The Sunscreen Speech

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

running tipsAbout 10 years ago a Chicago newspaper columnist dispensed sound advice to graduates that latter became known as The Sunscreen Speech. Mary Schmich’s smart commentary gained wide exposure thanks to an Internet hoax and a schmaltzy Top 40 song using the essay as lyrics. I was reminded of Schmich’s opening line — “Wear sunscreen.” — after reading a new study showing marathoners are more susceptible to skin cancer than the general population.

Researchers at a medical university in Graz, Austria studied 210 marathon runners and an equal number of nonmarathoners for changes in skin over time. What they discovered was that the distance runners stood a better change of developing “age spots” and lesions that can lead to common skin cancers like basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

Prolonged exposure to sunlight from hours of daytime running only explained part of it. When you sweat, you reduce protection from harmful ultraviolet rays and increase the risk of sunburn. But the researchers say a big contributor is the sheer intensity of marathon running. “Excessive exercise,” as they referred to marathon training and race-day activity, suppresses the body’s immune function. This also explains why distance runners tend to tend to catch a cold or the flu as their training peaks.

What may be surprising is how little training it takes to increase skin cancer odds. A third of the marathoners in the study ran up to 25 miles a week. Only 15 percent ran more than 45 miles weekly, while the rest averaged between 25 and 45. And only half of those tested wore sunscreen.

Lead researcher Christina Ambros-Rudolph in a published report said she and her colleagues referred almost twice as many marathon runners as nonrunners to local dermatologists for skin lesions. And this was despite the control group having a higher sun sensitivity than the athletic one.

So cover up when running outdoors (which is easy enough if you live where it’s cold right now) and wear waterproof sunscreen on exposed areas, regardless of the climate. When it does turn warm enough to shed those layers, try to avoid running when the sun is strongest. It’s sound advice, and that’s no hoax.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on November 30th at 7:19 am

    I was talking to a friend last night that mentioned reading that same article. He’s currently setting up an appointment to have a bunch of spots that appeared on his chest and belly this summer checked out. He was out training for the New York marathon, but he also went swimming off the coast of New Jersey. He’s not sure which caused the problems.

  2. Mark Iocchelli on November 30th at 1:41 pm

    I just had a conversation two days ago. This fella’s friend – a 52 year old runner died from Cancer that started as a little spot on his cheek.


  3. Anne on November 30th at 2:38 pm

    I admit this really hit home. I have a rare skin disease called DSAP that leads to an aggressive cancer if not continually treated. I ALWAYS wear sunscreen!