Training during bad forest fire season

  • Creator
  • #55937

    Hi there

    I’m in the last seven weeks of the Big Vert training plan, with more long runs scheduled.

    I’m in western Canada where the smoke is pretty bad right now 🙁 I doubt it’s going to get much better any time soon…I think this could easily go on for weeks.

    What tips do you have on modifying training when it’s smoky outside? I’m personally not that motivated to do 4-5h runs on a treadmill inside, though would be open to doing some occasional treadmill training.

    Would you avoid much zone 3 training? Would it be better to go for brisk hikes at a lower HR? I’m also willing to back off the training for a few weeks and wait for things to (hopefully) improve, if there’s a way to maintain the progress I’ve made so far with the plan.

    Would love to hear your suggestions!


Posted In: Mountain Running

  • Participant
    mark.f.rosebrough on #55948

    I’ve been meaning to write this post myself. Thanks for putting it out there. I will share some personal observations, but am mostly here to see if people smarter than me have any advice. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d say we have some form of smoke about 70% of summer days. It comes in two forms – light smoke from far off fires or choking smoke from local fires. When it is very thick, I suck it up and hit the treadmill. In both cases, I have found that the smoke tends to somewhat dissipate in the afternoon due to local weather conditions. Have you noticed that conditions are better during a certain time of day where you live? If so, you could try to plan to run when conditions are somewhat better.

    I’d mostly be interested in knowing about the known long terms impacts of exercising in smoky conditions. New Mexico is my home, and I do not intend to leave. Sadly, the smoke gets worse every year. If I want to live a fit life, I will need to find a way to live with it.

    Jo on #55949

    Hi Mark
    Thanks for sharing your experience! Smoke is unfortunately becoming a regular summer theme here too, it’s like having a fifth (and very unpleasant) season 🙁

    A few years ago there was definitely a pattern where the mornings were a bit hazy and the smoke got progressively worse throughout the day, I think as the fires (nearby) picked up. This year there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.

    There is an Air Quality Health Index in Canada but there is no sensor in my town. There’s also a radar website ( that I use though so far I haven’t found it super helpful for planning.

    Would love to know how to modify a plan when smoke is consistently bad, and what workouts are ok/not ok to do…

    LindsayTroy on #55952

    Jo- Depending on your budget, you could purchase a purple air sensor for your house to know your local AQI.

    Also, have you seen this:

    Jo on #55999

    Thank you for the tips. Unfortunately I don’t have a subscription for the NYT so can’t seem to access the article…

    Mariner_9 on #56003

    I’m also in western Canada so have the same issue. I haven’t modified my training but have noticed certain areas local to me seem to be better or worse, presumably a function of fire locations, wind direction, geography, etc. With that in mind, might it be possible to train outside in areas less badly affected?

    LindsayTroy on #56014

    Here are some quotes from that NYTimes article:

    Before deciding whether to exercise outside, we should know what inhaled smoke may do to our insides. The details are not reassuring.

    Inhaling large volumes of wildfire smoke can inflame lungs, says Jennifer Stowell, a postdoctoral associate at Boston University’s School of Public Health, who has studied the health effects of wildfires. Some research suggests that wildfire smoke “may be more toxic” to the lungs than standard urban air pollution, she says, since it contains a distinct mix of particulates that activate inflammatory cells “deep in the lungs” while hindering other cells that can dampen the inflammatory response later.

    Those same particles also can migrate from the lungs and “disrupt and upset the natural tone of blood vessels,” says James Hull, a sports pulmonologist at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health in London. In past studies, people who exercised while breathing in diesel exhaust, a pollutant somewhat similar to wildfire smoke, developed fleeting changes in how efficiently their blood vessels dilated and contracted as blood flowed through them. These changes could, over time, contribute to blood pressure problems and other cardiovascular issues.

    Orange signifies “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on the color-coded Air Quality Index devised by the Environmental Protection Agency and is probably the highest alert at which it is advisable for most people to exercise outside, says Matthew Strickland, an associate professor of health sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno, who has studied links between wildfire smoke and emergency room visits.

    “My opinion is that it is reasonable to exercise on ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ days,” he says, if you are not among those sensitive groups — such as people with asthma, the elderly and children — and “if you do not experience acute symptoms,” he says. “But I would avoid exercising outside on days classified as ‘very unhealthy’” — purple — or “hazardous” — maroon.

    Most of us might assume low-intensity activities would be preferable in smoke, since we wouldn’t be breathing as hard. But, “surprisingly, there is not yet any evidence that, for a given duration, higher-intensity exercise is more harmful than lower-intensity exercise,” says Dr. Michael Koehle, the director of the Environmental Physiology Laboratory at the University of British Columbia.

