Berkeley Half Marathon back 1 year after cancellation

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Take a deep breath.

Now, think back to how difficult that was one year ago, when the Camp Fire exploded and puffed clouds of dense smoke into the Bay Area. It forced the cancellation of a favorite race for Bay Area runners.

But a new year without a current Northern California wildfire is breathing new life into this year's Berkeley Half Marathon.

No matter which part of the Bay Area you were in last year, the sky had the same ugly brownish, grey tinge---and we were breathing it directly into our lungs.

"That was a ten. That was the worst the Bay Area has ever experienced."

And Charley Knoderer should know. He is a meteorologist with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The air was so bad that organizers of the Berkeley Half Marathon had to call it off.

"Last year, it was purely a decision based on health...it was just unsafe for anybody even people without medical conditions," said race organizer Lauri Abrahamsen.

In November 2018, smoke from the deadliest fire in California History - the Camp Fire - drifted nearly two hundred miles south - heavy with particulates from burning wood and buildings.

RELATED: Napa foot races canceled due to poor air quality from Camp Fire smoke

It was so severe doctors urged people with breathing problems to stay in, and even experienced runners said "no thanks."

"It was brown, gray in the skies, so there was no way anybody could run in that. No way," said Chris Lane, who will run his third Berkeley Half Marathon on Sunday.

But, air quality this week was moderate, and favorable winds helped clean up the atmosphere. Organizers allowed the 6,000 runners who signed-up and paid fees last year, to apply that to this year instead. All, but 200 of them did.

"People missed our race last year, and they're happy we're able to do it this year," said Lauri Abrahamsen.

There was one positive outcome to skipping a year. The number of runners signed up almost doubled from 6,000 last year, to just shy of 11,000 this year.

The half marathon takes place on Sunday.

The Biofreeze Berkeley Family 1K will take place on Saturday. One other note: In 2018, and for three of the past six years, UC Berkeley had to cancel its traditional November bonfire. Now, the University has decided to build an aluminum structure, burning propane to replace the old bonfire that used wood as fuel.

The new bonfire is scheduled for the night of November 22.
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