This article was written by Peter Downing and first appeared in the winter 2021 issue of our Trail Times newsletter. Peter’s company Suffer Better is an American Trail Running Association single track member and RUFA Patagonia is a race member. Above photo: W McKinley.
Arguably, air quality in many places around the country, like Salt Lake and Denver, is downright lousy these days, especially during the winter months when regular inversions produce especially poor air. Not to mention that there are more cars and trucks on the roads, more forest fires, more oil and gas emissions, changing climates, and an increasing number of other contributors to air quality issues. Sadly, the air in and around many metro areas is actually getting worse.
Case in point, Denver had 59 ozone alert days this past summer, a significant increase over any previous year, and more Air Quality Alert Days than any previous year. As runners, we can literally taste the difference on those bad air days, making us wonder if our running in that “stuff,” is actually any good for us. But, also as runners, and humans, we have the opportunity to do something about that unhealthy air; step up, literally and figuratively, and do our part to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Have you ever heard of Running Up For Air (RUFA)?
Ten years ago ultrarunner Jared Campbell decided to do something about the horrible air along the Wasatch range, just outside his home in Salt Lake. Running up and down Salt Lake’s Grandeur Peak was a regular training route for Campbell as he prepped for upcoming events like the infamous Barkley Marathon (Campbell is one of only 15 people who have ever finished that one, and he’s done it three times) or the equally challenging Hardrock 100 in Colorado.
Campbell found that he occasionally needed to wear a mask on those long winter runs…the air was just that bad. In 2012, Jared grabbed a few friends and together they all ran multiple times up and down Grandeur, using their legs and lungs to draw attention to the local air quality issues, while raising and donating money to a local Salt Lake nonprofit, Breathe Utah, launching what has become Running Up for Air, or RUFA as it is generally known.
For the next three years, Campbell and a growing number of local running pals kept the RUFA thing going, but mostly as an informal “outing” – if running up and down mountains in winter is ever just an outing. Still, in the process the “event’s” notoriety grew, as did the number of runners joining in and the amount of dough they raised to support Breathe Utah’s educational and advocacy efforts on the improved air quality front.
Things changed in 2016 when Campbell made the big decision to make RUFA a full-on winter running event, with 24, 12 and 6-hour options, and a fundraiser for Breathe Utah. People, lots of people, registered and ran and raised all kinds of money. And each year RUFA got bigger and bigger.
Starting in 2018, with the launch of a RUFA event in Colorado, organized by local nonprofit Suffer Better, RUFA expanded into a multistate group of locally run RUFA events, all working in close association with Campbell and the original RUFA mission, and all raising money for local nonprofits focused on air quality, the natural environment, and reducing the impacts of climate change.
While there were no live events in 2021, due to the pandemic, RUFA events for 2022 are a “go” and will take place in Ogden and Provo, Utah, in addition to the usual Salt Lake edition, as well as Pine, Colorado, and Missoula, Montana. Combined, these RUFA events will involve over 1200 runners, hundreds of volunteers, and raise upwards of $75,000. Thanks in large part to Patagonia, RUFA’s main partner, which donates big bucks and quality products for runners and volunteers across all RUFA venues, while hosting events in their local stores, RUFA’s message reaches a much wider audience.
In light of the RUFA mission, each of the RUFA events strives to minimize its environmental impact and maximize its fundraising. To that end, each event is cup-free, offers shuttle service for runners, and, where driving is necessary, encourages and rewards carpooling. Each registered runner is expected to become a fundraiser, cajoling friends and family to support their run with donations to the locally chosen nonprofits. Each RUFA event partners with local nonprofits doing the good work to advocate for clean-air policies and educate local citizens on the myriad of ways they can do their individual part to improve the quality of their air.
What Jared began 10 years ago with a small community of fellow runners has evolved into a bigger, but still community focused event. RUFA, wherever it’s held, retains that special community feel, drawing runners, volunteers, and partners together to make a positive statement about their world and take real steps to make it better. There’s a RUFA camaraderie unlike most running events – coming from a shared purpose and the resolve to make a trail run more than a trail run. Registration is now open for all 2022 RUFA events. The sooner you sign up, the more the community can do together, and the more money we can raise collectively.
To learn more, sign up, volunteer, and be part of the RUFA community, visit upforairseries.org.