Local Utah running prodigy and entrepreneur, Golden Harper, is one of the founders of Altra Running Shoes, the first cushioned Zero Drop™ running shoes on the market (cushioning in the shoe no longer dropping from the heel down to forefoot). What started as a small startup company in 2009, has turned into a thriving establishment and an explosion of a new line of running shoes.Interview with Golden Harper: Founder of Altra Running Shoes
Run Utah: Tell us about your running background. What got you started? Tell us some of your running highlights as a youth, high schooler, collegiate runner, and post-college.
Golden: I’m told I ran before I walked because my parents read studies that showed the longer kids crawl, the smarter they will be…unfortunately I think all the pushing me back down negated any potential benefits. I won the World Youth Championships at age 8, ran a world best 2:45:44 marathon at age 12, and broke the national 5k cross country record in high school. After an Academic All-American college career, I won my first 50 mile race by an hour, just missing the course record at Alpine to Slickrock 50 (For more career running highlights for Golden go to http://blog.altrazerodrop.com/team/golden-harper/).
Run Utah: Give us a quick recap on how the idea of Foot-shaped, Zero Drop™ running shoes came about and how Altra Running Shoes were born.
Golden: First, we had incredible success for years getting rid of foot problems at our running store by having people buy their shoes too big and skipping the laces at the bottom of the shoe to let the foot spread out. Next, after studying running technique and injuries in college, we were filming customers at the store and found that virtually everyone we filmed ran with low impact technique when they were wearing spikes, flats, Five Fingers or no shoes. We would film those same people with traditional running shoes and the film showed that they quickly started over-striding and running with inefficient, higher impact technique. Looking at the film, we could see that traditional shoes would cause the foot to land with the toes up (due to the heavier heel) out in front of the body (due to the higher heel). I figured that if I could get the heavy, elevated heel out of the shoe while keeping the cushioning & support, I’d have a shoe with the benefits of good running technique.
I went home & popped a pair of shoes in my toaster oven and peeled off the foam & rubber. Then I put in a piece of flat, weight balanced foam & glued everything back together & went for a run. We tested it on the staff & nearly everyone thought it worked and the video confirmed that it helped people to run similar to if they didn’t have a shoe on. We started trying it on “hopeless” customers who had tried everything, and pretty soon the word of mouth got out of control. With the help of Village Shoemaker, we modified about 1,000 pairs of shoes that were sold that first year. Some ex-Nike & Adidas VP’s wanted to make shoes “right” and found out about what we were doing and gave us a call. The rest is history!
Run Utah: What was the biggest challenge(s) you faced in getting Altra Running Shoes off the ground and onto the consumer’s feet?
Golden: Either getting the factories to figure out how to build shoes like they had never built before, or getting running stores to think outside the box and believe in something new. The latter is still a major struggle with some stores. We don’t ask for preferential treatment, just to get the same shot that other brands do. It’s still tough to even be given the chance in many places though.
Run Utah: As Altra Running Shoes have exploded throughout the world, how has your role in the company changed?
Golden: As much as I want to, I can’t do everything, so I have to focus on the areas that are important to me. I focus mostly on a few areas: 1) The function of the shoes, specifically the midsoles and outsoles. 2) Doing PR stuff like this for magazines, blogs, podcasts all over the nation, and 3) Training & teaching our team and being out at running stores.
Run Utah: What does a typical day look like in the life of Golden Harper?
Golden: Ha, there’s no such thing, but I’ll try to explain! On the road, I start out by meeting with prospective accounts & also training current accounts, followed by an evening public talk or presentation focusing on running better, faster, & injury free. In Utah, I start with interviews and podcasts in the morning, followed by working on shoes, answering emails and finishing the day with a solid run.
Run Utah: What is in store for the future of Altra Running Shoes? What changes and developments do you anticipate? What can consumers expect over the next 5-10 years?
Golden: We’re working on a smart shoe that will sense your running and then give you live coaching feedback & cues to help you run more efficiently and hopefully more injury free. Expect us to keep fine tuning and making shoes for every conceivable type of runner, as well as add to our outdoor and casual lines.
Run Utah: There are some great resources and information on your website www.altrarunning.com, but what advice do you give runners if they are considering using Altras for the very first time?
Golden: First off, if they don’t feel too big in the toes, they’re too small! Second, run on them when you try them out, don’t just walk.
Run Utah: What allows for a safe transition?
Golden: Get a similar cushion/support level to what you are already used to, or even go with more which will basically negate any transition time. Rotate them with your old shoes for the first month. Also, read that stuff on the site!
Run Utah: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs in the running industry?
For me, it had to be about making the world a better place and making a difference. If it was about money, I never would have gone through what I’ve gone through to make it happen. You really have to believe in what you are doing and really want it and love it.