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Poor Air-Quality Training Adjustments


AQI for southern vermont superimposed on a map of the smoke over the eastern US on June 6th, 2023

Much of Eastern Canada and the United States is struggling through poor Air Quality due to wildfires in Canada. You can see the June 6th, 2023 map above, with the AQI for southern Vermont superimposed.


This is a seasonal problem that we deal with every year, however different areas experience effects each year due not only to different wildfires, but also varying wind and weather patterns.



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Impacts

As an athlete, it's vital to keep track of the local AQI where you live and train, and adjust your training accordingly. This article is to help you do that!


There is research that shows that prolonged exercise in poor air quality can have truly long-term health implications. Obviously those health implications also affect your training! This really isn't something you should take too many risks with.


Remember that one workout, or even one WEEK of workouts just isn't that important compared to your long-term health, fitness and happiness.



What is AQI?

The local AQI index is a simple measure of the relative healthiness or unhealthiness of the air in your area, distilled into a single number. Some services will show a breakdown of the different components, which generally include fine particles (PM2.5), coarse particles (PM10) and ozone. The number indicates the largest size of the category, in microns. For comparison purposes, a human hair is 50-70µ!


Coarse particulate matter can be irritating, and include things like dust from a dirt road, farm or mine.


However it's fine particulate matter that is the most dangerous, as it can penetrate into the deepest parts of your lungs, and even your bloodstream. The most common example is smoke, whether from a woodstove, or from wildfires.



How Do I Find the Local AQI?

The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) operates both an app (iOs or Android) and a website called AirNow. I highly recommend both. It's quick and easy to see your AQI, the component scores, AND see a map of AQI's near you. This helps you spot if perhaps a short drive will bring a dramatic drop in AQI to allow you to complete a long run or workout.

 

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Guidelines for Training Adjustments

Here are the general guidelines I provide to athletes I work with.


Each individual needs to make the decision for themself based on the information they have, such as:

  • Local Air Quality Index

  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5)

  • How long conditions are expected to last

  • Any underlying lung conditions or symptoms you have

  • Where you're at in your training/racing

  • Available indoor training options


For example, if you are many weeks or months out from a target event, the impact of a missed workout is negligible, and you should skip a workout if the AQI is high. If you have a treadmill available, the AQI indoors may be much lower. If you have an underlying lung condition such as asthma, you should be particularly cautious. If the air is expected to clear the following day, switching a workout and easy run makes sense.



Here's what I'd recommend for a starting point, but adjust based on the factors above.

  • AQI 60-100 - easy running is fine, workouts and long runs should be dialed back a bit with effort, volume or both.

  • AQI 100-140 - easy running may be okay, but bring harder workouts indoors (or just run easy) and split up long runs so you're only outdoors for part of the time.

  • AQI 140-180 - easy running for short periods may be okay, but move indoors if you can.

  • AQI 180+ - Indoors only; please do not risk your long-term health!


In general, I recommend being cautious. If you have an indoor option, that's great! If not, a few days extra-easy running or even missed runs is negligible in the grand scheme of your training and life!





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