Work is like running. Anyone who wants to be successful has to be willing to go through the pain and dedication it takes to achieve their goals.
In 2010 I was on the prowl for a shoe that would facilitate the new running form I had implemented, one that I hoped and had up to that point proven to help me avoid injury. It was tough to find a shoe that didn't have too much of a built-up heel though, and although the world of running was becoming more 'minimal' (I hate that term) it was still difficult to find the right fit. At the time I was running in Inov-8s, a company I not only liked their shoes, but had a lot of respect. During this time my tree of ultra running acquaintances was growing and I was meeting more and more people. One of these people was Brian Beckstead, the energizer bunny of ultra running. I started following his blog and we became friends on Facebook. In the fall of 2010 he started bragging about this up-start shoe company he and two friends had started called Altra, a company focused on promoting 'natural' running form through a 'zero drop' shoe. OK, this sounded a little more like what I needed.
I don't need to go into the history of my shoes and relationship with the company, I think I've pimped it out enough for everyone to know. More importantly, I want to show my respect for the company and the individuals who run it. I value above most else when it comes to buying my gear is the quality of the company and it's executives. Most big name companies are too big to have a relative understanding of their principles, but not Altra. New to the game they bring their personal character with them, which in turn is reflected in the product and service which they provide.
While Brian was my first interaction with the company, it wasn't long before I got to know the rest of the Altra team. Through facebook stalking the company I got to know it's Marketing Director, Jeremy Howlett. His excitement for the company, coupled with his background in Marketing made him the perfect voice. Jeremy and his family are now great friends of mine and regardless of my future association with Altra I will always have them as close friends. In early 2011 I got to meet the original founder himself, Golden Harper. Unless you've met him there is no way for me to really describe how awesome this guy it. He spends most of his nights online and the phone talking with the factory making sure shoes are getting produced and putting out fires. When he can find an hour away from the office he's even harder to find because he'll undoubtedly be on top of some local peak that he just ran to. Finally, a relatively late-comer to the party, Seth Wold, the COO, shows his true character in his appreciation for the sport. He is a top marathoner and ultra-marathoner in the state, but go on a run with him and you'll never know it because he's chatting up the 10 min/milers in the back of the pack. He cares more that everyone is having a good time then being out in front.
Above and beyond producing a top product, these gentlemen have a long term focus to promote a love of running and running health. What other company really cares about that? The last time I checked what they cared about most was which of their newest products is going to make them the most money. Don't get me wrong, Altra is in it to be a top company. I hope that ultimately they all want to be rich and spend all of their time running in distant lands then working 12 hours a day, six days a week to make sure that the company is successful. But for now they are willing to pay their dues. And paying they are. Each of the four has made family and monetary sacrifices to ensure this company succeeds. They've given their blood, sweat, and tears, and continue to do so each and every day to guarantee the livelihood of their new brand. Yet they've never lost focus of what really matters, a love of running.
Over the last six months or so I've spent some time with each of the four listed above, usually on a run. Their love for their company is only eclipsed by their love of the sport, which ultimately is what is going to make them successful. They genuinely care. On a run this past weekend with Jeremy said to me, "I want Altra to be where everyone comes for information regarding running health". Seriously? Not "I want everyone to come here because we have the newest styles" or "we have this crazy concept that will only be around for five years". I stood with these gentlemen at trade shows and expos as they've watched people walk away, not buying their shoes, but having a better understanding of how to run and what would be best for them in the long term. They care about individual's running health and happiness above all else. Don't get me wrong, with every new company there are hiccups and set-backs. But find your way through some of the hurdles and you'll see a leadership team that is dedicated to making every aspect of the company a massive success.
Ultimately, Altra shows the class that is reflected in the quality of their product. They have legitimate runners as the executive team. They have a firsthand knowledge for what it takes to start from nothing and become something, very much like a new runner. And they really care. I'm proud to know these men and glad to call them friends.
Matt Williams and Seth Wold overlooking Ivins in the St George area.
Jeremy Howlett running my Half Pregnant Half marathon Matt and I put on last November.
NOTE: I'm not paid by Altra, no one asked me to write this article, and I am quite certain I'll get nothing from them other than a high five and a good laugh.