FRESNO, California (KSEE/KGPE) –The California Classic hosted its 10th annual bike and run events on Saturday and Sunday morning. More than a thousand people participated under smoky skies, raising concern from health advocates who said the event should have been canceled.

“It’s completely and totally dangerous to promote any outdoor activity, especially in exchange for monetary value,” said Sandra Celedon, CEO and Director of Building Healthy Communities.

On Saturday morning, the day of the 100-mile century ride, the air quality index (AQI) was in the orange tier, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

“We know that being exposed to fine particulate matter such as what it’s in smoke can easily go into your lungs, it can easily cause things like asthma, cardiac problems, even premature death,” said Celedon.

By Sunday morning, the day of the half marathon, a 10k and a 5k run, the AQI had reached the red zone, meaning the air was unhealthy for everyone.

“At that point, runners run at their own risk,” said Mike Herman, Director of the California Classic Weekend. “[The red zone] is the 4th level in the air index quality. There are two more levels after that. Our policy as an organization is we cancel events when it hits anything over 201.”

Herman says participants had the option to do a virtual run; about 100 people opted for this.

“We send them their event shirt and their finisher’s medal, and they can run it when the weather gets better in their opinion, they can run it on their own.”

He said about 20 percent of people who signed up decided not to run at all. No refunds were issued.

“It would be impossible for an event to be viable if they canceled the last day. Everything is purchased, all the way down to the food items, the closures, the roads, police, all the expenditures for the event. So we could cancel, but there’s no money to refund,” he said.

“It’s certainly extremely irresponsible for any outdoor event to be organized and carried out in the middle of such a terrible air quality day,” Celedon said.

Other advocates called out the City for not stepping in to cancel the weekend races. In response, a city spokeswoman said:

“The City of Fresno is not the organizer or sponsor of the California Classic. While the health of every Fresno resident is important to us, the decision to cancel the event would need to be made by event organizers.”