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Adjusting Your Runs When Faced with Poor Air Quality

Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to training for a race. However, there are times when external factors, such as poor air quality, can make outdoor workouts challenging and potentially harmful to your health. Today I’m talking about strategies to adjust your runs when faced with poor air quality. By paying attention to the Air Quality Index (AQI), utilizing resources like treadmills and gyms, and making training swaps, you can continue to stay active while prioritizing your well-being.


My Experience Adjusting Runs When Faced with Poor Air Quality

Living in the Bay Area in 2017-2020, adjusting my training for fall races due to air quality became an annual experience. Sometimes, multiple weeks in a row. When I trained for Chicago in 2017, I moved the treadmill from the garage into the living room because the air quality was so poor we weren’t even supposed to exercise in the garage. A few weeks later, school was canceled due to the poor air quality.

As always, listen to the advice of your doctor and trust you know your body best. These are the tips based on my experience and my research.


Adjusting runs when faced with poor air quality


Pay Attention to AQI

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a numerical scale that provides information about the air quality in a specific area. When the AQI exceeds 150, it is generally recommended to avoid outdoor workouts, as prolonged exposure to poor air quality can have long-term health implications. It's crucial to prioritize your well-being over a single workout. If you still feel the need to exercise outdoors, opt for easy miles instead of intense speed work. Additionally, keep your workout duration shorter to minimize your exposure.


Purple Air is my favorite AQI measuring tool because they have sensors all over and can get close to your house to know if you can go for a neighborhood jaunt.

Treadmill Miles

Although outdoor running offers various benefits, it's important to remember that a mile is a mile, regardless of the surface. When poor air quality restricts your outdoor training options, a treadmill can be an excellent alternative. While it may not replicate the race course experience, it still provides an effective training tool. Consider moving your treadmill indoors during periods of high AQI to ensure a safe and controlled environment for your workouts (like I mentioned moving it from the garage. We knew that was the right call when we could smell smoke in the garage).


Utilize Your Resources

When faced with poor air quality, it's time to get creative and leverage the resources available to you. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Trade childcare or food preparation responsibilities with a friend who has a treadmill. This way, both of you can continue your training indoors.

  • Make use of the free trial weeks offered by local gyms to try out new facilities and gain access to a treadmill. Alternatively, pay for a day pass at a gym you love if you don't want to commit to a long-term membership.

Training Swaps

If you find yourself without access to a treadmill or suitable indoor facilities, consider swapping your regular running routine for alternative forms of exercise that don't require outdoor conditions:

  • Time on Feet: Trade in your run for an equivalent duration of time spent on your feet. This could involve walking, hiking, or even exploring a new trail at a leisurely pace.

  • Cycling: If you have access to a bike, use the same amount of time you would typically spend running and substitute it with a cycling session. Cycling offers a great cardiovascular workout and helps maintain your fitness level.

  • Cardio Workouts: In the absence of equipment or outdoor space, embrace cardio workouts like dance parties, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or home workout routines. These activities can elevate your heart rate and provide a satisfying workout in a pinch.

Adjusting your training during periods of poor air quality is essential for maintaining your fitness journey while safeguarding your health. By monitoring the AQI, utilizing treadmills and gym facilities, and making training swaps, you can continue to pursue your fitness goals regardless of the outdoor conditions. Remember, prioritizing your well-being is crucial, and there are always alternative options available to keep you active and engaged in your training routine. Stay safe, stay healthy, and adapt as necessary to ensure long-term success in your fitness journey.


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