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Running And Air Quality

running-gas-maskYou are enjoying a wonderful run outside. The wind is lightly blowing, your iPod is thumping, the sun is shining, and you are breathing in a bunch of toxic garbage suspended in the air. Oh, so close.

Now that summer is fast approaching, for many of us that live in or near an urban setting, poor outdoor air quality will start to increase its unwelcomed presence.

Running will not stop but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and reduce the risks associated with inhaling this unhealthy cocktail of contaminants.

Why Should You Be Aware

When running your heart rate is elevated so you are consuming much more air than if you were sitting in a comfy chair on the patio with a glass of wine in your hand. Also, most run breathing is through the mouth which bypasses one of our natural filtering mechanisms; the old schnoz.

If the air quality is quite poor,  it will have an HOV lane to the lungs and there will be a significant unnecessary stress put on the body to try and get rid of all contaminants. Whether the body will be successful in this clean-up is not a guarantee and may be based on a whole array of factors.

Can you see the possible concern?

How To Be Aware Of Conditions In Your Area

First it would be beneficial to know the current jargon used to describe air quality.

The U.S. uses the AQI (Air Quality Index) to define air quality for a particular location. The index ranges from 0-500+. The lower the value, the better the air quality.

Here is a nice chart displaying the various AQI levels and their meaning as displayed at the governments air quality and information site AirNow.

Air Quality Index Chart

Air Quality Index Chart

Wiki provides a description of indices other countries use.

What are the conditions in your city?

To stay up to date on your local air quality, cities that have pollution issues will often mention the air quality levels in their news reports or on their website.

The U.S. government’s site AirNow is pretty cool and you can find all kinds of information concerning air quality within the country. Of most interest to us would be checking out your local air quality. At the top of the main AirNow page, simply type in your zip code or state and you will see the air quality for the specified area.

Kind of cool.

How much fun is this! Ok, maybe not fun but hopefully useful.

If you would like to have your local air quality report brought to you.

AirNow has an air quality e-mail notification that will provide a daily forecast or it can be configured to only notify you when a minimum level is reached such as the Moderate level.

I personally like the second option. If conditions are Good, I don’t need to know about it.

What Can You Do With This Data

Now you have some choices for those running days when air quality is not in your acceptable range.

  • Run indoors.
  • Run during a different time of day when air quality will improve. (The times around rush hour traffic will probably have the worst air quality conditions.)
  • Drive to a different location that has improved air quality. Of course driving is part of the problem.
  • Wear a gas mask. This may be a bit cumbersome and inconvenient. Plus the goggles may fog up.
  • Tape mouth shut with duct tape to force the air through your nasal filtration system. Not recommended and no intervals with this one!
  • Breath it all in and take your chances.

You now have the power to make the decision that’s right for you!

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

3 Responses to “Running And Air Quality”

  1. on 18 Jun 2009 at 8:48 am Blaine Moore

    I really noticed this during my trip to Vegas this past Winter.

    I thought it was really strange that I was sucking wind so hard at an easy jig jog pace (8-9 minutes per mile – I race in the 5-6 minute range) – surely the mere 2000 feet elevation couldn’t be that bad?!?!

    Then I got outside that bowl of mountains and realized it was just the pollution. Thankfully, my 50 miler was by Lake Mead, where the air was great.

  2. on 18 Jun 2009 at 3:43 pm David Hanenburg

    Lake Mead – nice! I have watched the video of the Silverman Triathlon out there and it looks like quite a pretty and intense area.

    What 50 miler was it?

  3. on 23 Jul 2010 at 9:53 am Blaine Moore

    Running from an Angel :