There is something seriously wrong with Brian Beckstead. This Friday, Beckstead will be running his sixth 100-mile race — a distance that many of the most experienced runners can’t even begin to comprehend and what sounds like self-imposed abuse to everyone else. Beckstead, a husband, father of two, ultra runner and co-founder of Altra Zero Drop Footwear based in Orem, loves to run — much more than most.
This all began back in seventh grade when, following the footsteps of his sisters, Beckstead began running track in junior high. By the time he reached Orem High School he'd picked up cross country running and continued into college at Utah Valley University.
Unfortunately all that time pounding the pavement caught up to him and Beckstead suffered tibial stress fractures in both of his legs.
"Due to injury I had a pretty poor college career," he admitted.
While recovering Beckstead began studying exercise science and biomechanics and eventually, when his legs let him, began running again. This time, however, he stuck to the many dirt trails surrounding Utah Valley. Not only were the trails more forgiving on his legs, but the peace and quiet he experienced in the mountains provided him with so much more than just physical exercise.
"You get that endorphin rush from exercise and that feeling of independence running alone in the mountains," he said.
This produced a revival in his running and Beckstead was back doing what he loved most. Eventually he ran the St. George Marathon and ran it well. After a good finish he thought since he enjoyed trail running so much, why not try some trail races? That was eight years ago and he's been trail running almost exclusively ever since (the only exception being the Boston Marathon twice -- twice. That's twice in one day and he's done that twice).
With more than 30 ultra marathons under his belt and his sixth 100-mile race coming up Friday, Beckstead is proving the truth of the motto that he lives by.
"There's no limit of what your body can or can't do," he said.
While he used to get nervous prepping for a 100-mile race, it's something he's gotten used to. Yet Beckstead admits that there is nothing one can do to train for running a distance that far. He never trains more than 30 miles and typically plans his other long-distance races throughout the year as training for his annual 100-miler. This year he ran a 50-mile race in June, another 50-mile race in July and a 62-mile race in August, preparing for September.
Despite all that running, a 100-mile race still punishes all.
"A 100-mile race has more highs and lows than most people experience in a whole year," said Beckstead, who has experienced euphoric highs and depressing lows throughout a race.
His first of that distance was, as expected, a miserable experience.
"I got my blister 30 miles in and I remember finishing thinking this is dumb, I'll never do this again," he said.
Yet as time passed and blisters healed a sense of great accomplishment remained and soon enough Beckstead was planning for the next race, the extreme mental and physical challenge calling him back for more.
"Life is stripped down to the simplest things and I love that. It's very primal," he said.
Thankfully for Beckstead he has a family and coworkers who fully understand his need to run. Since his college days, Beckstead has been teamed up with friends Jeremy Howlett and Golden Harper, who he co-founded Altra Zero Drop Footwear with.
The young runners and entrepreneurs began cutting up and altering their running shoes to come up with the perfect fit, which they named "zero drop" (referring to the height differential between the shoe's heel and toe area).
Presenting their shoe designs to various footwear companies, they were "quite literally laughed at," as Beckstead recalled. So teaming up with Pulse Labs at BYU, an engineering firm in Portland and manufacturers abroad, Beckstead and company created Altra Footwear, which was eventually acquired by Icon Fitness in Logan.
Now their business is exploding, growing 300 percent annually and opening in 25 to 30 new markets just this year. Altra was off to a good start when their first shoe on the market won the Runner's World Magazine's Editor's Choice Best Debut award, and things are only getting better for the Orem-based business.
"We were three guys in a basement that now have an additional 10 employees and we're growing at rates that are unsustainable," said Beckstead while in his office, the far wall stacked high with prototype running shoes that he tests himself.
All this success allows Beckstead, who is VP of sales and busy setting up European distribution, to continue living his passion day in and day out. Come lunch time he leaves his desk, changes into a bright red Altra T-shirt, laces up the latest prototype shoe and strolls out the door for a quick eight miles in the foothills bellow Mount Timpanogos.
"It has to be synergistic. I don't think I could manage Altra if I wasn't a runner," he said.
Throughout an entire interview about work at Altra, Beckstead barely, if at all, uses the word "work," and listening to him talk one wonders if he even considers it as such. Whether reviewing the designs of a new shoe, chatting with coworkers about possible modifications, emailing distributors or running the trails in Altra's shoes, Beckstead isn't working, just living the dream.
Brian Beckstead's favorite runs (not just in Utah Valley, but the world -- they just happen to all be here at home).
1. Trail 151, at least once a week. Difficult to get to. Part of the Great Western Trail. Access point at Timpooneke and circumnavigates Mount Timpanogos ending at Nunns Park.
2. Big Springs to Rock Canyon over Lightning Ridge and back. "One of the most beautiful places in Utah Valley."
3. "Running Timp is something I do every year, from all sides." Even up the Everest Ridge on the west face
For more information on Beckstead's running follow his blog, BrianBeckstead.blogspot.com
More information on Altra Zero Drop Footwear can be found at AltraZeroDrop.com.