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Returning to Running After Smoke By Rick Lovett

Like all of us, I’ve been obsessively watching the air quality index, more or less willing it to improve…as if that’s possible. And like many of us, I’ve learned a lot about air quality levels we never before dreamed of. I used to think 175 was bad. Now I am a connoisseur of the difference between 530, and 430. I can feel it in my eyes, throat, lungs, and heart.

For 8 days, going on 9, I have done zero exercises, even though I have an N-95 mask that I bought back in January to combat smoke. I take out the trash (wearing the mask) when absolutely necessary. I occasionally collect my mail. And that is pretty much all I do. In 8 days climbing my stairs as few times as possible is my main form of exercise.

Hopefully, many of you were equally cautious.

Which raises the question: when this abates, as it eventually will (and may be doing as you read this) how fast can you return to normal training?

The answer should be reassuring. Soon. But take a few days to ramp up.

The basic rule of injury or illness layoffs is this. Three to five days off is nothing. You might feel sluggish the first day back, but take it easy and you’ll be back to normal the next day…or at worst the day after that. For longer layoffs, say a week to 10 days (which is what we’re talking about here), allow one day for full recovery for every day of layoff. If you’re flat on your back with flu, it might be longer (two days for every day off), and if you are cross-training extensively (hard to do in this kind of smoke unless you have a really good home gym…and great air filters) it might be less.

So my main advice is this. Figure you’re going to be sluggish at first. Don’t immediately jump into speed workouts. Start with a few cautious easy runs (once the air quality allows) to get your running legs back. Then segue into strides. Follow that with a little cautious tempo.

Physiologically, this layoff has been too short for you to lose much, especially because you weren’t actually hurt or ill. But it will probably take a few days to feel normal.

If you are doing the Stumptown series, postpone the first race until the end of the week. You won’t be 100 percent at that point, but you probably won’t be a total slug, either. And remember, everyone is in the same boat.

Mentally, view this as a rest break. Unplanned, yes, but rest can be good. Bernard Lagat always took five full weeks off in the fall, after the Fifth Avenue Mile, at the end of September. That’s a lot more than 8-9 days. And by the Wannamaker Mile, indoors in February, he was so well recovered from his break (a total layoff) that for years, he was the King of the Boards.

In other words, don’t sweat it. In the big picture, this is a mere hiccup.

But don’t push it too hard, either. Let the recovery come to you, rather than you trying to force it.

It will come, and after nearly a week and a half of sitting indoors trying not to breathe orange air, simply getting outside and (eventually) seeing a patch of blue sky will be a reminder that what’s really important isn’t so much how fast we recover, but just that we can still (again) get out and do it.

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