Zach spent 14 years in the Navy as a SEAL, and left as a Chief Petty Officer. During his time in the teams, he attained his master training specialist certification and special operations forces functional trainer certification from Exos. He managed to find time to win the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon for the Clydesdale division in 2006, and recently paced fellow teammate Nichols Prebeg in the Tahoe Rim 200-mile endurance run and is set to compete in the Solstice Sun 50 miler this coming June.
During a round of golf a few years ago, an investor approached him with an idea to buy a franchise in Oklahoma City, and the offer made Zach think hard about what he would do next when he left the military.
“This really all started in Iraq in 2005. One of my teammates and I were track and field uber-nerds,” says Zach. “If we had down time, we would brain storm about things to do when we got out, and it always came back to running. The issue was…exactly what we could do in the running world. We weren’t in a position to be college coaches or professional runners. We landed on the fact that we loved working out, so we thought we might create a running gym.” And that was how Higher Ground Running was conceived.
So when the plans to buy the franchise fell through, Zach returned to the thing he was passionate about…running. Zach tells the story of running when he was on deployment once. “On the base, we had a sign-out board, and you had to sign out to indicate where you were going because we got mortared a lot. So I’m out with my headphones on for a run wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, and here come the mortars. I look over and all the Army guys are in trenches with their ballistics gear on. I figured, well hell, if I get hit by a mortar while running, it’s just my time to go, so I’ll just continue with my 10k…during a mortar attack.”
After leaving the Navy in 2015 and moving back to Oklahoma City, Zach started meeting with a real estate firm to look for buildings that would work for his gym space. For each space that had potential, he then contacted the Chamber of Commerce to get the demographics of the people in that market area. He knew he was targeting a specific type of clientele and wanted to get it right. At the time, he was working with a Jonas Project mentor who stressed the importance of parking, which eliminated a few places that he really liked.
“We found an older retail location that used to be the original running specialty store in Oklahoma City, it was falling apart and very small. It seemed like a challenge, but I kept coming back to this spot because the numbers worked. It had the right demographics, great parking, wouldn’t cost a ton of money to get started and just felt right” says Zach.
Now, Higher Ground Running boasts 1800 square feet, a strength training area, treadmills and a small retail area. Zach opened the doors on October 24, 2016.
“So far, we’ve had good numbers. In January, I did a half and full marathon training class. I thought I would cap the class at 30 people and would be happy if we got 15. I Had 45 people sign up. It was the most profitable month to date,” says Zach.
Zach offers eight classes per day, one-on-one training, access to a 400m outdoor track and customized training programs to meet the fitness level and goals of his clients. “The overall goal here is start small and continue to grow while not getting too far ahead of ourselves. After all, as the saying goes, if after three years you’re not seeing a profit, you have a hobby and not a business. I’m proud to say that after 6 months in operation we are already answering calls and emails asking for locations in Texas and Colorado,” he says.
Zach has been working with The Jonas Project to put more structure around his business and get the numbers straight. He’s also working on seasonal events to promote the business, organizing his service offerings, and The Jonas Project is rebuilding his website to give him more functionality and freedom to drive traffic to his business.
Zach lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Lisa and three children, Lilly, Kolette and Gunnar