What does bad air do to your running?

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out the window at a haze caused by wildfire smoke and thinking what should I do about a workout my daughter and I are planning to do later in the day. I’m hoping the air quality will improve. If it doesn’t, I’m left wondering how good of an idea it is to run in that air. Maybe a single run isn’t such a big deal?

Anyway, that’s a decision I’ll have to make. One run probably isn’t a big deal and research I’ve seen suggests that, health wise, it’s better to exercise in moderately bad (probably not terrible) air than it is to not exercise. But what about long term exposure and how does that affect our running performance?

Performance is probably not the first thing we should think about when we think about running in bad air but it is something that we probably consider. Well, it turns out that repeated long term exposure to even relatively low levels of air pollution (even higher levels in the “good” air quality range) can have a fairly meaningful impact on runners.

In this study of NCAA runners, 21 day exposure to relatively low levels of pollution impacted 5K performance by 1.3% to 1.5%. That may not seem like much but that’s 11.5-12.8 seconds for a very good 5K runner. A 10 second difference for a runner of this level is quite significant. For those of us who are out longer, which is pretty much everyone, are the impacts more or less significant? Interesting question, I don’t have the answer to that. It might be an interesting question for follow up.

Either way, if the exposure is repeated, it looks like your performance, not just your health, is impacted.

Cardio or weights? Both: The age old question. Which is better for health and longevity? Well, some research suggests that, while cardio is marginally better than weights, the true magic lies in combining the two. So (as I know I’m speaking to runners) get doing some strength training! And, if you know some people who much prefer pumping iron to grinding out the miles, encourage them to lace up the running shoes.

The mind and performance: A few topics on the mind and performance are covered here. Very interesting lines of study with some interesting results.

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