August in the Northwest brings fires, and with the fires comes smoke and haze. In the valleys where many cities are, this can create an inversion and horrible air quality. Cycling in these smoky conditions can not only be challenging, but hazardous to your health.
Still, you don’t want to give up your training regimen, especially if you are getting ready for a big ride like Rebecca’s Private Idaho (coming up Labor Day weekend in Sun Valley). If you are like me, you need that training even if conditions are not perfect. So what do you do?
Cycle Early or Late
The air quality is best before or after sunrise. This means you also need to make sure you have lights and reflective gear, and you need to be careful where you go. However, at least getting an early start or taking a late ride ensures you get your miles (and your vertical) in. Be cautious on gravel and trails after dark when you can’t see hazards as well.
If you must sacrifice something, get as much hill work in as you can. You will get a better workout faster, and besides, it is fun to ride down last, making the trip to your car a pleasure. As usual in the foothills or on roads beware of nighttime traffic: hikers and runners will also want to get out late to avoid the pollution as well. Traffic may be light, but don’t let yourself get complacent and stay alert.
Limit Your Time Outside
Before sunrise or after sunset not your riding jam?
If you have to go during the day, check your local forecast and try to avoid the times when the smoke and haze are the worst. Even when levels are at their lowest, if they are still in the orange range, limit your ride to less than an hour.
Since this may not actually give you enough of a workout, again try to add hills or another level of difficulty.
If you do struggle with asthma or you are sensitive to the smoke and haze in another way (like allergies), limiting your time may not be enough. If you feel symptoms of an asthma attack, burning or aching lungs, and unusual shortness of breath, get inside. The risk to your health will not be balanced out by the fact that you are working out.
Groan. I know, I hate indoor cycling too and only engage in it in the depths of winter. Even then, if I have a way to get outside I do. However, there are significant health risks that come with the smoky air in the valleys, and you could sideline your cycling for a long time if you push it too hard.
How do you make indoor cycling more fun? There are options.
- Challenge Yourself: Set a goal or a challenge for yourself: mileage or time that you want to exceed, and ramp up the tension on the bike. Push yourself, even if you are indoors.
- Listen to Music: When you ride on the road, listening to music, especially loud music, is a horrible idea, and unsafe. But in the gym? It helps drown out the heavy breathing of the guy next to you.
- Use a Video Trainer: That’s right. Using your iPad or even iPhone, you can use a video trainer app to make it seem like you are cycling the apps or somewhere else outside. The audio can even coach you in some cases if you sync it with your health app.
- Take a Spin Class: Getting all sweaty in a room full of people on stationary bikes is not always the most fun, but classes, if done well, can be very motivating.
Cycling indoors can be tough at a gym. The bikes are often uncomfortable and not what you are used to, but it can also work a different set of muscles than you are used to as well. If you have a stationary bike at home that can be even better.
I know. I am a cyclist too, and this smoke and haze are really harshing my cycling groove man. But we have to make the best of it. Whether you cycle early or late, limit your time, or cycle indoors to avoid the risks outside you can still get in your miles and work out. At least until the smoke clears.
Also published on Medium.