Running Up For Air Expands to Include Global RUFA Day

The following article featuring Running Up For Air was written by Lisa Jhung and first appeared in the winter 2023 issue of ATRA’s quarterly newsletter Trail Times. Excitement is building for Running Up For Air as ultrarunner Jared Campbell’s brainchild gains support from sponsor Patagonia.

On the snowy trail up Utah’s 8,299-foot Grandeur Peak last winter, three generations climbed and descended in the name of clean air. Ultrarunner Jared Campbell’s mom, wife, and 8-year-old daughter participated in the Running Up for Air (RUFA) Grandeur event that Campbell started in February of 2012. Joining Campbell’s family in their efforts were 247 other participants, each one having fundraised—and trained—for either six-, 12-, or 24-hours-worth of laps on the 6.4-mile, 3,280 feet up and down the peak in February.

RUFA began as Campbell’s reaction to air pollution in the Salt Lake City area, but it’s snowballed into a worldwide effort to raise both money and awareness about the growing issue of polluted air. This year, Patagonia and RUFA are partnering to launch an event that will allow runners and hikers to participate in a Global RUFA Day in June of 2024.

RUFA 2018, Granduer Peak, Mill Creek Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, UT.

How Running Up For Air started

Campbell spent the winter of 2011-2012 training for the infamous Barkley Marathons that takes place each March, which meant amassing as much vertical as he could in less-than-ideal conditions. He used Grandeur Peak as his training grounds, which provided perspective on a growing problem.

“The reality of our winters is often that we have horrific episodes of bad air quality,” says Campbell, a resident of Salt Lake City. “And most people just kind of hide indoors and sort of ignore it.”

Running outdoors all winter, Campbell couldn’t ignore the polluted air. “You feel it in a way that most people don’t,” he says. “You feel it because you’re pulling that pollution into your body by breathing really hard.”

His runs would start in the “cold pool of polluted air” that had settled down in the valley, and head up and out of it and into the clear. Especially during thermal inversions, he explains, the difference was remarkable. “You certainly see it. You can feel it. You can taste the difference,” he says.

“Because I needed to get so much vertical that winter,” adds Campbell, “I was just up and down and up and down. And every up and down was this cycle of exiting the pollution, recognizing how beautiful it is up above, and then conversely flipping around and coming back down and seeing right with your eyeballs and feeling it in your lungs.”

The disturbing part, he adds, was that he realized what he was diving back into with each descent: “what two-and-a-half million people, including your families, your friends, your loved ones live in and breathe in.”

Building up for Barkley that winter, Campbell was planning a 24-hour day doing laps on the peak, where he’d attempt 10 laps “which hadn’t been done before,” he says.

“I just sort of put it out there, letting people challenge me to maybe pledge to throw in $1 or $2 or $5 for every lap,” says Campbell, who ended up donating $4,000 to Breathe Utah. What’s more, he had roughly a dozen people join him for a lap or two during his effort.

RUFA was born, despite a blizzard that dropped a couple feet of fresh snow on the trail. “It was a beautiful metaphor,” says Campbell. “Our little community had to pull together to create a path.”

RUFA 2017, Grandeur Peak, Wasatch Mountains, UT

How it grew

From that first year through 2015, RUFA grew to include friends and colleagues and anyone who wanted to join in the efforts to both climb Grandeur Peak and raise funds for clean air. RUFA became a permitted, official event in 2016, with online registrations and results. That year, 51 people participated and raised $30,000.

Professional runners and friends of Campbell’s, like Luke Nelson, Joe Grant, and Courtney Dauwalter, joined in the efforts over the years.

Participants traveled from all over Utah and beyond, which was both great and challenging, says Campbell. In 2019, Ogden resident and participant Tara Warren pointed out that she and others were driving an hour both ways—contributing to the air pollution—and offered to start a RUFA event on Ogden’s Mayalns Peak. A few years after that, Colorado-based nonprofit Suffer Better reached out to Campbell and offered to host an event in Staunton State Park.

“That’s how it has grown,” says Campbell, “with people whose hearts are in the same place as mine.”

While RUFA expanded in the States, Campbell’s longtime sponsor, Patagonia, launched a European version in June of 2022. Participants gathered at Patagonia retail stores from Berlin to Verbier, Dublin to Milan. An astounding 126,623 people took part.

How it’s going

In 2024, Utah will host four RUFA events—Salt Lake’s Grandeur Peak (February 2-3), Provo’s Kyhv Peak (February 9-10), Ogden’s Malans Peak (February 23-24), and most likely, an event in Moab.

Running Up For Air

Running Up For Air, February 2020, Grandeur Peak.

A RUFA event will take place on Missoula, Montana’s Mt. Sentinel (February 10), in Colorado’s Staunton Rocks (February 23-24), and on Tiger Mountain (March 10) in Issaquah, Washington near Seattle.

And while each U.S. event has a participation cap of 200 or 250 people due to permitting—and events often sell-out—the first Global Running Up for Air Day backed by title sponsor Patagonia will take place in June of 2024. Participants will be able to choose in-person from a Patagonia store that will act as the base area, the start and finish line, and aid station, or participate virtually.

For the virtual version, participants can select any incline they like and complete as many laps up and down that incline as possible. Patagonia North America, South America, Europe, and Asia will all be hosting events and helping drive the virtual mission.

Non profit status

RUFA is now its own 501(3)(c) but, Leslie Keener, who’s taken on a role with RUFA to help promote growth efforts, “That’s not going to take away the support that we’re giving to the local nonprofits that are working on air quality issues.”

Keener explains that becoming a 501(3)(c) allows participants, via drop-down menu while registering for events, to make their donations to partner nonprofits or directly to RUFA. “If we have a little bit of money to work with,” she says, “we can also decide to fund projects or charities that are local that perhaps aren’t being touched, or we can host ongoing education events or speaker series’ or things like that throughout the year. I think of it as allowing us to get more hyper-local.”

Running Up For Air

Running Up For Air in Staunton State Park.

Sustainability focus

Also moving forward, Global RUFA Day will be a big focus, as will sustainability within U.S.-based events. “We hope that we can be a resource for other race directors,” says Keener. “We’re trying to see how sustainable we can make a race and then essentially share our resources and our knowledge with other event producers.”

Ultrarunner Roch Horton has long run an aid station on Grandeur Peak, washing and reusing tin cups and plates “almost like he’s on a river trip,” says Keener.

And while RUFA may have started with Campbell, his friends and family, and a seasoned ultrarunner crowd, Keener hopes to continue draw a more varied participant base to enhance the community efforts.

“The competition side will always be there,” adds Keener. “But these amazing runners are now participating alongside a seven-year-old girl, or a grandfather or grandmother, which I think is super cool and fits the message that we all have a role to play in improving air quality in our communities.”
Lisa Jung

About the author

Freelance writer/editor Lisa Jhung has been covering running for over 20 years, having been an editor at Trail Runner Magazine, a co-founding editor at Adventure Sports Magazine, a contributing editor at Runner’s World, and now a frequent contributor and columnist for Outside. She’s written two books, “Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running” (2015) and “Running That Doesn’t Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)” (2019).