Have you run for wood? If you’ve run a trail race in Central California in the past year or so (or, increasingly, in other parts of the country), chances are you have.
Those cool wooden Elevation Culture-designed medals that get handed out at San Joaquin Running events like the SJRT Half Marathon, Pincushion Hill Climb, and last year’s Two Cities Marathon and Half are unlike any other awards in the running community. And they have a Fresno connection.
Eric Chrisman, Elevation Culture’s founder and owner, was an athlete before he designed and made awards for athletes. Growing up in Tulare, he played soccer and harbored dreams of going pro, even playing for the US Olympic Development Program.
When he moved to Fresno for college, he says, he turned to running instead. “Usually when people start running, it’s for a reason — running toward something or running away from something. My reason was running away from something. It was one of those things to help me cope.”
Chrisman started with three miles, eventually working his way up to the half marathon distance. And then? He was hooked. Marathons and ultramarathons followed. He often trained with his friend Nathaniel Moore, who is now race director for San Joaquin Running.
“We were always talking on the trail, dreaming of starting a company in the running industry,” he recalls. “It was something we were super passionate about.”
He eventually moved to San Diego and completed some 100-mile races. And really, that’s how Elevation Culture got its start.
“I’m not much of a cowboy. What am I going to do with this?”
When you complete a hundred-miler, Chrisman explains, “you get a belt buckle for competing the race.”
It’s kind of a tradition. But wearing the belt buckle? Well, that isn’t for everyone.
“I’m not much of a cowboy. What am I going to do with this?” he recalls wondering. “I decided I wanted to put it on the wall and display it. I went to Lowe’s, got a piece of wood, decided to draw on it.” (Now is a good time to mention his background is in graphic design.)
When he posted a picture of the resulting display plaque on social media, the response was immediate.
“People went crazy, saying, ‘I want that, can you make that?’ I started to hard draw the elevation profile of the races and put the belt buckle on the plaque; I’d do this for people that ran and commemorate their success.”
A race director approached him about creating wooden medals for a race, so he purchased a saw and more wood and, in his living room, cut his first medals. With word spreading and more requests coming in, he decided to quit his job and “go after it full time.”
Today, Elevation Culture employs 4 people — all athletes — in its San Diego offices. With Chrisman at the helm, the company creates handcrafted “awards for mountain sports,” including trail running and mountain biking. Chrisman would eventually like to branch out into kayaking, rock climbing, and winter sports like snowshoeing and snowboarding. “All our passions lie in the mountains,” he says.
An experience company
It doesn’t stop at medals and plaques. “We’re an experience company,” Chrisman says. “I’ve also branched out into the things that make races that experience. We do podiums, race props, gifts — like picture frames — for races … I design and create the medals and awards, and also logos.”
He says finds inspiration in running. But he also works with race directors to get a feel for what they want, and draws from an event’s location, culture, logo, and social media to “come up with something that people want to see and feel and touch and have on their wall.”
Typically, “the race director comes to me to do medals or awards. I ask them for a logo so I can work off of that. It’s very key to keep everything as unique as possible; you want to be able to go to each race and have a different experience.”
Made in the U.S.A.
Elevation Culture products are made from sustainably sourced wood, and medals are hung from paracord instead of ribbon, adding to the rugged, mountain vibe.
And success means Chrisman has been able to upgrade from toiling with a saw on his living room floor to using a laser machine to cut the wood.
“Nothing like this exists,” Chrisman says of Elevation’s products. “It was just me being creative, even in the processes. I couldn’t read a book or anything; I had to put the pieces together to create these medals at scale.”
Additionally, “everything is made here in the United States, and is athlete-crafted. We’re pretty proud to say we’re the only ones in the United States that do that. It’s a passion for us.”
That passion has paid off. In just under two years, Elevation Culture has created awards for nearly 200 races, including international races held in Australia, Canada, and Nicaragua. “Those races are pretty special to us because it’s a different type of runner.”
Chrisman himself has found his role in the running community shift, from athlete to something a little more. His work allows him to participate on a different level, and one of the perks is the opportunity to involved in races he holds in high esteem.
“The Broken Arrow Skyrace is one I’ve done for the last two years,” he says, citing one of many races Elevation Culture has worked with. “It’s in Squaw Valley; the race itself is one of the best around. The course is so difficult, yet everyone comes across the finish line in amazing spirits. It’s beyond words. I’m super excited about helping race directors ultimately give an amazing experience.”
Run for wood
Check out Elevation Culture’s Instagram to see the company’s most recent work. And if you want to earn an Elevation Culture medal of your own … your next local opportunity will be at the Pincushion Hill Climb on September 9.