It looks like smoke season is upon us! This time of year, we get a lot of questions and comments about exercising outside. We hear everything from “is it safe to run?” to “are there masks I can wear?” and “I’m going outside no matter what!”. There is a seemingly endless supply of resources online to help you make a decision about whether or not you should exercise when the air is filled with smoke. Unfortunately, there is not a clear scientific consensus on the exact effects that exercising during smoky weather has on our bodies. And, there are maybe too many worm holes you can go down finding out about where smoke is coming from and trying to predict if it will get worse. Here, we’ll try to give you the resources you need in order to make an informed decision for yourself about exercising during wildfire season and our favorite tools for tracking the smoke!

First off, what pollutants are we concerned about?

With smoke comes fine particulate matter. The particulate matter we’re mostly concerned with as runners and walkers is PM2.5. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is made up of several pollutants, but it does a good job of capturing the PM2.5 value, as it is our primary pollutant during smoke season. The more PM2.5, the worse the air quality!

A light layer of smoke over the Missoula Valley. Still good enough air for a run!

 

How do you track the AQI?

You can find a measure of the AQI on your phone’s weather app or with a quick google search. A heads up, the AQI listed on the iPhone weather app is often slow to update (I have seen it read “unhealthy for sensitive groups” when in-town sensors have read “good”). A great resource for tracking AQI is the Wildfire Smoke Outlook from MT DEQ. They also show daily trends in specific towns, with updates every hour.

Where is the smoke coming from and what’s it going to be like tomorrow?

If you’re looking to understand where the smoke is coming from, why it’s in Missoula (or your area), and when it might go away, you need to do a bit more investigating. Thankfully, the Missoula County Public Health Department maintains a daily discussion on air quality. Here, not only can you find the AQI and health recommendations, but you can also find a discussion about the air quality, fires, smoke, winds, and more. Written by a real live human, this discussion is an indispensable resource for understanding the current smoke situation. A lot of us at the store are huge fans of the air quality blog. I mean, HUGE fans. These discussions are written by Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield. Thank you Sarah for diligently providing our community with the best information available!

Want more? Here’s that wormhole I was talking about…

Finally, should you run when it’s smoky out?

Heavy smoke obscuring the sun – don’t run in this!

Ahhh, we had a feeling this question would come up. We get this a LOT. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. In the words of Missoula County Air Quality Specialist Sara Coefield, “the answer is a very unsatisfying ‘it depends.’ Human health is a spectrum, yo.” 

Run Wild Missoula’s Air Quality Protocols are a great place to start. If the air is Good, Moderate, or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, events will continue. However, depending on your medical background, running or walking may not be a good idea. If the air quality is Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, or Hazardous, events will be cancelled. We agree! If the air is Unhealthy or worse, the risk of exercising outdoors outweighs the benefits.

Missoula County has a great chart that lays out different activity types and what duration might be ok at various air quality levels. It is definitely worth checking out!

What if I REALLY want to run or walk outside when the air is terrible?

Short answer, you would likely be better off staying indoors in clean air. BUT, there may be ways to get outside and stave off that pesky particulate matter and the nasty effects it has on your lungs. If you have an N-95 mask laying around from the pandemic, now is the time to whip it out again. These aren’t just masks, but are “particulate respirators.” Your cloth mask won’t do the job against wildfire smoke. Only a PROPERLY FITTING N-95 offers enough protection to run during terrible air quality. This means you need to be clean shaven and ensure a perfect fit. More on that here. Remember, you have an N-95 on. So it’s also very hot and muggy in there. If your mask gets wet, crumpled, or compromised in any way, it will stop filtering out particulate matter. Be sure to replace them frequently! Again, you are most likely best off avoiding the outdoors when the AQI is Unhealthy or worse. But if you insist on going outside, wear a properly fitting N-95.

A slight smoke haze obscuring the distant mountains in southwest MT

So if I run inside on a treadmill I’m fine?

Maybe! Be sure that the air where your treadmill is has been properly filtered. Find a high quality HEPA air filter and keep it running while you’re on the treadmill. Or, try a less-expensive do-it-yourself version that uses just a box fan and simple air filter. Climate Smart Missoula has directions for this easy DIY project here.

Stay safe this smoke season! Hopefully we’ll be breathing cleaner air soon 🙂

My goodness it is a SCORCHER this week. If you’re like us, you still want to get outside to run, walk, and be merry. Ideally, we can get outside before the sun is high in the sky blasting down on us. But if you must run in the heat, here are a few tips! These are also great tactics to use while running a race in the heat. A note, please be careful if you must venture out in the heat of the day!

