The blue skies over Missoula were slightly hazy from the city's carbon emissions Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. A crisp mild air settled on Mount Sentinel as temperatures hit the mid-40s. At the base of the mountain, runners trotted into the parking lot where they quickly applied sunscreen, downed packs of sugary snacks and refilled their hydration packs before running off to the tackle the many switchbacks of the "M" trail.
The race consisted of three separate, several-hour challenges: 12 hours, six hours, three hours. Within those time frames, competitors ran as many laps as they could. A runner completed a lap starting from the parking lot of the "M" trail, running to the summit of Mount Sentinel and back to the lot.
This was the Running Up For Air Mt. Sentinel trail race, the Montana stop of the Up For Air race series that raises awareness about poor air quality and climate change. Ultra-marathoner Jared Campbell founded the race series in Utah to address issues with the winter thermal inversion. What started as an informal gathering of runners quickly took off into a multi-state race challenge.
Runner's Edge employee Jeff Mogavero saw the race series gain traction and volunteered to host an event on Mount Sentinel. Mogavero said hosting an Up For Air race in Missoula is especially important because the valley suffers from air pollution.
"As a lot of folks know, we get inundated with smoke in the summer and being in a valley we trap that," Mogavero said. "In the winter time we get inversions where cold air gets stuck gets stuck [at ground level] and then pollutants can't get out."
All proceeds for the race went to directly to local non-profit group Climate Smart Missoula. The group installs air filters in communities with senior citizens and children.
University of Montana freshmen Christopher Hurd had the top male performance for the six-hour competition with six laps in five hours, 22 minutes and 34 seconds. Heather Brooks led the field for women with five laps in five hours and 24 minutes.
The top performer for the 12-hour competition completed eleven laps on Mt. Sentinel. Jeff Browning did so in 11 hours, 17 minutes and 22 seconds.
Another member in the racing field was Patagonia-recognized athlete Eli Neztsosie. Neztsosie traveled from Tonalea, Arizona to run the six-hour Up For Air Challenge while carrying the flag of the Navajo Nations. Like most of the competitors at the challenge, Neztsosie said climate change is a big issue.
"The biggest thing we need to do is make the sacrifices," Neztsosie said. "A lot of these outdoor companies are going around preaching environmentalism, but none of them really practice what they preach. How does is it look preaching environmentalism when you don't even make the sacrifice yourself?"
The next Running Up For Air Challenges will be held at Squaw Peak in Provo, Utah, and Staunton Rocks in Pine, Colorado early March.