The Hawaiian islands are a magical place to live, but nature, as always, has a way of keeping us humans grounded. And right now that grounding force comes in the form of vog. But what is vog? And why is it something to be aware of?
Vog is a basically smog from a volcanic source. It’s created when sulphur dioxide and other lovely stuff (more gases and particles) emitted by an erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. The reactions create a visible haze and ‘vog’ layer that moves across the islands depending on the wind patterns. South “Kona” winds tend to sweep more vog across the Hawaiian island chain in comparison to the more usual Trade Winds that blow the vog out to sea! And the Hawaiian volcano in question responsible for creating the vog? Kilauea located on the ‘Big Island’, Hawaii, and the gases and particles are currently being emitted by the Halema‘uma‘u crater.
What are the health concerns associated with vog? The irritable component of vog is SO2, known to cause disruption to breathing patterns. Unfortunately for asthma sufferers and people with existing respiratory conditions vog is not good news – it only worsens already difficult and uncomfortable symptoms. Those who live closest to the crater will sadly feel the biggest effect, but even on islands more distant in the archipelago people report itchy and sore eyes, wheezing and dry coughs, headaches and general fatigue.
But how does it affect runners and other endurance athletes who require lungfulls of O2 rich air? The Hawaii Department of Health states that if you are physically active outdoors you are at a high risk from the effects of SO2 and vog:
“…may cause wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Symptoms increase as SO2 levels and/or breathing rates increase. When exposure to SO2 stops, lung function typically returns to normal within an hour.” (HSDH, 2015).
The only recommended way to avoid vog is to:
“Stay indoors, and close the windows and doors tightly; use an air conditioner with the outside vent closed so that it is circulating inside air only.” (HSDH, 2015).
Neither of those statements are good news for outdoor loving runners and folks trying to prepare for endurance based events. So what to do?
I decided to talk to a number of athletes in Hawaii about training on high vog days, to see how they coped with the conditions. Interestingly the response has been fairly similar: Don’t stop workouts but don’t be afraid to make adjustments as needed.
Mariane Uehara, Oahu (Ironman, Health and Running Coach and wellness lifestyle blogger): Hydrate more and consider switching to a shorter training day.
Bree Wee, Big Island (Professional Ironman, mother, teacher and blogger): We’re used to the vog on the Big Island and sadly our body’s have learned to live with it. Be sure to enjoy the clear days and blue skies when there isn’t any vog!
Polina Carlson, Oahu (2:35 marathoner, OQT qualifier and photographer): During my long runs, when it’s voggy and humid, I try to hydrate every 2-3 miles even when I don’t feel thirsty. For people who are sensitive to vog, it might make sense to do the workout inside on a treadmill.
I also think that while some athletes have the advantage of altitude training what we do have on Oahu is high humidity and at times voggy air, which make our bodies work harder during workouts. When I travel to the mainland to lower temperatures and lower humidity, I feel stronger and faster every time.
What to do if you want to exercise outside on a voggy day in Hawaii?
- Read up and equip yourself with as much information as possible. The best source is the Hawaii State Department of Health’s FAQ document, which you can read HERE.
- Check the Air Now air quality report for vog updates and also see vog prediction websites such as the UH Manoa Vog Measurement and Prediction Project page (VMAP).
- Hydrate – drink extra water, consider electrolytes (such as nuun), more non-caffeinated tea. Try ‘Vog Relief’ tea from Mana Tea – it’s delicious.
- Take it easy! Consider adding a recovery day, check the weather forecast to see when the Trade Winds are returning and plan a big workout for that day. Or do some yoga!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you do decide to do a workout and it feels tougher than normal – jump in to the ocean to cool off afterwards and grab an icy drink asap!
- And finally, maybe just take a rest day and watch this Disney Pixar film to cheer yourself up – volcanoes need love too!