Heavy Pollen May Affect Track & Field Championships

After recently hosting the NCAA Track and Field Championships and the US Junior Track and Field Championships, Eugene is set to host the World Junior Track and Field Championships at the end of July at Historic Hayward Field. The athletes at these events may find their performance affected by Eugene’s high spring and summer pollen count. The Willamette Valley is the grass seed capital of the world.

Allergies Take Their Toll

For those who are unprepared for the area’s pollen, the effects can be extreme. “We see athletes kind of get caught off guard and the patient or coach will call us for an emergency before their event,” Judy Moran, a registered nurse at Oak Street Medical and an Allergy and Asthma Research Group research coordinator, told the Daily Emerald. “It stands to reason that if it’s your first day in Willamette Valley and you spend all day outside, by the time you get home you’ll be miserable.”

The Allergy and Asthma Research Group says that pollen in and around the Willamette region is a recurring problem that pops up during the annual dry season. Pollen builds up until strong winds blow it through towns across the Valley. The group provides regular updates on local pollen counts via Oak Street’s website.

“Like last year, this [year had] kind of an early season, starting at the last week of May,” said Moran. “Grass pollen is definitely the biggest problem.”

Photo credit: oscarandtara / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: oscarandtara / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

While allergies can negatively affect athletic performance in all sports, track and field athletes are generally among the hardest hit, especially distance runners. An extremely high pollen count, more than twice the normal and the worst of the year so far, led many runners in June’s Prefontaine Classic to wear masks to block out the allergens.

“It Knocks You On Your Butt”

“Eugene, and Oregon in general, [are great places] to train,” said Craig Leon, outreach coordinator for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Program at the University of Oregon, professional marathon runner, and allergy sufferer. “That’s why you have so many distance runners here. But for me, there’s about a month every year where it’s pretty bad. […] In Eugene, it’s so extreme that it just knocks you on your butt.”

While recent rains have limited the pollen blowing through the air and reduced many people’s hay fever symptoms, rain can cause more flare ups for those with allergy-triggered asthma. “The rain breaks up the pollen particles so they [can] get down into the airways, and those reactions get more intense,” Moran said.