Smoke from the Canadian wildfires is behind us – at least for the moment, it seems – but we’re probably far from seeing the end of “bad” air days this summer. We’ll be the first to admit it; the weather, the humidity, the air… they’ll have to really gang up to keep us grounded. Most of But does that necessarily add up to being a bad day to run, a bad day to run?
Let’s start with air quality.
If you spent any time outside last week, you could see the actual smoke hanging in the air around Charlotte. You probably saw the video of orange skies over New York and New Jersey, or those smoggy, smoke-screened pictures of LA from any given day. At that point, your eyes can tell you the air quality is less than perfect.
The stuff you can’t see, like pollution, ozone, and other fine particulates, is monitored and then summed up in the Air Quality Index or AQI. Without going all Bill Nye here, the AQI rates air quality as a number between 0-500 and a range of colors from green to maroon. Green is good; maroon is presumably chunky.
What that means for you and me.
The better the air, the obvious. And for most of us on most days, we’re ok, and mild exposure to air pollution may leave us with irritated eyes or scratchy throats, coughing, or shortness of breath. For folks with heart conditions, asthma or other respiratory issues, children and the elderly, the effects can be more serious and can linger even after the air is cleared. And yes, during the summertime the AQI is often higher. Pollution, smoke, exhaust, etc., combine with warmer temperatures to make air quality worse.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality says, “Code Red AQI days are rare,” here. The last time the Charlotte area hit that unfortunate benchmark was during 2016, when wildfires in western North Carolina pushed particle pollution levels higher across most of the western part of the state.
Yes, but can I run on bad air days?
That depends. Most of us may not even notice the difference if the air quality is the green, yellow, or even orange zones as we go about our day-to-day routines. Sucking wind during a long, hot, or faster run and you may start to feel it. If you are going to run, consider going out earlier in the morning, or a route that’s farther from traffic, like a park or a trail.
“You should know what kind of exposure you can tolerate,” said Dr. Keith Anderson, Medical Director for the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. “If you’re sensitive to air quality, or have underlying health conditions, you should adjust your running plans.”
Generally speaking, most of us are just fine to exercise when the air is less than perfect. But, most experts suggest that when air quality enters the orange zone, the benefits may outweigh the risks.
Air quality is easy to monitor.
Airnow.gov is a government website that reports air quality data from the EPA, NOAA, NASA, the CDC and a bunch of other official sources and agencies with initials for names. The NC Department of Environmental Quality reports air quality current conditions and forecasts here. Information on air quality monitoring in South Carolina can be found here. If you’re really into it, there are several weather and air quality apps available for your phone, where you can set up air quality alerts and really be on top of things.
If you can’t or don’t run, try these ideas to scratch that running itch.
- Take a must-needed day off.
- Drink some water. You’re probably dehydrated.
- Begin that core and flexibility routine you promised to start.
- Collect your old running shoes for donation.
- Visit your local specialty running shop.
- Research a volunteer opportunity at an upcoming running event.
- Register for that bucket list event.
- Find a coach, running club, or weekly meet-up to keep you accountable.
Got some other ideas we should share? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org