Interview with Fritz Taylor, Under Armour VP, Performance Footwear
Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Fritz for a run around the Baltimore harbor.
My first impression of Fritz, as he strolled out on the bricks to start the run, was grit. Lean and sinewy, Fritz could easily ditch the running gear and be a spaghetti western cowboy. Once we started talking, I found that he is direct and doesn’t hedge his opinions. You can tell Fritz has disdain for bullshit.
As we ran and talked, I lost track of time/mileage and didn’t want the run to end. Fritz is full of the kind of insider knowledge that any runner that has a passion for running footwear could mine for hours.
Before Under Armour, Fritz worked for footwear giants Mizuno and Nike.
Below are questions we emailed to Fritz with his answers. We will be following the interview up with a general piece on Under Armour running after we visit the headquarters in early 2016.
What is your relationship with running?
That’s an interesting question because I think it changes and evolves over time in a way that any kind of big & deep relationship does. Right now, running for me is 75% a place to do some creative thinking and clear my head (usually work related) and 25% a way to hold on to some sort of athletic identity. I haven’t had a competitive goal in running for quite some time, but that changed recently on a trip to Europe. While visiting Stockholm, our Under Armour group hooked up with a local running club for their evening workout in a beautiful park in the city. We broke up into different pace groups and did 5 x 1K with 75 seconds rest. I was destroyed after the workout, but it was probably the most fun I’ve had running in years. I had forgotten how good it feels to push yourself really, really hard and how fun it can be doing something like that with a team. So I’m back doing weekly workouts again and thinking about doing some races.
Favorite running event?
As a spectator, I think HS Cross Country, especially a big meet, is one of the most fun and exciting things to watch. The opening 600 meters of a big race where everyone is hammering to get position is always a fun spectacle. On a personal level, the event I have the most memories of is the 6 or 7 Hood To Coast Relay teams I was a part of. The combination of team + individual + dramatic landscape is pretty special. That event is 1/3rd individual effort, 1/3rd team, and 1/3rd a big party.
Favorite post run/race food or beverage?
Gotta say…there is nothing like the reward of a juicy burger with some salty fries after a big run. It is maybe not the most healthy…but I can’t seem to deny the cravings.
What features do you look for in a running shoe?
My personal favorite shoes are always in the lightweight/go fast zone even for everyday running. My ideal shoe is a racing type upper (pretty minimalist) on a midsole with good forefoot cushioning – I am a sucker for a good blown rubber outsole in the forefoot because I love that feel. Beyond my own preferences, I think a great running shoe often comes down to the quality of the shape and proportions and how smooth it is from heel-to-toe. Craftsmanship is the key. There are lots of running shoes with cool looking designs, but crap shape or balance and that kills it for me.
How did your career with running get started?
I was a soccer player before I was a runner and my fascination with athletic shoes started because I really noticed a difference in how well I could kick and control a ball based on my shoes. Later on, when I got into running, I carried that same fascination with me. When I was 22 years old and finishing college I was running a lot of miles and spending any extra money I had on the latest running shoes. My dream was to find a job working in the running industry but I thought I needed to be a much more talented runner for that to happen. After college, I taught school for 3 years and then heard that Nike was hiring people to educate retail stores about their running shoes and to do grassroots running events. I couldn’t believe there was a job where someone could get paid to talk about running shoes so I immediately focused 100% of my attention on landing that. It took a little more than a year and is a bit of a crazy story in itself…but it all started from this passion for shoes.
What are some of the challenges in creating running footwear?
The biggest challenge is the fact that running shoe preferences can be so unique and individual…so how do you create shoes that lots of runners are going to love? Over my 28+ years in the biz, the one universal truth I’ve learned is that every shoe you create will have some runners who love it and others who hate it. I’ve been a part of plenty of shoes that didn’t work for me but have done well with lots of runners so you have to divorce your own opinions and really think about the market. Finding those big sweet spot zones that lots of runners like and then engineering all the elements of the shoe to hit home is always the challenge. Its one of the reasons running shoe manufacturers make changes to shoes – you are constantly tweaking and adjusting and trying to find that zone where you can attract even more runners.
What can we expect from Under Armour Running in the next 5 years?
This is a pretty cool time to be working in running because I believe we are on the cusp of big change in how runners train, what they wear, and how running shoes will be manufactured. I think everything going on in the digital world is already changing running – just look at how social running has become and how connected runners can stay with each other. I think all the data that runners will have at their fingertips will dramatically change how they train and pursue their goals – we will all have easy access to the kinds of information and coaching that was previously reserved for only the elite. Additionally, I think that within 5 years we will be building running shoes in dramatically different ways that will not only impact how shoes work but how they look as well. And so getting back to Under Armour, I believe we are getting all the pieces of the puzzle in place to be able to shape and influence these kinds of changes. I imagine that in the year 2020 we will look back and realize there was more change in the last 5 years than at any time in the preceding 25.
How will you personally measure success with Under Armour Running?
I will feel successful if we are able to blaze some new ground, introduce new concepts, and then see that those ideas are adopted by runners and are making a difference. As an example, we are working with some of the smartest biomechanists and athletic trainers in the world to help us better understand how runners get injured and how they can avoid injury. In the near future we might be able to introduce an easy-to-use concept that can assure runners they won’t get injured if they follow a few simple and easy steps….and I think something like that could be pretty cool.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
The favorite part of my job is that I get think about running, runners and running shoes and someone is willing to pay me for that. I remind myself on a regular basis that I’ve been really lucky in my career.
Do you protect the house?
Hah! Under Armour is clearly a brand with some personality and Protect This House is one manifestation of that. An essential part of my job is to help us figure out how our brand personality translates to runners. Under Armour started as an American football brand, which might seem at-odds with running, but I actually think can help us bring new inspiration to runners. We have always been a brand that has had an underdog mentality with a huge work ethos. While running is often portrayed in advertising or in magazines as something like a heavenly escape or nirvana – running in pristine forests with birds chirping and clear blue skies – the truth is, running is often gritty and hard and challenging. The big reward comes from facing all those challenges and fighting through them. I think we get that side of running and we can help inspire runners to fight through doubt and challenges and come out on the other side with confidence and a bit of attitude.
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