Choose a shady route

This looks like a hot, sunny place to run. Find the shade to stay cool! Photo: Votography Images

Route selection can make all the difference if you need to run in the heat of the day! Areas with southern exposure and a lack of shade are clear spots to avoid (**cough cough** we’re looking at you, Waterworks). Areas by creeks, in valleys, and in heavily forested areas will be much cooler on a hot day. Try checking out Pattee Canyon or the Rattlesnake Corridor to avoid some of the sun. If you’re running on the roads, crossing the street to run on a sidewalk that’s in the shade can make all the difference. 

Bring water and electrolytes

Even when it’s not hot, we sweat a LOT. With temperatures in the triple digits, you will absolutely need to bring water for most runs. Try carrying a handheld water bottle with 14-20oz of water. Plus, if you don’t end up needing water, you get a nice arm workout. But chances are you’ll drink something, even on a short run. Try adding electrolytes (like Nuun or Skratch) to help account for the loss of salt and other electrolytes that happen while sweating. Another upside of bringing a water bottle is that you can squirt water all over your body to help stay cool. 

If you forget water or run out of it, find a water fountain! Some convenient ones around town include the M Trail bathrooms and on the Kim Williams Trail by the Madison Street food bridge. If the store is open, feel free to drop by to fill up a bottle in our bathroom 🙂

Hydrate BEFORE you head out

Whatever you need to do to stay hydrated, do it! Photo: Votography Images

Before leaving on a run or walk in the heat, make sure that you are hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, before, during and after your outing. There’s nothing worse than getting a few miles from the door and realizing that you were never hydrated to begin with. All summer, try to drink consistently and avoid dehydration as much as possible. 

Stay wet!

For anyone racing in the heat, this is especially important. Staying wet will do wonders to keep your core temperature down. Many trail runners find that submerging in creeks and ponds along a route can be a lifesaver when things get hot. If you don’t have a creek handy, bring an extra water bottle that you use to squirt all over you. It may feel silly at first, but it feels AMAZING. When you sweat, your body’s cooling off through “evaporative cooling”. Dousing yourself in water has the same effect!

If you’re running a race and want to work on heat acclimatization and being prepared to push hard in hot weather, check out this blog from iRunFar for more info.

And don’t forget! If you’re cruising around town, we’re lucky enough to have the Clark Fork River at our disposal. If you get too hot, a dip in the river will be sure to cool you down! Post-run swims aren’t a bad idea either.

Ice is your best friend!

This is more geared towards folks out racing. Ice your best bud on a hot day! Grab your favorite buff, bandana, arm sleeves, or hat and fill it with ice! A constant river of melting ice water dripping down your back or arms feels incredible. In races, pockets and packs make great spots to stuff with ice as well. If it can carry ice, fill it with ice! Ice helps you stay wet longer (which again, helps with evaporative cooling) and is COLD. What could be better than that?!

Wear sunscreen and/or long sleeves, a hat, and glasses

A white shirt and white hat can do wonders to keep the sun from beating down on you too hard. Photo: Votography Images

The only way to make a hot day worse is to get sunburned. Lather up! Opt for white or light-colored clothing to reflect the sun. Wearing a lightweight, light-colored long sleeve shirt will also help to keep you cool and keep the sun away. A light-colored hat (or sweet RE visor) and sunglasses will help keep sun off your face.

 

By: Jeff Mogavero

After a long winter spent scurrying along icy roads and snowy trails, the warm embrace of spring is a welcome phenomena here in Montana. The snow line continues to flee up the mountainsides as temperatures continue to creep higher and higher. The presence of dry ground and dark ribbons of singletrack sends Missoulians flocking to the trails surrounding town. It’s so much fun to go on a run or walk and see dozens of other people out enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, and plentiful miles of trails. Below are some recommendations for keeping our trails in great shape, current trail conditions, and ideas for your springtime explorations!

Note: to stay up to date on current trail conditions, drop by the store for our trail conditions board by the front door!

Trail Etiquette Reminders

1. Stay on trail!!

It’s almost impossible to go out on Waterworks or the North Hills and not run into someone walking in the grass next to a muddy trail. While escaping the mud may seem like a great idea, it destroys the surrounding vegetation, contributes to erosion issues, and creates new trails that become an eyesore. As we like to say, “keep singetrack single!”. If it’s muddy, stay on trail through the mud. If you don’t want to get your shoes muddy, try a different route on a less muddy trail.

Stay on trail and have fun in the mud!

