Training During Fire Season

The sun was as red as a Christmas light this morning, and the light today has an eerie, distorted feel like it’s coming through a piece of fabric. Fire season isn’t a new phenomenon for those of us living in the North American west. I’m also old enough to remember when seasonal burning of the fields coloring our sunsets every fall. Even still, I’m afraid last summer left many of us with a new trauma to revisit every time the sky turns sepia-toned. We Portlanders, from a state previously famous for its rain and evergreens soon became infamous for the worst air quality in the world. We were twice-trapped indoors–from the pandemic and from the horrible oppression of particulates.

When air quality is this poor, all movement can feel like exertion. And for those of us with already limited oxygen intake, it can become dangerously unpleasant. Headaches, nausea, low energy, brain fog, and the weight of knowing we are confined, that there is nowhere to escape it. It’s hot but we daren’t open the windows. Those with air conditioning units run them even when it’s cool at night, hoping to filter out particulates accumulating in our indoor spaces. The daily walk may well remain not an option for several days in a row.

I’m lucky. It’s been a few years since my home or livelihood were under direct threat of wildfire. For folks living on the edges of our communities, in rural locations surrounded by untended lands one hot cinder away from combusting, training may be naturally and appropriately low on the priority list. I suspect we all share, however, that we are watching the skies, noting the cast and color of the light, and gauging what activities can comfortably be tolerated.

How do you deal when conditions are so far from ideal? Do you worry about lost progress if you take a break during this latest version of the apocalypse?

Some of us define ourselves by how hardcore we are. We enjoy the privilege of believing that the only barriers are those we put upon ourselves. Others of us have had to learn to accept that some challenges cannot be completely overcome, and we must either adapt or move on to new aspirations.

I cannot change the quality of the air. As much as I might want to, I cannot single-handedly change the climate. These moments show us the interconnections between our daily lives and life on this planet. Denial never serves us in the long run. Today, if air quality doesn’t improve, I will stay inside. I will skip heading out to the garage gym. I will not take my walk. I will keep it easy so that I may continue to breathe easier. Take care of yourselves out there.

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