RUN TO THE ROOF
JARED STYAN, 22, has a story to share. From running up a high-altitude volcano, to standing on the peak of the Australian continent in his pyjamas, Jared's 'Running to the Roof' projects have seen him raise over $7,000 for charity. While his latest project, a world record attempt, has been grounded due to COVID-19, he's taking the opportunity to expand his websites blog. Sharing the stories that come from his experiences as a 'Traveler, Endurance Athlete, and Social Change Activist' Jared's story is as unique, as it is interesting.
TOM DUNN: Who is Jared Styan?
JARED STYAN: Jared Styan is an ordinary 22-year-old guy from a small town called Lake Munmorah in NSW, Australia. I was a very shy, insecure kid who was bullied a lot in school and didn’t stand up for himself for a long time. I never imagined myself running up volcanoes, travelling across the world or helping charities. I had to work very hard and dig very deep to make myself a better person and to do these things.
There is nothing amazing about what I’ve been able to do. The amazing part is when you decide to become better, accept responsibility and then go out in the world and make it happen. It’s not easy, it’s not quick, but if it’s worthwhile you will keep going and that’s what makes all the difference.
TD: In 2018 your project "Running to the Roof of Australia" saw you run up Australia’s highest mountain (Mt Kosciusko) in your pyjamas with a mate. The challenge raised funds for the Steven Walter Children’s Cancer Foundation. Where did the idea come from and why run in your pajamas?
JS: So, at the time I was volunteering at a local Children’s Hospital in NSW where I would meet kids who were terminally ill. My job was to try to entertain them; bring them toys or books to read to make their day a little better. Often times nurses don’t have enough time to do this sort of thing. Sometimes it felt good when I was able to help, but I had experiences and days in there that I will never forget. Days that broke my heart and made me question things. But those experiences also gave me a strength that I carry to this day.
A seed was planted from that.
Then I remember, being with my best friend Billy one day in a pub, in the Blue Mountains. We had a conversation about my experiences from volunteering in this hospital and the conversation somehow changed to talking about Mt Kosciusko and then it somehow snowballed into “Well, what if we ran up it for charity?”. And so, the idea was born. But I honestly don’t know where the pyjamas part came from. I guess we just thought it would make it more interesting and funny.
TD: In 2019 you took on your second challenge "Running to the Roof of Peru" - completing the Misti Sky Race (this time not in your pyjamas). The race saw you run up and down a Peruvian volcano, reach a height of 5,800m above sea level, and completing the 40km of altitude running in just 13hrs. What was appealing heading into the SkyRace, and what stands out now looking back on it?
JS: I guess what it comes down to is having that thought of “This would be absolutely insane, and sounds impossible, but what if I actually did it?”
At that time, I’d been living in Peru for over 8 months, had done multiple high-altitude treks up the mountains, and absolutely loved those trips. But there was one mountain that I wanted to trek more than the others…the El Misti volcano. Ever since I arrived in Arequipa, Peru, the El Misti Volcano has been appealing to me. Almost everywhere you go in the city you can see El Misti towering over you. It’s an intimidating volcano, as it seems to just go straight up into the sky. Since the first challenge, we were always looking for the next one and running was always our thing. So, I talked to Billy about not just trekking up the El Misti volcano but running up it, and crazy as he is, he told me he was keen to join me.
We came up with a plan. We would slowly hike up the volcano and camp up there for 3 days to adjust our bodies to the altitude. I’d learned from experience that altitude sickness is a very real, scary and dangerous thing and that it would be the difference between us summitting or not. So, we had to train hard for it and be prepared. Unfortunately, during this 3-day training session, Billy decided he couldn’t do the run. He suffers from asthma and at these heights, his body just couldn’t cope. He could barely walk let alone run.
As for what stands out now looking back on it; The thing that stands out for me the most is reaching that summit and seeing the view over the Andes Mountains. I could see the entire city below me, the crater inside the volcano and the mountains in the distance that seemed to go on forever. It was one of the most amazing views I’d ever seen.
