Zach Morton logged hundreds of miles of runs while deployed more than 7,000 miles away from home when the idea for a business based on his love for running began.
“I wasn’t going to be good enough to compete, and I didn’t want to sell shoes,” he said. “So me and my buddy just kept saying, ‘What could we do?’”
While in Iraq with the U.S. Navy SEAL team, Morton ran 660 miles over a six-month period and he and his friend developed the concept of a gym just for runners.
Higher Ground Running, Oklahoma City’s first running gym that caters to beginner runners and serious athletes focused on shaving seconds off their best times, is the fruition of more than a decade of dreaming.
The gym opened in October at 9644 N. May Ave. Morton and his team of fellow running enthusiasts, which includes past winners of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, NCAA athletes and coaches, spent more than a year preparing to open the business. Morton and his family moved here after more than 15 years away specifically to focus on the gym. Morton and his team visited similar running facilities in New York and California. They networked via friends and through social media, offering free introductory classes to get their name and concept out into the running community.
Unlike all-purpose gyms, Higher Ground is built for runners. The facility features an outdoor track, a weight room and Woodway 4Front treadmills, which Morton described as “the Bentley of treadmills.”
“If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right,” Morton said, explaining that the high-end treadmills have flat surfaces that minimize accidents caused by fast-moving belts and closely mimic outdoor trail running.
Much like a spin class helps cyclists train and stay engaged with upbeat music, varying intensities and intervals, Higher Ground’s running group exercise classes are more intense and entertaining than a row of runners robotically jogging on treadmills. Some classes, such as The Hills, offer extreme resistance variations much like a run up and down hills while The Flatlands is less intense. Each participant runs at a pace set by the coaches and based on their level and goals.
“The classes are a lot of fun, but they put the hurt on you,” said Shar El-Assi, who joined the gym when it opened after attending introductory running classes with the group at Bishop McGuinness High School’s track.
“The reason why I chose them is that they show they really care about you and your results. They individualized a plan for me. They motivate you. They actually want you to get better.”
El-Assi, a 45-year-old mental health care worker, ran track at his small high school in western Oklahoma and was part of the cross-country team at Oklahoma State University. In the last two years, he started running again to lose weight.
When he trained on his own, he lost 42 pounds and finished the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in 4 hours and 38 minutes. After taking speed classes at Higher Ground, he shaved 44 minutes off his time. At this year’s marathon in April, he hopes to finish in 3 hours and 40 minutes.
“I think I’ll get there with them,” he said. “I think that anybody who tells you that they love running — they’re lying to you. I don’t like running; I like how I feel when I’m done.”
Other runners at Higher Ground are also improving — two have cut their times down to qualify for The Boston Marathon. Morton said he’s also reaching his goal and helping other runners get better.
The gym offers monthly memberships starting at $100, drop-in classes, personal coaching and marathon and half-marathon training.
Print headline: Higher gear, A former Navy SEAL aims to help Oklahoma City runners achieve their goals.