    Masks may help a little, says Dr. Crooks, of the Colorado School of Public Health. “An N95 respirator mask, worn properly, can filter out some of the particles,” he says. But it “will do little to protect against harmful gases in the smoke, such as carbon monoxide.” Plus, N95 masks are still in short supply because of the ongoing pandemic and, to be effective, must fit snugly against the face, which can feel intolerable during exercise. The looser facial coverings many of us wear now to lower our risk of spreading the coronavirus to others will provide negligible protection against wildfire pollutants — though they remain “a moral imperative” during the pandemic, he says.

    “A ballpark estimate” is that particulate levels indoors “may be roughly half of outdoors,” depending on “how leaky a building is,” says Robert Laumbach, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health who researches wildfire smoke and health.

    On days with poor air quality, exercising inside, with windows tightly closed, an air-conditioner on “recirculation mode” and, if you own one, an air purifier with HEPA filter humming, “can help to substantially reduce exposure to particulate-matter air pollution,” he says.

    Mariner_9 on #56040

    Thanks, Lindsay.

    Jo on #56066

    Thank you that is helpful! I get the sense we don’t totally know what’s ok and what’s not, and probably don’t know all the long term effects.

    I have heard some areas within an hour or so drive are not as bad depending on the day, but it’s hard to commit to that not knowing…Unfortunately I feel like Canada is a bit behind the times with measuring air quality in a quantifiable way outside of more major cities.

    For now I’m basically just slowing down on my runs as for intuitively breathing shallower seems like it makes sense…and might take a chance and drive a bit further for a long run to see if I luck out with the smoke.

    If the UA team ever feels like doing an article like this I know lots of people I have talked to are interested in this topic and everyone’s opinion seems to be different! Thanks for all the info I really appreciate it 🙂

    dan.k on #56088

    Living in Hong Kong air pollution is something that we always have to deal with (especially in winter). The wind/weather conditions are much worse for pollution here in winter and cooler temps also don’t help.

    There are an abundance of apps here for keeping track throughout the day and some of them have global aqi info (e.g. Air Matters).

    I am personally pretty risk averse when it comes to running in mucky air. Ours isn’t from the same source as US/Canada so I can’t compare apples to apples but I generally don’t go out if it is anything more than “yellow” on the US scale (moderate).

    One thing that is also interesting is how all the different air quality indices are different. The index used by HK govt prioritizes short term health effects which basically means ozone is heavily weighted over pm2.5 which is much more a long term health issue. If you ever have the unpleasant experience of running in high ozone you will likely be at home afterwards wondering what that burning is in your chest (yuck). Ozone is much more likely to put some people in the hospital so the HK index is skewed to that. I generally look at the US index and primarily pm2.5 and pm10 but will also check ozone first. Ozone is nearly always worse later in the day when it’s really sunny.

    We don’t tend to get months on end of non-stop terrible air and so I make do with gyms and indoor bikes as a stop gap. We generally have sep to March as the worst months but it is not like every day is bad and mornings are usually better. I also have a number of high end air purifiers and AQi Meters in my home so I know what the indoor air quality is. I don’t know about in US but most indoor commercial buildings here seem to have very good air filtration. I have taken one of my meters to the gym and seen that the air was very good.

    But yes, if you don’t have any filtration and you have leaky windows and doors the indoor air quality will be surprisingly bad. It’s amazing how much just coming and going through the front door of the apt messes it up on a bad day.

    One thing that is worth pointing out is that indoor meters are pretty useless outdoors and not accurate but, unless your burning food in your apt at the time, if your indoor quality is bad then it’s likely that the outdoor is as bad or worse.

    I feel like I am very cautious compared to others I know here though. It’s not that I have an sensitivities it’s just that I don’t think any of it is good for you and due to the volumes of time outside that we do you are talking significantly more exposure than average person.

    I have tried running in different pollution masks (and I think they work to a degree) but they are mostly difficult to keep fitted correctly if your sweating etc. I have used an “Airinum” mask a bit if there is a reason I really want to go outside but usually I just feel like it’s more enjoyable/less hassle to make do with the gym and indoor stuff rather than try to do a long one wearing a mask. I actually purposely bought a cheap bike and a good turbo trainer primarily to give me a way to do indoor workouts at home when it’s bad. I know biking isn’t a great transfer to running but I don’t have space for a treadmill and being able to do something is better than nothing if we get a block of bad days.

    It is definitely super frustrating when you have been training well and your long weekend workouts get scuppered by pollution.

    Brandon Phillips on #56254

    I just got on here wondering if anyone else needed to vent the same frustrations. I was about halfway through Luke’s intro to ultras 50k program and feeling very strong when our fires got really bad. I haven’t been able to train outside in about 2.5 weeks. I live in Northern California near the Dixie fire. It’s enough that I have decided I am leaving California after this summer. Just so frustrating.

    I did get to go to a friend’s wedding in Alaska recently. It was a welcome reprieve to be in the mountains in 65 degrees F and drizzly rain.

    Anyway, I feel the frustrations echoed here. The aqi has been over 500 at my house for the last two days.

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