Can I Run on a Bad Air Day?

By Guy Perry

We live in a great state. As you may have noticed in the 2010 census, Utah was the 3rd fastest growing state in America over the last ten years. Obviously, the word has gotten out. Maybe it had something to do with those Winter Games we hosted in 2002? Regardless of the reason why people are relocating to Utah, one of the “not-so-great” things with have to deal with in the winter months is the bad air caused by inversions. Interestingly enough, inversions have been apart of Salt Lake Valley since the settlers arrived.  Obviously, cars have mostly replaced homes heated with wood/coal burning stovesbut people choosing to run a 20 miler regardless of the weather, is not an issue haunting us from the past.

What is an Inversion?

Simply put, a temperature inversion is when a layer of slightly cooler air is trapped beneath a layer of warmer air. The fact the Salt Lake Valley is partially surrounded by mountains aids in the trapping effect as this inversion becomes more “pinned” in. Wind and weather can help to break or push the inversion out, but the space time between these weather events can be lengthly and often leaves people wondering what they can do outside without causing potential harm.

How is Air Quality Measured?

The United States EPA has established National Ambient Air Quality Standard for each of the following pollutants. By combining the totals of the measured pollutants an air quality index has been created  (see 1st chart below).

Carbon MonxideOzoneParticulate Matter (PM10) and (PM2.5),  Sulfer Oxides

How to Check for Air Conditions:

Become familiar with the following websites.  On the Utah DEQ site you can sign up for their email list and they will automatically send you an update when the air

reaches unhealthy levels.

Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality
United States Environmental Protection agency

How to Run in Bad Air:

1.  Realize that every “body” is different. You need to pay attention to how you feel on certain days outside and correlate that with the actual air color of the day (see 2nd chart below).  This will allow you to make quick decisions and make alternate plans.  When air quality reaches red level it will effect everyone, regardless of fitness and health status,  and is not worth the extra health risks.  Alternate solutions should be found.

2.  Plan other options if the air color is not suited for you. Ie, running on a treadmill, running inside at the Utah Oval, heading for higher elevations like Jeremy Ranch Road , Rail Trail in Park City,  Pipeline Trail in Millcreek Canyon, or find some type of air filtration device that you can wear while exercising.

3.  Focus on being flexible and adjusting your training schedule to the time of day or day of week that will give you the best chances for clean air.  Study the trends and forecast.

4.  Learn what you can do to help reduce pollutants this winter.

Advanced Pollutant Chart

Simplified Pollutant Chart

Originally Posted: February 3, 2011

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