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Millcreek Journal

Runners race up Grandeur Peak to raise money and awareness for clean air

May 08, 2023 11:41AM ● By Jolene Croasmun

RUFA tent with runners getting ready to race at the Church Fork trailhead on Grandeur Peak the first weekend of February. (Jolene Croasmun/City Journals)

How ironic to be surrounded by unhealthy air and yet over 200 endurance runners were set to compete for the most laps and best time up and down 8,200-foot Grandeur Peak. These racers spent the first weekend of February raising money along with awareness about the region’s polluted air through Running Up For Air (RUFA).

RUFA is an endurance mountain running race that is part of the Up For Air series. There were several races being held on Grandeur Peak that weekend starting on Friday night with a 24-hour race and a six-hour “date night” race. Two additional six-hour races and one 12-hour race were held on Saturday.

The idea for the race originally came to the RUFA founder Jared Campbell, who is an avid mountain runner. “We started in 2012 unofficially on the west side of Grandeur Peak and we were running for 24 hours up and down the mountain. It is not an official trail so we could not get the race permitted. People were saying, ‘This is awesome, you ought to turn it into a race,’ but I didn’t think anyone would be into it,” Campbell said.

The race is now on the east side of Grandeur Peak. Campbell worked with the U.S. Forest Service and got it permitted for the Church Fork trailhead, which is up Millcreek Canyon. Campbell has been officially running this race for six years.

“Every runner becomes their own fundraiser and our goal is to raise $100,000 from all of the events this year. The money raised is then funneled to different nonprofits like Breathe Utah and Utah Clean Energy,” Campbell said.

RUFA has grown over the years and now this event is held in Ogden, Provo, Montana, Colorado, Seattle and even in Europe. Many of those mountain towns suffer from the same type of air pollution as the Wasatch Front.

The PM2.5 which refers to the atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that are less than 2.5 micrometers or smaller and is used to determine air quality was very high during the race weekend. “The University of Utah’s chemistry department put in two sensors on the trail to see what the pollution levels were at, and around 11 a.m. it was yellow orange and now it is terrible and purple. We need to run up 500 feet for the air to get better,” Campbell said.

“In 2011 and 2012, the (University of Utah) Department of Atmospheric Sciences was on Grandeur Peak and they were coming from all over the world to study humans living in terrible pollution, right here where we live,” Campbell added.

Campbell has been running Grandeur Peak for years and lived in Sugar House but moved to Jeremy Ranch once he started a family due to the air quality. “I used to wear a respiratory mask when I would run,” Campbell said. He suggested that, “for the first few hundred feet, racers should wear masks.”

Audrey and Katie were volunteering and giving out beverages and food such as perogies, grilled cheese sandwiches and soup for the runners. “We are waiting to put food out until we expect the first runners to come back. The food is for refueling,” Audrey said. “Some runners will hang out for a while in the tent, other people will eat and quickly run up again.”

Roch Horton rang a cow bell. The bell is used by the runners once they complete a lap.

“Anyone can ring their own cow bell once they are down off the mountain,” Horton said. Horton has been working on this event for 10 years and he has run in it for four. “I just love the sport and to make it successful you kind of put a little bit of effort into it and people will give back,” he said.

“It has grown every year and we have lots of people for sure to thank like the (U.S.) Forest Service and the city of Salt Lake,” Horton said. “They let us use this venue, so close to a city interface and we have earned it. We are clean, we use shuttles, we have zero waste and we are just trying to get our air cleaned up. No people breathe harder than athletes and there is no one better to bring awareness about clean air than runners.”  

Each runner wore a tracking device to place them in the race. The winner of the 24-hour race was Kevin Cantwell, 40, of Cottonwood Heights. Cantwell ran 12 laps coming in at 23 hours 43 minutes. 

The “date night” race started at 7 p.m. on Friday night and ended at 1 a.m. Many couples came out for the fun. Most ran but several just hiked including Millcreek residents George and Alicia Odell. George said, “We are power hiking as a couple.”

“We have a donation for the whole family since our son is running in the 12-hour race tomorrow,” Alicia said. “Team Odell is what we are calling ourselves.”

The winner of the six-hour race was Josh Reddish, 30, of Salt Lake City. Reddish completed four laps up and down the mountain side in four hours and 49 minutes. 

The oldest participant in the six-hour event was Ed Rich, 80, from Salt Lake City. He completed one lap in four hours and 44 minutes. 

A young couple came to date night to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Hannah and Nick Belles had raced last year. “We signed up for the 24-hour race last year because it was our fifth anniversary and we wanted to do five laps. I only completed two laps,” Hannah said. Hannah then pointed at her husband Nick and said, “But out of love, he did five laps.”

“So this year we are doing date night and it’s still really fun and will try to do two or three laps,” Nick said. 

The 12-hour race began on Saturday at 6 a.m. The winner of this event was Blaine Benitez, 25, of Salt Lake City with a completion of eight laps in 11 hours and 20 minutes. 

Tara Warren, the director of RUFA in Ogden, normally runs on Malans Peak in Ogden. “I did this event in 2017 and 2018 and my friend and I decided we can do this in Ogden,” Warren said. “We have a huge community of amazing mountain runners and we got in touch with Jared. We will be holding our fourth event on Malans Peak, at 6,800 feet, at the end of February.”

“If you would ask this whole group right here, how many times they ran up and down Grandeur Peak these last two weeks, everyone would say 10-15 times,” Warren said. “That’s what we do, we train and run on the mountains.” λ