Written by Scott Benbow
Scott Benbow is a 2018 Biofreeze San Francisco Marathon Ambassador
This past autumn, the devastating fires in Paradise, California claimed the lives of many while uprooting families and destroying property. Having lost loved ones, property, and pets, it will be years before some of the survivors return to any semblance of normal lives again.
Here in San Francisco, we were spared the immediate dangers of the wildfires but our thoughts were with the victims to the northeast. However, we were reminded daily of the emergency in Paradise because the air quality in the city diminished to dangerous levels as a result. As the air worsened, an ever-growing number of people in the city donned ventilation masks in an attempt to protect their lungs. Having lived in this city of oddballs and eccentrics for 18 years, I had never seen pedestrians across the city look so bizarre.
The wildfires posed dilemmas for many in the running community. “Should I run with a mask?” My answer was, “Hell no!” Race Directors had the even more difficult decision to make and I was pleased that the organizers of road and trail races in the region–including the organizers of the Berkeley Half Marathon, the North Face Endurance Challenge, the T9 Mermaid Series Run in San Francisco, and the Monterey Bay Half Marathon–all decided to cancel their races. They were under intense pressure from runners not to cancel because of those who invested time, training, attention, and money to running these races.
On my social media feeds, I was pleased to see that most of my friends were intentionally choosing not to run in the dangerous air. They are a dedicated bunch, so I wondered how they would fill the time that running and other forms of outdoor exercise usually fills for them.
So, what can a runner do when it’s dangerous to be outside?
For me, the lack of access to outdoor activities was difficult to handle. Just prior to the wildfires, my physical therapist had diagnosed me with profound mobility issues in my right hip, ankle, and foot. He recommended that I cut back on running and try to improve my mobility. If I had to cut back on my running, and I had to spend most of my time indoors, then I wanted to find a way to advance my health and fitness in these difficult circumstances.
Fortunately, I found a book that alleviated my disappointment about the annoying injury while taking my mind off of the smoky apocalypse billowing outside. Kelly Starrett’s Ready To Run provided a 12-point scale to assess one’s mobility. It enabled me to figure out where in the kinetic chain on my right side I needed to focus my attention—essentially, everywhere. According to my self-assessment using Starrett’s scale, I needed to achieve better hip flexion, hip extension, squatting technique, and ankle range of motion.
Starrett helps you get started by including a “28-Day Mobility Overhaul Plan,” which I have been implementing since I read the book. He recommends that, after the first 28 days, runners undertake some mobility training every day for the rest of their lives.
Almost all of Starrett’s mobility exercises are meant to be done indoors, so they were convenient to follow while I felt I was under house arrest because of the smoke outside.
The air in San Francisco has since cleared and our only reminders of the wildfires are in articles about how people in Paradise are rebuilding their lives. Our short-term discomfort in the city doesn’t even begin to compare with what they are facing.
I regard those weeks being forced indoors as time well spent.. I inhaled as little of the toxic air as possible and incorporated a new series of mobility exercises in my schedule that I am confident will make me a stronger runner.
What did you do during the weeks when it was too smoky to run? If you live outside of the Bay Area, were there times in your experience when you couldn’t run because it was too dangerous? How did you respond?
If we approach times when we simply cannot run with an intention to improve another aspect of fitness and health, then how we respond to unfavorable circumstances might help us become better runners.