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 🙂

First off, why run the Hardrock 100? Can you explain what it is to those that may not know?

In 2018, I ran a Hardrock qualifier (Bighorn 100) to apply for the HR lottery. Why? Hardrock is absolutely dreamy and terrifying all at the same time! The vert (33,000 ft of gain), the views, the history, the community, the altitude…it’s everything you could ever want!

How did you start ultrarunning?

I went to the Wilma for the Trail Running Film Festival and saw a short doc about The Rut 50K…next thing I know, I’m DNF’n The Rut 50K in Big Sky, haha! The rest is history.

Hardrock was cancelled due to snow in 2019, cancelled due to COVID in 2020, and is finally happening in 2021! You’ve had three tries at preparing for the race. What have you done similar and different? What has your training looked like this year?

Fortunately, I’ve had my coach (Gabe Joyes – 4th @ HR in 2017) for the entirety of this rollercoaster. My training has been pretty consistent with his guidance but has evolved with more experience. I will say that I’m now embracing the importance of pacing and nutrition. It truly does make/break your race experience!

You have a wild story for how you got into Hardrock off of one ticket and then multiple race cancellations since you got in. Can you give us the full story?

I ran and finished Bighorn 100 in 2018, was selected from the HR lottery in December of 2018 and was supposed to run the race July 2019. Well, June of 2019 came around and they cancelled it due to avalanche activity on the course. As a result, I ran Palisades 100 in 2019 instead.

The HR organization rolled over everyone selected in the lottery from 2019 to 2020. As we all know, 2020 rocked the universe and thus another HR cancellation!

So, the HR organization decided that anyone who was selected from the 2019 lottery (that had never raced HR) was allowed to run the 2021 race. Everyone else, who has ran the race before, was out.

To say the least, I feel VERY lucky that I still get to toe the line to and experience HR!

What’s your advice to someone that hears “100 miler” and thinks “I can’t do that!”?

Listen, I was a basketball player….ANYONE CAN RUN 100 MILES! You just have to make up your mind and put in the work.

What was your biggest challenge while preparing for Hardrock?

Staying dedicated to the training and the process for three years, absolutely. Luckily Missoula has been THE best support throughout the entirety of the training and I am grateful for that time.

What are your goals for the race?

Celebrate Heather and finish the dang thing!

What are your biggest reservations heading into the race?

I’m quite nervous about the lightning…also, I have no idea how 14,000 feet will feel haha!

What are you most excited for during the race?

Kissing that rock!

How can folks follow along from home?

Hardrock100.com

Bitterroot Runoff  Recap 2021

We had a beautiful morning at the Bitterroot Runoff Trail Runs this Saturday! Runners got to experience private singletrack outside of Lolo, followed by pancakes, Big Dipper Ice Cream, and Big Sky Beer after the race. 

 

Typically, the Bitterroot Runoff is our first race of the year in mid April. This year, due to COVID concerns, we chose to push it to July.  

Compared to last time we raced at this venue during the Hootenanny, the weather was the polar opposite.  Instead of 33 degrees Fahrenheit and rain all day, the trails were dry and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  Fortunately on race day, the temperature stayed relatively cool early in the day and it wasn’t too smokey.  

Results

On the men’s side, we saw a father-son-duo Michael Curtis and Ian Curtis take the titles for the 5-mile and 10-mile, respectively.  Ian, a former Hellgate High School cross country runner who now runs collegiately in Minnesota, had a battle on his hands with Mike Adams out of Ronan.  On the climbs, Ian would build a gap from Adams, but on the descents, Adams would blow past Ian.  This game continued until the final mile of the race, where Ian pulled away and came away with the win.  

 

The women’s race saw Nicole Murray win the 10-mile for the second consecutive year.  Nicole will be attempting the Bitterroot Runoff/Treadmill Challenge double this year, with only 2 days of separation between the two races.  In the 5-mile, Leilani Contos came away with the title.  Leilani has been cleaning up at our races, most recently winning the 10k at Mountain to Meadow.  

 

Photos

You can find the photos from the race HERE. Thank you to our lovely photographer, Anastacia Wilde, for being out there crushing it on race morning. 

Thank you to the volunteers to showed up and helped make this event possible.  We had great volunteers helping out at packet pick up, manning the aid station, and handing out breakfast and ice cream after the race. 

Huge thank you to all of our great sponsors for supporting this event. We had gels and electrolyte drinks from Hammer Nutrition keeping everyone fueled during the race, Joe from Big Sky Brewery handing out post-race refreshments, Evie from Sapphire Physical Therapy giving out post race massages, Big Dipper Ice Cream cooling everyone down afterwards, and Saucony supporting this event!

Treadmill Challenge