Running Up For Air (aka RUFA) is an endurance mountain challenge that was started by Jared Campbell to raise money in support for improved air quality along the Wasatch Front. Jared had the idea in 2011/2012 to run up and down Grandeur Peak just on the outskirts of Salt Lake City to help raise awareness about the poor air quality that SLC experiences, which becomes dangerously unhealthy during winter. Jared ended up running for 24hrs for a total of 10 laps and 34,000ft of gain that first year.
Jared is an icon in the mountain running endurance space, talking about his achievements and endeavors outside deserve a separate blog post. The things that he has done are mind-blowing and hard to comprehend. 3x Barkley Finisher, 10x Hardrock Finisher, WURL FKT, and MUCH more.
It is only fitting that Jared would come up with this idea of running up and down a mountain in support of clean air. Those that have been to Salt Lake City know that the air quality is no joke in the winter time. The sun bakes pollutants which then merge in large concentrations due to temperature inversions. Warm air trapped underneath the inversion acts as a roof for the pollution. I’m no scientist, but my understanding is that the valley of SLC further contributes to this trap for pollution (almost 50% coming from automobiles). If you want to read into more detail about the science of air quality, I found this article super helpful.
I was lucky to meet Jared for the first time this past February at the 2019 edition of RUFA Grandeur Peak. I had initially planned to run the 24hr event, but a nasty fight with food poisoning the night prior kept me away from fully participating. Despite not feeling 100%, I felt this pull to get out for a few laps and see the fantastic community that Jared had built. In the time that I was out there, it was evident that despite the harsh, snowy, and slow conditions that runners were a part of a much bigger project. (Click here to watch a video I made during RUFA Grandeur Peak) This idea of ‘Running Up For Air’ has been a catalyst to be more aware of my impact on the environment. It was rewarding to see the camaraderie between runners and the unity that this event brought.
Fast forward one month, it was time for RUFA Colorado. Thanks to the pioneer that Jared is, the good people over at Suffer Better (Peter Downing and Bob Africa) caught wind of this event and had their inaugural event last year. Colorado’s Front Range experiences similar air quality effects in the winter (albeit not as bad) and, it only makes sense that this type of event takes place in Colorado too (and hopefully more locations in the future!). This idea of Running Up For Air was particularly important and relevant because earlier that week, Denver experienced some of the worst air quality in North America. I could visibly see the pollution hanging over Denver while out on my standard run up Green Mountain. (photo attached below)
I also was in luck, no food poisoning this time!
RUFA Colorado took place in Evergreen (30 miles West of Denver), where runners participating in 3, 6, and 12-hour segments ran laps up and down Granite Peak. The course this year consisted of a 3.1-mile loop with 900ft of elevation gain, most of which was covered in crusty powdering mix of snow and a bit of mud to keep things interesting. As my experience in Utah, the community of runners that came together in Evergreen was something very special.
I wrapped up the day with 50 miles, 13,000ft of elevation gain, and a smile. In the final few laps of my day, I found what people call the ‘flow’ state. I was 100% present. I felt each breath and each footstep. My thoughts were intense, and I started to think about my impacts on the earth. I thought of Jared on his inaugural year of running laps up Grandeur Peak. I thought about my voice and the power that I have to speak up. As someone who spends so much time outside, air quality has real tangible effects on my health.
I started to ask myself these questions.
How do we solve the issue of bad air quality? What can we do on micro and macro levels? I’m not here to tell you to stop driving your car or to stop flying in planes. I think it is helpful to be aware and conscious of the impacts that we have on our planet and not to point fingers on any one person’s fault. We are all in this together, and we have to acknowledge this truth. Riding your bike for daily tasks (if it makes sense) and carpooling are small ways that add up over a long time to help reduce emissions that feed into our atmosphere. I don’t have all the answers, but having the curiosity to learn, grow, and evolve is a start