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Monterey Bay Half Marathon cancelled due to wildfire smoke

Smoke from the Camp wildfire in northern California rendered air quality unsafe for today's half-marathon, in which Canadians have traditionally excelled

The Monterey Bay Half Marathon, scheduled to run today, was cancelled yesterday due to poor air quality from the Camp wildfire that started Thursday and which has seen tens of thousands of northern California residents evacuated and 23 deaths.

RELATED: B.C. fires cause air quality issues for western Canada races

The 3K and 5K races went ahead yesterday as planned, but there was a shift in wind direction Saturday afternoon that brought smoke in from the northeast, decreasing visibility and rendering air quality unsafe for outdoor activity.

California’s Monterey Bay Half Marathon is an out-and-back course along the rugged Pacific coast line that starts and finishes in downtown Monterey. The area is well known for its coastal road races and is also the site of the Big Sur International Marathon. Last year Canadians Natasha Wodak, Kinsey Middleton and Rachel Cliff finished in second, fifth and seventh places respectively, and B.C. resident Sarah Inglis (who raced for Scotland) was fifth overall. 

We reached Canadian 5K champion Natasha Wodak, who was scheduled to race today. “I am very disappointed,” she said. “Monterey was one of my key races this fall–we have been training hard for this.” Wodak decided to look on the bright side, quipping that at least she’ll have fresh legs for Athletics Canada’s cross country nationals, which take place November 24 in Kingston, Ont.

Trevor Hofbauer of Calgary, who was also scheduled to run today, arrived in the Bay area on Friday, and described his reaction to the cancelled race as “heartbroken.” 

As recently as Friday, the Monterey Herald reported that “…air quality in the Monterey Bay is good and has not been affected by wildfires burning across the state… the Monterey Bay Air Resources District predicts good weather through race weekend.” But yesterday afternoon, race director Doug Thurston told the NBC/ABC affiliate serving the Monterey Bay area that “weather forecasts say air quality will be unhealthy to very unhealthy into Sunday afternoon based on northeast winds coming into our area.”

The race website posted this notice yesterday: “After consulting with our Medical Director and the National Weather Service, we have determined that it is not safe for runners, volunteers, staff, and other race-related personnel to participant in tomorrow’s scheduled events. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and disappointment that comes with canceling the race but we feel it is the appropriate course of action at this time.” However the race was still handing out medals and pouring beer as of 8:00 a.m. local time.

The Camp fire, which has claimed 23 lives and destroyed the town of Paradise, is being reported as the most destructive in Calilfornia’s history.