The doctor said I might have skin cancer. He’d just cut a quarter-sized black mole off my back – from the area between my shoulders. An area a swimsuit doesn’t cover. An area that, especially on a swimmer, is very exposed to the sun. I was 16.
Growing up in sunny California and being active in outdoor sports like running and swimming, and being young and stupid about sunscreen application, put me at high risk. Luckily, the results came back negative for melanoma, but they cut deeper and wider around the area as a precaution. It’s just a scar now; nobody ever really sees it.
But I sort of wish I could see it so that every time I think about going for a run without putting on sunscreen, it would remind me of the dangers of spending too much time in the sun without protection.
Runners and bicyclists spend countless hours outside. How good are you at protecting your skin from the sun?
Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but if not found early, can be the most deadly. May is National Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to evaluate your sunscreen habits.
Deena Kastor, U.S. Olympic Bronze Medalist and an American record marathoner, says she wears a hat and clothing with a built-in sun protection factor (SPF) when she runs. And the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Communications Director, a veteran triathlete, Erin Mulvey, says that she uses a 30 or 45 sport or water-resistant formulation of sunscreen, but “You may want to use a stick formulation on your face so that it doesn’t run.”
Deena is partnering with Outrun the Sun this month to promote sun safety. Sign up for the Race in May, Outrun the Sun’s virtual race to help raise funds for skin cancer research and awareness for safe sun exposure.
But first, start by protecting yourself and your family by visiting SkinCancer.org for sun safety tips. Triathlete Erin also offers the following advice for people who are active in outdoor sports on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website:
- Run during hours when the sun is less intense. Generally it is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you train during those hours, find shady places to run.
- Put sunscreen on before your running outfit, not at the race site. This will give it time to soak in and keep you from applying it less thoroughly or forgetting it altogether because of pre-race excitement. Use an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen.
- Run in a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Polarized lenses help beat the glare.
- Always keep sunscreen in your race bag.
- Have a friend posted somewhere in the second half of the race to hand you a small, one-use, wipe sunscreen (or keep a small packet in your pocket), so that you can reapply it to your face, neck and arms as you run. You can do that without really breaking stride. Sunscreen starts to lose effectiveness at about the two-hour mark, or even sooner if you are sweating heavily.
- Before post-race festivities begin, reapply sunscreen, and give yourself a quick massage in the process to help relax your sore muscles.
- Post-race clothes should include a lightweight, but long-sleeved, t-shirt and sweats. Darker colors offer ideal sun protection. Or opt for special sun-protective clothing – lots of companies are making it now