The ranks were thinned when runners toed the starting line Tuesday evening for the summer cross country series opener at Bear Creek Park.
Smoke from fires in Josephine and Douglas counties had settled on the valley floor, and despite hopes it would dissipate by race time, the heavy stuff refused to budge.
"It was pretty bad," said Chuck Whiteley, who was among the 40-plus runners to attack the 5-kilometer course. "Every evening prior to that, the smoke had cleared and we were hoping it would happen again — it didn't."
The Rogue Valley is full of fitness buffs of many stripes and this past week has taxed all of their routines from pavement and trails to gyms and sand courts. But most have found a way to get their workouts in.
Whiteley said summer runs have been called off when it got too hot or there was the threat of lightning — even on account of smoke. Less than half the typical number to finish last summer's three races showed up and most of those running backed off their usual pace.
"Tuesday night was probably the worst I've run in," he said. "We paid close attention to everyone out there. No one had breathing problems and no one crossed the finish line coughing, but it wasn't the way we wanted to do it."
Whiteley said some of his running buddies resorted to masks and others went indoors and jumped on a treadmill.
He took the next two days off from running before hitting the road again Friday.
"Treadmills bore me to tears, if that were running I wouldn't be a runner," he confessed.
Hazardous air quality conditions failed to deter Kristie George from her routine.
"I don't have limiting factors, asthma or lung issues from the past," said George, whose running resume includes the Boston Marathon. "We know our own bodies and I'm only going early in the morning. It's the best time, except Thursday was horrible. I grew up in Southern California when the smog meter was high, but Thursday was oppressive, you could feel the smoke around you."
Nonetheless, said George, who puts in about 30 miles per week, she was more concerned with typical running issues, like a heel injury.
Over at Rogue Valley CrossFit on Samike Drive, the gym's industrial exterior doors have been closed this week, something that usually only happens in the coldest days of winter.
"It's directly related to air quality," said CrossFit owner Jake Porras. "If you are outside running there are long-term effects. I'm going to keep it that way until the smoke clears out. I check the air quality every morning and it's not worth it to take a chance. We had a few runners who ended up getting headaches and were coughing."
CrossFit member Quinnan Picton runs about five miles a week, but has switched to playing dodgeball instead of running a half-mile before her indoor workouts.
She's more concerned about her lost time on the sand volleyball court.
The Seaside Beach Volleyball Tournament, one of the largest events of its kind drawing 1,300 teams, is scheduled next week. Picton and her partner won their division last year, but haven't able to practice because of the smoke.
"We're usually out there four or five days a week and we haven't played since last Sunday," she said.
Ali Lively is a dedicated runner, who managed to escape to Sacramento for the weekend, but earlier in the week she was in a quandary.
"I live by the Greenway near Hunter Park," Lively said. "Every day I see hundreds of people go by and it's been like nobody for the entire week. Then a couple of die-hard runners went by. I thought if they're going, so am I."
Since then she's questioned jumping on the bandwagon.
"It wasn't the smartest thing," Lively said. "My chest felt heavy and I had a hard time breathing. I'm glad I'm out of the valley for a few days."
Drew Jordan discovered what wildfire smoke can do over a period of weeks last year. The North Medford High School graduate who now runs cross country for Washington State University pushed through the long, smoky late summer and early fall on the Palouse.
"I just can't stand running in the smoke after last year," said Jordan, who went to Brookings Friday only to encounter smoke on the coast and Jedediah Smith Park inland from Crescent City.
"Monday wasn't too bad," Jordan said. "But after Monday, it was pretty much as bad as it was last year. After that, I didn't take chances and have been going to the Y and running on the treadmill."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.