Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Runner's Tan: Why I Wear Sunblock

I've been running and cycling for 25 years. Before that, I was a kid in Minnesota and Colorado, so I was running the streets and swimming in the summer and building snow forts and skiing in the winter. I've gotten a lot of tans during my many trips around the sun.

My mom has freckles so she was okay about making us wear sunblock when we were kids. Back then, that meant she made us put it on if she was with us and remembered before leaving the house and she knew we were going to be out all. It does not mean it happened every day, repeat applications or +15 SPF.

After taking up marathoning in my 20s, I was a little better but not much. Higher SPF, but often forgetting to apply. A hat when running. That's about it. I took pride in my runner's tan. I thought it said a lot of good things about me - active, healthy, radiant, hardcore runner. Sadly, it also said, "I don't really get how aging and skin cancer work."

Today, I don't have any tan lines. I'm just as active (slower but still out there), I'm just a lot more covered up. The other day, I went out with SPF 60 sunblock on my hands, legs and face. But I hadn't done my arms because I was wearing a light jacket. Unfortunately, it was warmer than I thought. I was sweating like crazy but I kept on that jacket because there is NO WAY, at this point in my life, that I'm getting burnt.

Friends tease me. I don't care. I've never been that big on peer pressure. Plus, I know the damage I've done already. It's subtle on my body - small freckles fill in my old runner's tan while the parts that have always been covered remain clear and smooth. On my face, the miles show more. Melasma - freckle patches on my forehead, cheeks and upper lip - makes it a lot easier to guess my age, despite very few wrinkles.

My mom still has freckles, too, of course. But since some of them started turning into little blobs of skin cancer, she is has become a skin care booster. When she gardens, she wears a long-sleeve shirt with built in SPF. She wears floppy, wide-brimmed hats. When running (yes, my 65-year-old mom does about 4 miles every day!), she slathers on the sunblock. She's pale, and that's beautiful because it's healthy.

I'm lucky to have her as a skin role model - for the bad and the good. Hopefully, what I've learned from her as an adult will help balance what we did to our skin 30 years ago. I'm taking it so seriously that, this April, the shirt I'll wear for the Nashville Half Marathon is long sleeved.

Apply and reapply sunblock. Cover up. Be healthy. Look great.