Tips for avoiding the mud:

  • Go early in the day, when temps are closer to freezing and the sun has yet to thaw out the ground.
  • Stick to trails covered in ice/snow and bring traction devices! You’ll get snowy, not dirty, and avoid the crowds too.
  • Choose trails that have been snow free for a long time – they’re most likely to be dry! 
2. Let others pass

Especially in the time of COVID, passing and being passed on trail warrants respect. The person heading uphill has the right of way. If descending, stop and step off to the side of the trail. Once the person coming uphill has passed you, hop back on trail and continue along. If you come up behind someone, give a hearty “hello!” from a distance so that you don’t startle them. Let them know you’ll be passing, and what side you’ll pass on (“Hi there! Passing on your left!”). Don’t forget to be friendly!

3. Clean up after your dog

We all love having our dog join us on trail. But what we don’t all love is stepping in dog poo or finding those little plastic bags of dog poo plopped along the trail. If your dog goes to the loo, PLEASE pick up the poo! Carry the bag with you and toss it in the trashcan at the trailhead.

Current Conditions Updated 4/5 

Overall, expect drier trails at lower elevations. Mid elevations have mud, with snow/ice in shady spots. Higher elevations eventually all have snow/ice. South-facing slopes have dried out quicker. Trails are starting to get good out there as days stay warm!

Pattee Canyon:

Snow has just about left the canyon! Most trails are dry, but be ready to get dirty.  If you see some charred looking forest, it’s from a recent prescribed burn. Enjoy the campfire smell and lack of smoke :). Expect snow/ice on north facing slopes and in shaded areas. Upper trails by University Mountain have some snow drifts, but they are navigable. The dirt

A trace of snow by the Barmeyer Loop

road that leads up to University still has plenty of snow in the upper reaches. The ridge route to University is doable without traction, but traction will make it much easier. The Barmeyer Loop is mostly clear but does have several icy patches.

 

Mount Sentinel:

The M Trail and fire road are snow-free and mostly mud free. Snow/ice can be found in the trees towards the top of the mountain (on the Boy Scout Trail and between the north and south summits). The ridge trail has a large snow/ice section a few hundred yards below the summit. It is very steep. Use traction or go slowly and carefully, staying on trail. Pengelly Ridge up to the south summit is clear of snow. The Smokejumper trail is icy and snowy enough in its upper reaches that it’s best done going uphill. Traction isn’t necessary, but it is very helpful. Traction IS necessary if going downhill.

Mount Jumbo:

Morning on Mt. Jumbo

The trails south of the summit are clear of snow and ice! They are also mostly clear of mud. North of the summit to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead/saddle is a mix of snow, ice, and mud. The warm weather is eating away at the snow very quickly. Traction could be helpful if you aren’t confident on slippery surfaces. Going uphill on this section is most enjoyable and safest! The trails and two-track on the saddle are in great shape.

Waterworks/North Hills:

The snow has left and trails are mostly mud free! Head out early to avoid crowds. PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL. Waterworks is highly susceptible to trail braiding and erosion. Mornings are the best time to avoid the crowds chasing the warmth of the day.

A group run on the Waterworks trails

Rattlesnake:

Conditions are changing quickly as snow and ice melt. Spring Gulch and many of the trails in Sawmill Gulch are still snowy and icy. Rumour has it they can be done without traction, but it is very slow going. Bring along your spikes to speed things up in case you encounter a dreaded ribbon of ice winding up hill. The main corridor is in good shape for a few miles. The trail up to Stuart Peak is still in winter mode. Stuart can generally be done with just a mile or two of snow come mid May. It is snow free in mid to late June.

Blue Mountain:

Mud and dog poop! A reminder to PLEASE pick up after your dog and take the bag with you! Mud down low, but trails drying out fast. The higher up you go, the muddier and then icier the trails will get. Snow up high by the summit. Also expect snow/ice in shadier sections of trail that don’t see the sun much. 

Kim Williams Trail:

Aside from a few small patches of easy to navigate ice in Hellgate Canyon, the Kim is totally snow/ice free! 

Route Ideas

Once Jumbo opens, I am always itching for an excuse to find myself on the top of the mountain! My number one route suggestion for this time of year is a run or hike up to the “L”, heading to the summit if time/ability allows. All of the trails on that side of the mountain are snow free and drying out fast. 

