As the Diamond Creek Fire nears my home in the Methow Valley, I continue my daily running practice. My home, as wild and wily and wonderful as it is, also has extreme seasons. Spanning the negative-teens and three feet of snow on the ground in winter to the sauna-like smoky days of mid-August there is always some complication to getting out the door to run - except in our paradisiac Aprils and Octobers which read like a mineralic rosé or a dense merlot on my tongue according to season.
Just like the e-book I compiled last winter containing my lessons for running in snow, I wanted to provide readers and clients with some fire country know-how to help you keep moving in the hottest summer months. More than sharing my hard-won knowledge about dancing with the changing seasons with you readers, these pieces serve as mantras for me when the extreme conditions get me down and make me consider not running. Here are a few helpful morsels I've gathered this season while I learn to move with the fire.
Safety: Being that wildfire can shift quickly, leaving the runner stranded, there are a number of health- and safety-related precautions to take when running the hills during an active wildfire. First: leave a plan with a responsible safety person who is able to call in the necessary support. In that plan include where you're parking, what trail or mountain you're running, with whom, and a time that you will contact them. Be sure to leave the contact information of your local Search and Rescue team with your safety person so they know who to call if you don't get in touch in time. While you're running use good common sense. Sniff the air periodically to judge the behavior of the fire nearby, watch for smoke or unusual animal activity. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to exit quickly should warning signs present themselves.
Checking conditions: Don't rely on mere gossip or the news to inform you of fire activity - go to the source. Check out the InciWeb page for the fires near you before heading out on your run. Take special caution on windy days. Even though that blessed wind might blow the smoke away and tempt you out to run, it is akin to being called out to ski on the deepest powder days. Just like fresh pow is tempting and potentially lethal, so too are clear skies after a couple smoky days. The wind that clears the skies is the same wind that stokes the wildfire.
Your vehicle: If you're driving to your running destination be sure to have an alternate exit if one is cut off by smoke or flame. Park your car in a conspicuous location to alert FS employees who might serve an evacuation notice while you're on the trail and to make rescue more feasible should you become trapped. If you're running in a particularly remote location leave a note detailing your route and timing on your front seat in case a team drives by to evacuate the area. Fuel up, keep on top of maintenance, and park in a visible location. Nuff said.
The heat: Fire season happens during the hottest part of the year - and here in the Methow Valley that means 100F+ conditions on ten runs in a row this summer. The heat is an excellent training stimulus - if properly-programmed in your training. Start with little bouts of exposure to the heat on your mellow run days before jumping whole-hog into long, hilly, hot runs. I find visualizing my body dissipating into the heat rather than resisting the heat allows me to become more comfortable in intense temperatures. Instead of flushing your body to hyponatremia by drinking only clear water, try this homemade hydration drink. Fill a sixteen ounce hand bottle with ice, add the juice of one lime, spritz in some micronutrient drops, and top it off with water. That bottle will add a good deal of cool to your baking-hot run.
Ventilator: I am more prone to finding solutions than to allowing adverse running conditions keep me indoors so when the smoke near home persisted this month, I ordered this ventilator. Expect a ventilator that is effective in protecting against smoke inhalation to obscure your breathing - it felt like running at about 9000' elevation to me. Be aware of hypoxia due to the restriction of breathing and moderate your pace and the steepness of the terrain you choose to run accordingly. Also, allow the sweat to build up around the ventilator and don't wipe it away. That sweat creates an excellent seal of the mask to your face. Be sure to move the mask aside every fifteen minutes for a bite and a sip. Enjoy the sore-throat-free run in the smoke!
The ANS: Hypoxia leads to the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and that is a bad thing for an ultra endurance machine like you. With an activated nervous system during persistent endurance training you risk poor proliferation of oxygen, inappropriate metabolism of your precious calories, poor decision-making, lack of connection with the divine, and even adrenal fatigue. If you are unsure how to regulate your nervous system, sign up for a consult with me and I'll teach you the way.
When to bail: If ash falls from the sky, if the smoke is thick enough to make my eyes water, and if there is lightning in the forecast I'll bail or choose a different activity for the day.