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May 18, 2014

Protect yourself while running in the hot Texas sun

It is about one month away from the official start of summer. The official date may not be all that important for Texas runners when some warm, some hot, and lots of sunny days have already started.

It is still good running weather for area runners, with temperatures cool in the mornings and evenings. Some afternoons are still relatively cool for runners, and this makes it easy to get out for a run almost any part of the day. But watching the long range weather reports, Texas is still in a drought season; and reports of a hot summer are in the forecast.

Runners who run every day tend to adapt to the hot temperatures as acclimatization occurs. The pace might be slower, and the time out for a run might be a little shorter; but a well-trained runner can get used to running in hot weather. Good hydration before, during, and after the run allows most runners to run safely without problems from the heat.

One recognized sign that a runner runs on a regular basis in the summer is the amount of tan on their body. A runner who is starting the training in summer is identified by the fact that the skin becomes the painful looking sunburn red, instead of a nice brown tan.

Despite warnings from the medical profession, especially dermatologists, about the dangers of sunburn and too much exposure to the sun, many runners still head out in the heat of the day without adequate protection. In central Texas the problem of developing skin cancer is a very real occurrence to individuals who spend hours in the afternoon sun.

This same danger is present for runners who run with no shirt, or only a bare minimum of clothing, on their back and shoulders. Dermatologists will look at these runners and think that they will see them soon cutting off the skin cancers, or worse.

Common sense tells people to cover up out in the sun. Workers wear long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats to help keep the sun off their skin. While it seems impractical to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the summer, for a runner it still pays to cover up.

Wearing a light-colored - preferably white - close-weave, high-tech short-sleeved shirt is a good idea. The shirt actually helps keep the runner cool as it absorbs the sweat, and allows it to evaporate and cool the runner. A build-up of sweat on the skin acts as a barrier to evaporation and will heat the runner up more.

While a wide-brimmed cowboy hat might not seem like the best wearing apparel for a runner, I have seen runners at races wearing just such an item. A narrow-brimmed runner’s hat is better than going bareheaded. The narrow brim may at least protect the ears from direct sun.

Putting on sunscreen is always recommended. Many runners do not like the slick feeling on the skin that sunscreen gives, when they start sweating and the moisture mixes with the sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen on the forearms, neck area and the lower part of the face is only a small area and does not cause much of a problem.

Putting sunscreen up on the forehead and near the eyes is often a painful experience when the sunscreen runs into the eyes. Wearing a headband helps keep the sunscreen out of the eyes. Wearing a baseball-style cap keeps the sun off the upper face, and will work in place of the sunscreen near the eyes.

The summer heat is soon upon us, and the forecast is for a sunny summer. Take precautions, and let common sense prevail over fashion when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun during your runs. Your skin will appreciate it; and trips to the dermatologist in the future will be for other reasons than cutting off a skin cancer.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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