Air Pollution


Aerobic activity is healthy and everyone should be doing it a few times a week, but what about all the air pollution? Running in air pollution has the potential to cause serious health issues.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the air pollution is generally low enough that there are minimal risks when running out doors. In the winter months, that changes. I live in a valley and the cold air traps the pollution down in the valley as shown in the picture above. Yuck!

I can see it in the air, a brownish yellow fog. I can smell it in the air, exhaust and dirt. I can feel it when I breathe, thick and irritating.

I cough up mucus. My nose is congested. My throat is sore.

Pollution consists of both fine particulate matter and ozone gases. Both are bad, but the particulate matter causes major problems because it settles in your lungs causing inflammation and irritation. It can also get into your bloodstream. When it gets into your blood vessels, it causes them to dilate blocking oxygen and blood from reaching your muscles. It also lowers your body’s ability to create a protein, which breaks up clots.

But what about running?

When you run you inhale more air, ten to twenty times as much air, and you pull it deep into your lungs. If you are breathing through your mouth, the air bypasses the natural filter of your nose. Which means, all that thick yellow fog is making itself at home in your lungs.

Those with asthma, diabetes, heart or lung conditions, or lower respiratory disease should avoid being out in the pollution and definitely should not be out exercising in it.

For the rest of us who are relatively healthy, you should think twice. Running in the pollution especially long runs, which put you out in the yellow fog for hours at a time, is probably not a good idea. It can damage your airways and increase your risk of developing asthma. Oh and there is the chance that it will increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease(heart attacks) and lung cancer too.

Experts in the air pollution area say don’t give up on exercising outdoors because the benefits to exercise outweigh the damage especially if you take some precautions.

So what do you do?

Monitor the air quality in your area. The internet is the best way to do this. Most areas have a website dedicated to reporting air quality and keep it updated by the hour.

Run indoors on a track or treadmill. I know it is not the most fun, but it’s better than cancer. On Sunday, I ran my second long run on the treadmill.

Run where the air is safe to breathe deeply. On Saturday, I went to a higher mountain valley to run where the air is clear. It was slightly colder than where I live, but at least I could breathe.

Reduce the time you are out there. If you must run outside, shorten your run and try to time it for when the pollution is at its lowest if possible.

Stay away from major roadways.

Take an extra rest day and hope it clears up the next day.

Happy Running!


I think I can, I think I can

I hate speed work. I really do. Many people love speed work because it is more entertaining than just long slow distance (LSD). I know that I get faster overall when I do regular speed work. My marathon PR of 3:43 was when I was running speed work every week. But I live and breathe for LSD! I relax and get into my groove, and I am set for hours and hours.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been running 800s on Tuesdays. I run over to the high school (about a mile) run five 800s with a 400 in between each one. Then I run back to my house for my cool down. Next week I will add two more 800s to my workout.

Last Tuesday I was brutally reminded of one of the reasons I don’t like to run hard. I end up with a runny nose the rest of the day, like a faucet. I had a nagging feeling it was related to my allergies, so I took Claritin D. didn’t help. I took Benadryl. Didn’t help. I took Zyrtec. Didn’t help.

It happened again today but not quite as bad as last week and only one nostril. I know if I keep running speed on Tuesdays, it will stop. At least until I push harder then it will start back up again. I have no idea why this happens. I can go run a 30  mile run at a nine minute mile and my nose doesn’t run, but if I run six miles with 800s at a 6:30 I’m doomed.

So, I did what any sensible person does. I googled it. Whew, what a relief I am not alone in my suffering. I may have exercise-induced rhinitis. Sounds pleasant.

Forty percent of runners and other endurance athletes suffer from allergies. Only twenty percent of the general population does. Many runners who have allergies also have this exercise-induced rhinitis, but it can also strike those without allergies. It is believed to be triggered by pollution, specifically car exhaust. Other particles in the air also trigger it as well as dry and cold air.

The hypothesis is that because runners and other athletes spend more time outdoors they are more prone to allergies. I had a childhood free of allergies. I developed them during my second year of law school. They are the worst in the spring, but I have both indoor and outdoor allergies so I have to take an allergy pill year round.

An allergy pill is not going to fix this particular problem. A nasal spray called ipratroprium bromide is recommended, and if your lungs also become irritated, an albuterol inhaler is recommended before exercise.

I am a firm believer that pretty much anyone can be a runner. With enough patience and dedication you can figure out the reason why running hurts your knees, your foot, your whatever. So, in my mind, what it all comes down to is your personal drive and motivation. Your willingness to deal with being uncomfortable until your body adjusts. Get your little engine going and get up that hill.