If you’re looking for a longer adventure, we’ve got you! Jumbo is nice, but the big views and sun exposure of Waterworks makes me yearn for those rolling trails. My solution? Waterworks + Jumbo, also known as Watumbo! Watumbo is a big, wonderful loop that links together Waterworks, the North Hills, and Jumbo almost entirely on trail. It can range anywhere from 10 miles to 15 miles, depending on how creative you get on the Waterworks trails. If you want to shorten Watumbo a bit, you can cut across the Rattlesnake at the Tivoli trailhead to the Mountain View trailhead for a north loop of 7.7 miles, or a south loop of 7.7 miles (It’s amazing how nicely that works out). If you’re looking for a longer run, give this one a try! It’s best to go clockwise so that you can walk up the snow/ice on the north side of Jumbo. Once that snow melts, the route is phenomenal in either direction!

Purple: Full Watumbo route (~10 miles, +2,370’)
Blue: Cutoff for shorter Watumbo (North and South are both 7.7 miles)

Directions:

Make your way from Greenough Park up to the top of the Waterworks Hill. Enjoy the view and keep going, turning right at the fence line. Head down the switchbacks and turn left to follow the power lines in the North Hills. Take the “sunset loop”, sticking to the highest trail/two track. Take your last right and head towards the trailhead. Descend about 1/4 mile before taking a left on single track. Take this to Duncan Drive. Take a left and enter the trails again, heading over the squishy bridge. Take a left after the bridge, then your first right to cross the Rattlesnake Canyon on trail. Stay on trail after crossing Rattlesnake Drive. Pick your poison of trails/dirt road that take you up to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead. Hop on trail there and head up the backside of Mt. Jumbo. Take in the views on the summit then head down towards the “L” and back to Greenough Park. Have fun!!

 

 

Photo: Votography Images

Montana is notorious for dark, cold winters. One of the best ways to fight off the wintertime blues is to get outside and stay active! 

Stay Warm

We get a lot of questions about the best way to stay warm on wintertime runs. The answer? Layers, layers, layers! Start from the bottom up with a non-cotton comfy sock. Our most popular sock in the winter months is the Balega Blister Resist ¼ sock. From there, a warm tight or pant that is long enough to come over your sock helps keep those ankles from getting chilly. On your upper body, a long sleeve baselayer shirt pairs great with a light wind jacket or insulated jacket, depending on the temperature. With any running or walking apparel, avoid cotton and opt for wool or synthetic materials. If you start getting toasty, just pop that jacket off and tie it around your waist. To keep the hands warm, gloves or mittens are essential. Personally, I love gloves that convert into a mitten for the really chilly days. Finally, don’t forget about your head! A beanie or headband/Buff will work great to keep the heat in.

Be Bright

Photo: Votography Images

Anytime I visit my parents back east in the winter, my mom always eagerly gives me new “blinkies.” When I’m home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I’m usually out on the roads running in the dark. My mom wants me to be seen and be safe, and showers me with all sorts of blinky light and reflective doo-dads. I’ve come to love little blinky lights that can easily fasten to your waistband, a jacket pocket, or bottom of a shirt. I like to couple those blinky lights with a reflective vest that I can toss over any shirt or jacket. 

When choosing winter running clothes, keep an eye out for reflective features. There are often reflective logos, seams, or panels built into the clothing to help you be seen. As my mom will tell you, every bit of reflective (or blinky) material matters!

Find Your Way

Photo: Seth Orme

A simple headlamp is both an excellent way to be seen and an excellent way to see what’s ahead. I’m often on trails and dark side streets, so I prefer the brightest headlamp I can get my hands on. My roommate/runny buddy and I swear by Petzl’s Reactive lighting, which adjusts the amount of light coming out of the headlight based on how dark it is and how far you are looking. These lights offer a no-hassle way of always having the right amount of light. However, these lights are a bit heavier and more expensive. Many people love a lightweight headlamp that offers just enough light, then easily stows away into a pocket for running and walking once the sun is up. 

Use Traction

This winter has been a whirlwind of weather! When the snow really sticks, I like to joke that the “Great Missoula Ice Sheet” descends upon the valley. Streets turn to ice skating rinks, and our favorite trails become treacherous luge courses. The best way to navigate these challenges is by using traction devices. A traction device is any kind of metal cleat, spike, or stud that affixes to the bottom of your shoe to bite into the ice and snow to provide extra traction. We have a lot of options in the stores to ensure you have the perfect and amount of grip for the job at hand.

Have Fun

Most importantly, have fun while you’re running or walking this winter! Sometimes getting outside at all is worthy of celebration. I like to use winter as a time to explore different trails I normally wouldn’t visit in the summertime. I also run a bit more on the roads, which lets me explore new areas of Missoula. And of course, after a chilly outing, I recommend a nice mug of hot cocoa to warm you up and get you ready for the rest of your day. See you out there!

Photo: Seth Orme