS, a staph infection most commonly affects the skin, resulting in blisters, redness, and swelling in the affected area, though in some cases it’s possible that staph can spread to the bloodstream, thus becoming a life-threatening situation.
Other infections that can be picked up at the gym include COVID-19 and the flu, as well as skin infections such as athlete’s foot and jock itch. In order to prevent contracting an infection or virus at the gym, exercising proper hygiene each time you’re there is essential. In addition to frequently washing your hands, refraining from touching your face can further help prevent illness or infection. Taking further precautions, such as wiping down machines before and after use and wearing flip flops in the gym showers (to prevent athlete’s foot) are always good ideas.
In addition to practicing hygiene on your own, choosing a clean facility that implements thorough and regular cleaning is integral to a healthy and clean gym experience. This is essential, as many people come into contact with the same surfaces every day — not to mention the fact that warm, moist environments (like the locker room and showers) can become the perfect breeding ground for fungus, bacteria, and other germs to grow. With professional and regular cleaning services that use quality products and cleaning techniques, however, a gym can effectively keep germs to a minimum for all who visit.
The undeniable value of post-run showers
While many look forward to a refreshing post-run shower, those that choose to wait may be missing out on a variety of benefits. Showering after exercise (especially in places like the gym or with others) can create a “breeding ground for bacteria on your skin,” Healthline points out. Showering not only washes away sweat, but dead skin cells that can host bacteria, too. A post-run shower can further work to prevent clogged pores (and acne breakouts as a result), though it’s noted that even a quick rinse in the shower with cool water can potentially give your immune system a boost if done regularly.
Healthline goes on to point out that showering after a workout actually helps muscles to recover, highlighting the role that showering can play in boosting your body’s ability to bounce back for your next workout. “That’s because showering can get lactic acid, the natural chemical reaction that causes soreness, out of your muscles.” Healthline further cites a small 2019 study of nine individuals that discovered that a cold shower can help decrease heart rate and reduce cardiac stress quickly following a workout in a high-temperature environment, thus underlining the value that a quick shower can have following a workout or run.
Maintaining proper hygiene as a runner goes well beyond a simple hand washing. By wearing fresh clothing, carrying hand sanitizer, showering regularly, and practicing proper hygiene at the gym, you can effectively lessen your chances of contracting an illness or infection.