TD: Your first journey was a somewhat spontaneous one with your mates, and the second was a preexisting event. How did the experiences differ and why did you choose to enter a ‘race’ for your second challenge, as opposed to just trekking to the top alone?
JS: Yeah, that’s a great question. We thought a lot about this, and we actually had a plan to conquer it on our own, but the logistics were complicated, and it was very dangerous mostly because of the altitude and the remoteness out there. When we saw that there was an organized race doing exactly what we planned to do, it just seemed logical to go with that instead.
How did the experiences differ? I was sad that I couldn’t achieve this one and celebrate it together with my friend Billy. But, I was extra glad that I would be in a supported race with other people. The support that I got was outstanding (credit to the people who organize the Misti Sky Race). There were aid stations every 2 hours or so and lots of runners along the way to give you encouragement and motivation.
I ran for a while with 2 English blokes who were much older and more experienced than me. They really helped me in a section where it was super steep, and I was scared that if I tripped over that I would just tumble off the side of the volcano. They taught me a trick to conquer this fear, where you bend down to your knees so you can see the steepness from a different angle. It really helped me to calm down and keep focused.
TD: For both journey’s, when did the feeling of satisfaction kick in? The start, the top, the trek back down, or sometime after the run was finished? What is that moment like?
JS: I remember these moments vividly from both journeys.
On the first one up Mt Kosciusko, it hit me the day after. Getting to the summit is always awesome but I remember the day after the run, Billy and I actually went for another little run (just an easy one to get our legs working again). And we chatted about what we had done and what it meant to us. I remember talking about how if we impacted, inspired or helped just one person through what we did than it was more than worth it.
For the second one, the physical challenge I think had more of a focus at the time, because, I seriously doubted that I would be able to pull it off. I’d never reached an altitude near that height (5800 meters) and I’ve always suffered pretty bad altitude sickness. So, when I actually reached the summit it meant so much more. It was a high that I can’t explain with words. I called Billy and told him that I summitted and I remember shedding a few tears whilst talking to him. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to push my body and mind to such extremes.
TD: Going for a run can be unappealing enough, let alone if you’re running at altitude and dragging your body up a mountain. In tougher moments, what drove you to keep pushing yourself and reach the top?
JS: The charity aspect of these challenges is what drives me. Yeah, it’s great if people are inspired by what you’re doing but knowing that my efforts directly support a cause that is meaningful to me, is always very motivating. I remember one section of the El Misti volcano run, where, I was very close to the summit, but I felt like I couldn’t go any further. I had slept very little, had altitude sickness and by then had been running for about 6 hours. I was exhausted and didn’t think I could do it. I sat in the dirt for a while, thinking it was over, but I had come so far. I thought, what about all the people who believe in me, all the people I’m raising money for? I looked up to that summit and I thought to myself “If there is any possible way that you can do this, Jared, you have to do it, or you will regret it forever”.
I took 2 altitude sickness pills, sculled a full bottle of Gatorade and a snickers bar and pushed myself to that summit with a drive I never had before. I was motivated to the point of insanity. I felt like nothing could stop me. In that moment I think I just decided that I was going to do it no matter what the pain or the sacrifice. It was something I wanted to do for charity and that drove me, but it was also something that I had to conquer for myself. A dragon I had to slay.
TD: On your website you’re described as a “Traveler, Endurance Athlete, Social Change Activist”. What do these words mean to you and how do they best represent who you are?
