Engineer and athlete Jared Campbell talks about his quest for clean air
Earlier this year, CATALYST presented A Clean Air Affair—an evening of experts speaking on the topic of air quality. CATALYST worked with PechaKucha 20×20 (20 images, 20 seconds each). The evening, MC’ed by Greta deJong (CATALYST and Shelley Bodily (PechaKucha), kicked off our Clean Air Solutions Fair at Trolley Square.
Over the next eight months you’ll meet some of our speakers and hear their stories.(Stories are edited for length and clarity.)
First is Jared Campbell, a father, engineer, athlete and clean energy geek. In 2011 Jared and his wife designed and built their own net-positive solar-powered passive house, which for seven years now has produced more energy than it has consumed. He proved to himself and others that such a home could be simple and affordable.
Campbell is also an endurance athlete who has competed in ultra-distance trail and mountain running races across the world. Several years ago he decided to put his passion for running to work in an effort help the quest for improved air quality. The result is a fascinating event called Running Up For Air.
My family and I are here in Utah because we absolutely love this place. We take every opportunity to get out and explore this incredible and amazing state.
One of my passions is long distance running, something I’ve been doing for about 15 years now. I’ve traveled a bunch throughout the United States and also across the world.
I’ve done about 35 different 100-mile races. I was the youngest person to finish the Hardrock 100 and then I moved on to the Barkley marathons in 2014. These two challenges, each about 60 hours in length, require really unique mindsets.
People ask me all the time, “How do you get ready for this stuff?” On the mental side of things I like to focus on the condition of optimism—looking at any negative thing that might come your way as an athlete and turning it around, finding a silver lining. Anything sub-optimal, I say, is good training.
One thing, however, that I can’t seem to get over is the air pollution.
But I’ve run through that in the winter time. and when I do, I put on a respirator. It’s not uncommon for me to start at 5,000 feet and run up. I can literally feel the temperature change about five to 10 degrees as I exit the inversion. At that point I take my mask off and I set it in a tree and continue running to the top.
One year as I was running up Grandeur Peak, I noticed these little sensors, spaced evenly as I looked up the mountainside. I later learned it was a study being conducted by an atmospheric studies group up at the University of Utah, on PCAPS (Persistent Cold-Air Pool Study).
Here I was training – and thus breathing intensely – in the exact location where scientists from across the world chose to study air pollution.
My friends made fun of me because, with all my training, I was avoiding social events. Rather than just go out there on my own and run around the hills, I asked myself, ‘Is there some way to take what I need to do here and do something bigger?’
I turned to my friend Chaz, who was finishing up the MD/PhD program at the University of Utah—he went on to become a respiratory infection expert—and said, “If I were to raise money and donate it to a nonprofit group, who would do the most with every dollar? Without hesitation, he said, “Breathe Utah.”
So I created the Running Up for Air challenge. I was going to run up and down Grandeur Peak 10 times, something no other runner had done. Nobody believed I could do it, so I said, “If you don’t believe I can do it, put your money where your mouth is—put $3 or $5 down for every lap I do—and you only have to pay if I do all 10.”
Pathways and people
Sometimes the people who choose to lead have to be willing to do a lot of extra work. What’s interesting is after that first person decides to lead and poke holes in the snow, and a lot of people follow them, eventually we have a path. And while you definitely experience this as a runner, it’s a beautiful metaphor for activism as well. Eventually we have a path. Eventually we can move more efficiently and we can get places.
So this event has become about people—the runners, but also the volunteers. The amount of work that goes into making this thing happen is no small feat. People volunteer to spend four, eight, 12 hours on top of a peak—in the middle of February. But people love it. They feel that they can make a difference. And we do this for the place. As I said at the beginning, we do this because we love this place. If you haven’t been at the top of Grandeur in the winter, I encourage you to go up. It’s an incredible view.
The runners also feel powerful. They’re able to take this thing they are passionate about—their running, their training—and feel like they’re part of a bigger cause. I get told all the time, “I love that I can come out to this event, it pushes me… but I also feel that it’s making a difference.” Companies have gotten behind this, too. Patagonia approached me a couple of years ago and said, “Jared, your event is the only race we know of in the country that started out of an environmental reason. It didn’t start as a race that decided to donate money. We love that.” They’ve gotten totally behind this.
The event has also spread. The Front climbing gym in downtown Salt Lake has a sister event held on the same day called Climbing Up for Air. They’re donating money to the same cause. People scale the walls for 12 to 14 hours. And there’s a now a Colorado equivalent in Evergreen.
We now also do a pre-race event, where you can hear from people talking about the mission of Breathe Utah, and hear a doctor talk to us about the physiology of running and air pollution and then the athlete’s side, as well.
Look at yourself and ask, “What are my talents and skills? How might I be able to do something with that?” Something as simple as a person running can be useful to the community. How can you use your own passions as a force for good?
Jared Campbell is a member of Breathe Utah’s advisory board. To participate as a runner or volunteer: RunningUpForAir.com,