Running on a treadmill sucks. Let me clarify, running on a treadmill on a sunny day sucks. But that’s exactly where I’ve spent the past five days: in a gym, on a treadmill. I’d much rather be outside running on a trail, but the problem is I live in California. I know, I know, California is a state with perpetual sunshine, what gives? Well, unfortunately California has also become the state with perpetual wildfires. The air quality these past five days has made the act of even being outside unhealthy, let alone attempting to exercise outside. So I’m in a gym.
California is experiencing its worst fire season in the state’s history. And by some indications this is the new normal. Not only are wildfires becoming more prevalent, they’re becoming larger in acreage. One reason I moved to Marin County – a place I can hardly afford – is the stellar air quality. Since we runners are so dependent on the air we breathe, Marin County seemed like a worthy investment. But the number of “spare the air” days has steadily increased, and my days in the gym have ticked up in lockstep. Not a welcome trend.
And the problem of clean air is hardly unique to California. It’s a global issue. Fixing this problem is not going to happen in our lifetime, and perhaps not in our children’s lifetime unless more is done. The globe needs a refresh, and that is going to take time.
And effort. Perhaps no other group is more dependent on the air we breathe than outdoor athletes. We are uniquely positioned to take a stand and to do what we can to turn this ship around. Yes, I’m getting preachy. And that is my intention. It may not be possible to change everything, but you can change yourself.
How? By making daily decisions that minimize your “carbon footprint” (I hate that term, it seems unnecessarily ambiguous). Just do less stuff that pollutes the air. Do what you can, and lead by example. And be vocal about it. Yes, be “that guy.” The one that’s kind of obnoxious, but still makes you think.
Right about now you might be saying to yourself, “Okay Mr. High and Mighty, what have you done to practice what yer preachin’?” Well, for one I sold my car. It was perhaps the least practical decision of my life, but it immediately eliminated unnecessary driving. That option no longer existed. Now I have different sized backpacks and when the air quality is sufficient (which, in all fairness, it is most of the year) I run to wherever I’m going. Is it awkward walking into a meeting all sweaty and exhausted when everyone else is dressed up in nice business attire? Yeah, it is. But I can live with that. Is it uncomfortable running home from the market carrying a backpack stuffed with groceries? It is, and it’s also a good strength building exercise. My lifestyle has adapted to this self-imposed measure of ditching the car.
To conclude, this article has either inspired you or convinced you I’m a whack job. I get that. Fair enough. But I’ll sleep a little more soundly tonight knowing that I’ve written it. If we want to continue doing what we love, and pass along this beautiful sport and pastime of ultrarunning along to future generations, I encourage you to do what you can. You’ll sleep more soundly, too.
Dean Karnazes has run across America and serves as a US State Department Athlete Ambassador for the Greening of Sports Initiative.