JS: When I was 19, I made my first solo trip abroad, to Nepal. I trekked through and flew over the Himalayas and met amazing people. Since then, travel has been a big part of my life. I’ve since moved to Peru, learned Spanish and traveled through multiple countries. I think I’ve always been a bit of an ‘Endurance Athlete’. I competed in cross country running in high school and made it as far as state level, but I was never really interested in winning prizes. I just loved running for what it was and especially long-distance running. I was more interested in seeing how far I could run and how much I could push myself than competing in races or winning medals. The 'Social Change Activist’ part I think brings all these passions together. It’s the glue that binds them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to help people in some way. So, I use what I do, to support charities and causes that I think are doing great things to help others. It gives it all an extra layer of meaning and purpose.
TD: For both of your journeys so far you’ve raised funds for a charity organization, raising $7,000 so far. Why has it been important to you to add a fundraising aspect to your challenges?
JS: For me the fundraising part actually came before the adventure part. It comes back to what I mentioned about volunteering in the children’s hospital. That experience shaped me into who I am today and continues to motivate and drive me with everything that I do. So, adding the fundraising aspects to my adventures was a natural thing for me to do.
TD: I understand that you had your third challenge planned for 2020, a potential Guinness Record, but due to the COVID situation you’ll be unable to attempt it. What appeals to you about your challenges and why take on another one?
JS: These challenges give me a way to grow and experience things that I never would be able to otherwise. In the moments when you are exhausted and don’t want to go any further, you have the opportunity to truly push yourself and find out what you’re capable of. It’s a shame I won’t be able to go on my next challenge when I wanted to, but I haven’t given up on it. I just need to wait and see when I will have my window of opportunity to do it. This next one really excites me. It’s something very different to the other ones because it will take a really, really long time to achieve (2-3 months). It mixes travel, exploration and endurance running into one and as far as my research tells me, no one has ever attempted it before. Which makes it extra appealing to me.
TD: In a blog published on your website you write about “the meaning of adventurous”. What/who has inspired your own interest in pursuing ‘Adventure’?
JS: There have been so many people along the way that have inspired me, including you Tom. The one that stands out to me the most is my Dad. I remember when I was a kid being fascinated by his own stories of adventure. He traveled around the world for 3 full years on different trips throughout his life. He was the one who inspired me to go on my first solo trip abroad to hike in the Himalayas of Nepal. He supported, understood and nurtured my adventurous spirit and to this day he inspires and encourages me in everything that I do.
TD: What advice do you have for someone who wants to take on a challenge for charity but doesn’t know where to start?
JS: I would say first of all ask yourself why are you doing it. Where is the motivation for doing a challenge for charity coming from? You need to figure out your reason otherwise when things get really tough, and you don’t feel like doing it anymore, you won't keep going. It also doesn’t need to be something ‘big’ you can start small. I would also say write down the steps you need to take before making it happen (the cost, when, how, where). Being practical and writing down the steps helps you clarify things and keeps you motivated for the long haul.
Everyone who ever did anything extraordinary is perfectly ordinary.
TD: Along with your epic adventure that’s coming soon, what else can we expect to see from Jared Styan in the coming years?
JS: I’ve been blogging for a while now and it’s something that I really enjoy. I write about travel, the adventures I’ve been on, mental health and I weave a bit of philosophy in there too. It’s been something really positive for me to focus on during the coronavirus lockdown. I also have ambitions and plans to publish a book about my next big adventure, after I hopefully complete it, which will probably be sometime next year.
TD: Any final thoughts to leave us with?
JS: I said at the start that I’m just an ordinary guy and that’s true, but something that I think I have done that a lot of people don’t do, is I listen to myself. It’s very hard to pursue the things that you know you truly want to do when you listen to everyone around you (I know because I did this for a long time). The trick is to realize that the only person who knows what kind of life you want to lead and what will make you happy is you. It doesn’t mean you have to cut people out of your life or be distant with people, but make sure you know the difference between what you want to do, and what other people think you should do.
Get in touch with Jared Styan
Facebook - @jared_styan1
Instagram - @jared_styan
Website - jaredstyan.com
Read more interviews - click here
Enjoying the interviews? Want to read more?
Keep the interview series alive by making a small contribution.