How a Utah-made Shoe is Changing the Trail Running Game
Trail running is rapidly gaining traction in the public conscious, but for Utah local and Altra Shoe founder, Golden Harper, it’s been a lifelong hobby. He began running trails at just five years old and defines the sport simply, “it involves running on an uneven, non manmade surface.” Basically hiking with a little adrenaline added.
Altras have a huge following among trail runners, and Golden’s lifelong passion for the sport is one of many factors that influenced him to start the company. Altra designs and manufactures innovative trail and road running shoes, and you could say running shoes are in his blood because Golden spent his childhood around the running store his father owned. He remembers his dad constantly tinkering with the shoes to improve them, and Golden followed in his footsteps.
He studied kinesiology, running technique, and running injuries as part of his Exercise Science degree. Through slow motion video analysis coupled with his running shoe experience, he found that many running shoes cause high-impact, improper running technique and inhibited proper movement by crowding the toes. He set out to design a shoe that was not only comfortable, but could also reduce or eliminate common running problems.
What Makes Altras Different?
Golden says Altras differ from traditional models in two critical ways. First, the shoes have a foot-shaped toe box. Most shoes, running and hiking included, have a tapered toe box. Golden believes making it foot shaped allows the foot to maintain its most natural position to absorb impact, stabilize, and powerfully push off the ground. Getting the right design was accomplished by tracing healthy feet while wearing socks. His design is backed up by some pretty impressive statistics.
According to Golden, “Populations who don’t wear shoes with tapered toe boxes and raised heel, over a billion people, have a rate of foot problems at 3%. In the U.S., where we almost exclusively wear tapered toes boxes and elevated heels, the incidence is 73%.”
The next innovation was to add balance level cushioning, which Golden coined “Zero Drop” cushioning. This means the shoes are the same thickness in the heel as the forefoot, eliminating the 2-to-1 drop from heel to forefoot that’s standard in many running shoes, while adding cushioning. He believes this reduces impact by helping people land softer.
Many runners who’ve switched to Altras report a more comfortable run, including Golden’s cousin, Jeremy Howlett. Jeremy suffered from knee problems and hadn’t run in nearly five years. Golden was first building shoes with his toaster oven in his home and made a pair for Jeremy with the help of Village Shoemaker in Orem. After trying the shoes, Jeremy found he could run again.
Golden’s friend, and now business partner, Brian Beckstead, was a runner suffering from hamstring problems. Golden also made Brian a pair of shoes, and when he tried them his hamstring problems improved. These are just a few success stories from their first year when around a thousand pairs of modified shoes were sold.
After this experience with the shoes, Brian wanted to be part of the company that Golden and Jeremy were in the process of starting.
On the verge of their launch they’d already accumulated nearly a million dollars in debt so Icon Fitness, a home exercise equipment company based in Logan, stepped in with backing and the company launched in 2011.
Accolades and Future Growth
Their unique shoe design won awards early on including “Best Debut” from Runner’s World Magazine at the 2015 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. They continue to draw industry attention and were featured as a finalist in the ISPO Brandnew Category of Sportswear in 2015. ISPO Brandnew is a start-up competition in the sporting goods industry where awards are given to innovative products made by brands four years old or younger.
Altra’s now the fastest growing shoe company in history with headquarters in Orem and Logan. Known best for their trail shoes, they’re the 4th largest selling brand of trail models and 10th overall for road shoes. This explosive growth is fueled by recommendations from doctors and podiatrists; some of their top-selling outlets are foot clinics.
Their increasing popularity can also be attributed to their sponsorship of races like the Muscle Milk Light ZOOMA Women’s Race Series in 2014 and this summer’s Wasatch Trail Run Series Summer 5K and 10K races. Shoe demonstrations offered at events help runners find the perfect Altra for their feet.
The Altra partners practice what they preach by running in Altras at trail races around the world. Golden—whose been competing and winning marathons since he was 10—races both short 5K and 10K trail races and longer distance ones up to 50 miles. Brian recently competed in the local Squaw Peak 50 Miler and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 100-mile race in Europe. Jeremy is taking a break while his wife competes in long-distance runs.
Golden started Altra because he believed there weren’t products available that fit the needs of runners, and he’s empowered to continue working hard by the difference his shoes are making for runners everywhere, “People come up to me all the time and tell me they can run again without pain. That’s what it’s all about.”