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Running in smoky conditions

With forest fires threatening much of B.C. and northern Ontario, residents are concerned about smoke pollution and the advisability of running outdoors


With British Columbia declaring a state of emergency today, and forest fires burning in parts of northern Ontario as well, local residents are reporting significantly reduced visibility and concern about smoke pollution. According to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System, updated a week ago, the fires in B.C. are affecting air quality as far east as Saskatchewan. 

For runners concerned about whether to continue training outdoors, the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific has issued some general recommendations:

OK to run outdoors if no symptoms

Athletes are advised that, in many areas, it’s OK to continue outdoor workouts as long as they do not experience smoke-related symptoms like coughing or throat irritation. If they do have symptoms, they should restrict outdoor activities to low-intensity activities. Longer workouts should be done indoors, and modified to make them shorter and more intensive, taking advantage of the gym, pool and indoor trainer. “It’s going to take some ingenuity and creativity,” says Dr. Michael Koehle, a respiratory physiologist and medical doctor at U.B.C.


Some medications could be problematic

The guidelines go on to suggest that athletes experiencing shortness of breath should consult their medical professional. They warn that some asthma medications (i.e. bronchodilators) may actually exacerbate symptoms by allowing more smoke inhalation. Masks are helpful at preventing inhalation of smoke particles, if athletes can tolerate them. 

Athletes in B.C. may consult bcairquality.ca/readings/ for location-specific advice on exercising outdoors. Ontario residents should consult the Air Quality Health Index for Ontario.