“A couple of weeks ago, we woke up to ash on our patio furniture and cars—which was crazy!” recalled Natalie Mitchell, who lives in Southern California. “We determined that the fire was over 30 miles away from us, plus the air quality was considered safe, so I decided to run outside as usual.”
Should You Run During A Natural Disaster?
From wildfires raging along the West Coast to floods and hurricane winds upwards of 170 miles per hour in the Southeast, what is a runner to do when faced with such extreme weather conditions—and how do you know if it’s safe to be out there?
According to Mitchell, “There’s nothing too sophisticated about monitoring the conditions, just online news or the Weather Channel—both of which are good about giving regular updates. Last year, we had a really intense wildfire very close to us and they advised everyone to stay inside. I happily ran on the treadmill for a couple of days!”
Unfortunately, most people have bigger problems than worrying about their daily runs when natural disasters strike, and our hearts and prayers go out to them. But what about those on the fringes like Mitchell who are touched by these extreme weather conditions but not overly affected? How do you know when it’s safe and what do you do when a race gets canceled because of the weather?
You have questions, we’ve got answers:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that smoke from fires primarily comprises fine particle pollution from burning trees and other plants. The agency calculates the Air Quality Index, which gives real-time updates (with about a one-hour lag) about the levels of pollution in the air. It’s a great source of information to determine if resuming outdoor activities is a good idea.
If you don’t have online access when you need it, you can follow this air quality guide which is based on visibility and range:
Visibility Range and Air Quality
- 13.4 miles and up: Good
- 8.8 to 13.3 miles: Moderate
- 5.1 to 8.7 miles: Unhealthy for sensitive groups
- 2.2 to 5 miles: Unhealthy
- 1.3 to 2.1 miles: Very unhealthy
- 1.3 miles or less: Hazardous
Our hearts go out to those race directors, participants and cities who have lost or are losing their beautiful racecourses due to summer wildfires.
If your regular running route is in an area that has been affected by a hurricane, you need to keep the following safety information in mind and decide if the best choice may be to run indoors on a treadmill until the area has been given an “all clear” by local officials.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) advises awareness of the following when resuming normal outdoor activity after a hurricane:
- Keep away from floodwater: If you have to be in or near floodwater, wear a life jacket—especially if the water is rising. Keep in mind that floodwater often carries germs. If you touch it, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or a sanitizer. The CDC suggests visiting Flood Waters or Standing Waters for more information.
- Stay away from power lines and dangerous materials: Steer clear of fallen power lines and call the local power company to report them. Look up! The power lines that may be the most dangerous could be above you. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times and maybe leave the earbuds at home.
- Protect yourself from animals and pests: Floods can bring mosquitoes that carry disease. Use insect repellent with DEET (diethyltoluamide) or Picaridin. The CDC also advises wearing long sleeves, pants and socks, the first two of which may not be very appealing if the weather’s still warm.
Lastly, stay away from wild or stray animals after a storm and call 911 or your public health department to report them. If you see a dead animal, report it to local officials.
Our hearts continue to go out to Texas, Florida and every other area affected or being affected by the ferocious hurricanes this season.
Many races have plans in place for unforeseen weather conditions. Obviously, if there is a natural disaster in the area around the time of the race, chances are it won’t be held and may not be postponed.
The first thing you should do is consult the race website or social media pages for direction on what to do if the event is cancelled. Events like The Color Run have levels of severity for weather conditions posted to their website with concurring action taken by race officials and what each means to the participants.
It’s important to keep in mind that, when extreme weather happens, safety is the number one concern for training runs and races alike. Always err on the side of caution and have a backup plan ready until the skies clear and you can resume your normal routine.