Wildfire smoke ruins Global Running Day for thousands of Canadians

Mosquito fire blazing near Foresthill area

A worldwide celebration of running has had the air taken out of it for thousands of Canadians, as wildfire smoke has forced many across the country to stay indoors Wednesday due to poor air quality.

Global Running Day, which encourages people of all ages and abilities to get moving and to lead more active lives, dawned for many Canadians under a thick haze from the hundreds of blazes that continue to burn across the country. As of Wednesday, there were more than 400 active fires, the most affected areas currently being Quebec and western Canada.

There are more than 150 wildfires currently burning in Quebec, prompting air quality warnings in that province, as well as in Ontario and large swaths of the northeastern United States. Western Canada, where crews have been struggling with a spate of wildfires over the last several weeks, continues to be affected by close to 150 fires that remain active across Alberta and BC

The health risks posed by the wildfires prompted a warning to be posted on the splash page of globalrunningday.org, reading: “The wildfires in Canada have created poor air quality conditions in the New York City metropolitan area. If you’re in NYC or any affected area, please read and follow your city’s health advisory regarding air quality for June 6 and 7 and consider running another day.” The caution was also tweeted by the New York Road Runners, organizers of the New York City Marathon, who have been one of the biggest promoters of World Running Day since the event’s launch in the US as National Running Day in 2009.

Canada’s Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) provides offers snapshot of current and forecasted air quality with a simple numerical scale: a reading of zero to three means a low health risk, four to six indicates a medium risk, seven to 10 presents a high risk and any number above 10 indicates very high risk. Global running day saw several regions in Ontario and Quebec in the medium- and high-risk zones, with Ottawa recording very high risk levels. The Sport Information Resource Centre, which has partnered with Health Canada to offer guidance on what action runners, coaches and athletic event organizers should consider taking in response to AQHI readings, recommends that outdoor excercise and events be cancelled, rescheduled or moved indoors when an AQHI readings above climb six.

Air quality is being affected not only by the size, number and location of wildfires, but also by weather.

Trudy Kidd, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said that while she can’t speak to progress in taming the wildfires, current weather forecasts suggest runners hoping to mark Global Running Day with a fresh-air run may have to wait until at least the weekend.

“Right now we have a pretty stagnant weather pattern,” she said Wednesday. “For now, I’m seeing a low-pressure system come into Southern Ontario this weekend. That low-pressure system will change the wind direction from a northerly or northeasterly direction into a more southerly direction, and that will bring us a breath of fresh air.”

Kidd, a runner herself, said that it is ultimately each individual’s responsibility to decide what conditions they choose to run in. She notes, however, that there are options for those concerned about air quality who are determined to get a run in on Global Running Day.

“I know there are some runners out there who would never miss a day. For them, running on a treadmill might be an option, and I’ve even seen people run in N-95 masks, though that would be a lot harder. It’s up to the individual, although certainly if there are people at higher risk from wildfire smoke—those with asthma or heart disease, for example, who need to be much more careful. And as soon as anyone experiences symptoms such as severe shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness or chest pains, they should stop any activity such as running and contact their healthcare provider.”

person running on treadmill
Photo: Unsplash/Itenza Fitness

As for whether poor air quality was affecting her own running plans on Global Running Day, Kidd said she was fielding so many media requests related to the wildfires that “work has made the decision for me not to run today or tomorrow.

“For me, personally, I know I have another day, and I can always catch up on running. On a day like today, I personally wouldn’t take the risk (of running outdoors), so I’ll wait until the weather is better. Besides, there’s a climbing gym I go to that’s amazing, so there are other things to do in the meantime.”

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