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 🙂

Ouray 50 mile

The roads and lower elevation trails around Missoula have melted after being snow-covered since mid-December. April 1st is the day fools like me test out our skiing fitness and ramp up our running mileage in preparation for early season races. April is, therefore, a perfect month to discuss training consistency as a means of achieving distance running success over the next nine months of 2019.

By training consistency, I do not mean following the same weekly training routine all year long. Changing running routes and intensity will improve fitness by challenging the body in different ways. I define training consistency as a training program which regularly includes the necessary components of loading, progressive volume, and adequate recovery.

Loading: Each running stride places 2.5 to 3.0 times our body weight of loading force through our body. How will your body respond to the cumulative loading forces of a 1-mile run versus a 10-mile run? How will your body respond to a Rut-specific fast downhill scramble over rocky terrain after a winter of gliding downhill on skis? How will your body respond to your first Tuesday track speed work session after a winter of slogging with a modified running stride over uneven, icy and snowy surfaces? The answer lies in load training. Think of loading as a strength training workout aimed at increasing your running durability. Building muscle, tendon, and joint health and strength requires loading-specific strength training. I am not referring to body weight resistance exercise, but rather heavy weight, low repetition strength training. Proper loading technique addresses tendon resiliency, muscle strength, and tolerance to both speed and long miles. Without a loading-specific strengthening program, injuries will become part of your running life.

Progressive Volume: Disclaimer: I occasionally do not follow this training rule which is why I am so familiar with the multitude of running injuries I treat in my patients. The take home message is that gradually progressing your training volume will decrease your overuse injury risk significantly. Most runners are familiar with the 10% rule of weekly running volume (mileage) increase. Our long winter combined with a June 30th Missoula Marathon date does not give us much time to safely build training volume. Maintaining consistent fitness over the winter allows one to enter the spring at a higher training volume which helps reduce the urge to “catch up” by doubling your mileage in one week. It is also important to remember that rest days are rest days and rest days are necessary. If you ride your bike 20-miles or swim 2,000 yards on your “rest day” from running, you are further increasing volume to your training week.

Adequate Recovery: Nutrition, hydration, sleep, and body work should be a consistent part of your training routine. The nutritional saying “junk in, junk out” resonates with the miraculous human machine each one of us are. Well rounded whole food nutrition and simple hydration practices will fuel your body for optimum performance. Sleep remains elusive in our modern day society. You are an athlete, however, so 7-9 hours of sleep should be a priority to facilitate recovery and reduce overuse injury risk. Finally, some sort of body work will release tissue tension, muscle tension, improve circulation, and reduce muscle soreness. I intentionally used the general term of “body work” as this may include rolling, massage, myofascial release or manual therapy provided by a physical therapist.

I encourage the reader to seek advice (myself, my fellow PT staff, or one of the other qualified local resources) regarding the specific definition of each training component for you individually. Factors such as running experience, athletic experience, injury history, age, and running-racing goals must be considered on an individual basis. I welcome questions and can be reached by email (

John Fiore, PT

Sapphire Physical Therapy



We know reaching fitness goals in the winter can be challenging, but it’s always better with friends and community support! That’s why we are bringing back the Frozen Feet Challenge.


We challenge you to run, walk, or hike at least one mile every day for eight weeks, OUTSIDE! Treadmills are great and all, but nothing makes you feel alive like the bite of February air against your cheek. Plus getting outside justifies that cup of cocoa waiting for you!


The Frozen Feet Challenge will begin on January 14th and run through March 10th when we will celebrate your accomplishment. You will be able to track your total mileage for that eight week period via a spreadsheet and also be able to give your neighbors gentle reminders to keep getting out the door.


FREE SOCKS! This year we are teaming up with Brooks to offer free socks to those who complete the challenge!


The Frozen Feet Challenge is a free event and you get a free pair of socks, a finishing party, and some extra motivation to get out the door! What could be better? To sign up for the 2019 Frozen Feet Challenge please fill out the form below and we will send you a link to the official Frozen Feet mileage tracking spreadsheet.