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Avoid Sunburn, Prevent Cancer AND Save Time in Transition

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Want to protect yourself AND save time in transition and throughout your race day? Who doesn’t?

Endurance athletes have a lot to consider on race day. Sunscreen is a must, for safety, performance and comfort. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer, and the number is likely higher for outdoorsy triathletes. But skin cancer is preventable with proper care.

Additionally, sunburn can zap your energy and increase dehydration and discomfort, especially in the later stages of the race. So, we can agree everyone needs to wear sunscreen on race day and make sure they are protected. But what’s the best way?

Some opt to have volunteers cover them in transition. This takes time, and is unreliable. Brands are whatever is available. You won’t know the SPF or chemical makeup and if you’re sensitive, you could have a reaction - not ideal while racing. And who hasn’t seen someone with really interesting sunburn patterns post race from where a volunteer slathered them and missed a spot?

Ironman, sunscreen, volunteers
He's smiling now but wait til he's burnt where they missed

Others think spray sunscreen will be easier and faster. Having watched athletes in transition at a recent 70.3, I can confirm that this is neither comprehensive protection, nor does it save time in transition. Bottles flying or missing from transition spots. Aerosol spraying not getting all your crucial areas of coverage. I mean, did it really cover your traps? And, well, it just takes time.

sunburn, triathletes
But I sprayed sunscreen on my back...

Be Sun Smart

I’m a fair skinned, recovering ginger. I’ve had skin cancer, largely due to damage caused when I was a kid. I train and race outdoors and in many conditions. No matter what the forecast, I use my patented (ok, not really), pre-race sunscreen protocol and do NOT have to reapply during the race. I do not have to reapply after the swim. And it has lasted me through full Ironman races on VERY sunny days (Texas and Cozumel) with zero sunburn. I’ve had people ask me during a race how I am not sunburnt when their legs are cracking during the run. Did I stop and reapply at every aid station?


I use a high quality sunscreen that combines a physical blocker, such as zinc, that remains on the surface of your skin blocking UVA/UVB rays, as well as an organic but chemical blocker that converts UV rays into heat and then releases that heat from your skin - thereby not absorbing that heat into your body, which is an added benefit on race day!

There’s a lot of great science behind why Zinc (versus avobenzone), but the net-net is that Zinc provides better UV protection for all UVA/UVB wavelengths and offers more photostability, which means it will protect your skin longer.

Proper Sunscreen Protocol

My secret? I shower the night before the race. It helps me sleep a little. Then, I apply my sunscreen all over whether they may be exposed or not. I finish my race prep and go to bed, and SLEEP with my sunscreen on. When I get up, I eat my pre-race breakfast first, then re-apply another layer of sunscreen and finish prepping and head off.

I do not re-apply when I get out of the water in T1. Or on the bike. Or in T2. I do have a single use pack of it that I carry when I race, just in case, but I’ve given these to other athletes more than I have ever used them. So, I never stop during the race and mess with sunscreen. This saves at least 2 minutes and as much as 5 minutes depending on the length of your race. It's FREE speed.

Now, I generally don’t dump water all over me during a race. I DO use resealable snack bags and fill them with ice and put them in my hat, down my jersey, etc to stay cool on hot days. I prefer this to dumping water, which could wear down sunscreen AND add to chafing.

triathlon, triathlete, sunscreen, zinc
Zealios Sun Barrier delivers all day protection

I use Zealios Sun Barrier, as do many of my favorite pro triathletes! Zealios, based in Bend Oregon, makes great products designed for endurance athletes to use while training and competing. Their Sun Barrier is amazing, all I use, and approved by my dermatologist. The giant bottle is pricey but lasts a LONG time! I also like their betwixt chamois cream and swim and sport body products.

Team TMT Athletes Team Deal

Our Team TMT Athletes get 25% off all Zealios products, using our Team Code. Just another reason why TMT athletes are better prepared and always smiling!

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