In a previous career Nathan Leehman managed a retail network for a large tire manufacturer. His job was to make sure his customers had the right tread to keep them safe on whatever terrain they traveled. In December 2013, Nathan and his wife Courtney opened The Ultra Running Company in Charlotte and it seems some things haven’t changed.
What is your running background?
In high school I ran the shortest distances I had a chance at winning. Hurdles mainly. I didn’t run much in college; a 5 and 10 K was about it for a 10-year period. I went back to running and working on longer distances, mainly so I could eat more Oreo’s. Several attempts to return to running were met with injury so about 5 or 6 years ago I started really studying how to run.
Did that lead to better results?
After running some shorter races I placed 40th in my first marathon. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. I ran my first ultra, a 50 miler, in 2012. A few weeks after the 50 miler I ran a marathon in Charlotte. I was running a 3:05 pace for the first 25 miles then my body just gave out. It took me 45 minutes to walk the final mile. I knew my time would be bad but I wanted to finish. After that race I switched to ultras.
How did the idea for The Ultra Running Company come from?
I was running some pretty serious mileage, about 6,000 miles over 2 years. People started asking me for shoe and gear advice. I wanted to send them to a place I trusted. That’s when I first starting thinking about the philosophy of providing both an education and a plan. I ran 85 miles of a 100-mile race with one woman in Feb of 2013. The entire time I was bouncing ideas off of her for the store.
How is that philosophy put into action at The Ultra Running Company?
Our motto is “Learn to love to run”. We want to help people learn about running so they can run healthy their entire lives. Then they’ll love it. The first thing you’ll notice are the touch screen kiosks as you walk in. I developed an app which helps you narrow down your shoe choices based on several factors. Our staff then helps you the rest of the way. We hold form clinics here at the store and provide form checks.
What’s a form check?
Anything athletic you learn needs to be practiced and will benefit from coaching. After you go through a form clinic you can come by the store for a review of what you’ve learned. We’ll watch you run and help make corrections as you progress.
The second part of your approach was providing a plan?
For many runners the shoe buying process goes like this: “the brand and model of shoe has worked for me before so I’ll buy it again”. There are two problems with that. First, shoe companies change their shoes dramatically every year. The Nike Pegassus today is not the same shoe it was a few years ago. Second, running is a progression for most of us. We lose weight, run different terrain or distances. The shoe we use should keep up with those changes. We want to help create a plan for runners to progress. Through education, training, and gear choices
How do you choose the mix of products you offer?
We want to have products that you can’t easily find in this area. We are the only retailer in the East that has the Ink&Burn brand of running apparel. As soon as I saw their unique designs I knew they were a good fit for us. I also try to offer products made by people in the running community. A husband and wife team in Durango, CO makes Tailwind endurance drinks. I chose Probar for our nutrition products because I could pronounce everything on the label.
An ultramarathon is a race longer than the traditional 26.2-mile version. What is the ultra’s appeal?
I was one of those people who, when someone mentioned running 100 miles, said, “I don’t drive that far”. We offer some of the best gear and education sources for people running 100 miles of trail but also for someone getting ready for their first 5K. I consider anyone willing to get up and run an Ultra runner.
What are some of your favorite trails?
Crowder’s Mountain/Kings Pinnacle trail system that has the most challenging climbs and widest array of surfaces. In the greater Charlotte metro area the 20 miles of trails at USNWC are meticulously maintained and offer a good mix of challenging hills and smooth tunable trails for beginners. Another option is Renaissance Park. There are two great loops that allow me to customize my run for the time I have. Less than 10 minutes from uptown!
Where do you head after the trail?
My favorite post-run crash is Common Market SouthEnd. Great selection of beer, super-cool ambiance and healthy food to boot. Also pooch friendly. Hard to beat!