If you’re a Denver, Colorado, area trail runner or ultrarunner, then you might already know of Phil Snyder, an anchor point of the city’s off-road running community.
Born and based in Denver, Colorado, Snyder is known as a creative, memorable, and friendly character — quick to invite newcomers to the trail running community or help make them feel more included at events. Sometimes rocking a beard, scruff, or flowing dark hair — Snyder has chest, elbow, and forearm tattoos that complement his running jerseys.
He’s been the manager at Berkeley Park Running Company (BPRunCO) — one of the first running stores in the Centennial State to focus primarily on trail running and ultrarunning products — since the shop launched in the Berkeley Park neighborhood. The storefront was opened by Snyder’s good friend, Chris Sullivan, in 2018.
Now located in Crown Hill Park, Snyder helped to keep the store alive through the COVID-19 pandemic by reaching out to running friends to see who could invest, which led to the takeover of primary owners Ryan and Heather Kirchhoff, alongside subsidiary owners Mike Hewitt, Corky Dean, and Peter Downing.
“The shop is really well-liked, and we felt like this was worth trying to keep going. What Chris and I created with [the former] Berkley Park Running Company was bigger than ourselves. Chris would be proud we’re keeping the legacy going. Even if I were to walk away, I could walk away proud that I put something in the universe that is meaningful, lasting, and that people want to see succeed,” says Snyder. The shop celebrates its six-year anniversary in June 2023.
Snyder has grown alongside the store, taking over buying and ordering products, which “has been a steep learning curve,” and there’s a five-person staff. While they’re not reinventing the wheel, says Snyder, they focus on creating a community space where people can meet others. They organize monthly events in collaboration with brands and athletes to speak at the shop, such as a Christopher McDougall book preview, invite athletes onto the shop’s race team, and host group runs.
“It’s about the culture of the sport and providing a space where like-minded individuals can meet each other. We do our best to support and raise voices in our community as well, whether that’s athletes or people starting out in the sport,” says Snyder.
He also opened a library at the shop, chock-full of running books from road to mountain ultra-trail, and folks can set up a card to check out the reads. One of his favorite books is “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” by Adharanand Finn. Another book strikes a special cord: “Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures From The Back Of The Pack,” by Cory Reese, which spotlights tales from the back-of-the-pack — which is what Snyder loves about the sport. When Snyder saw that book, he realized, “Someone had already written my life story, as I believe that I am not anything special or worthy of attention.”
“It takes just as much guts for the last person as it does for the Ian Sharmans and Anton Krupickas to line up at the Leadville 100 Mile — they’re all amazing, and the community celebrates those people,” says Snyder, who first started running the five-kilometer distance in cross country and the 3,200 meters in track at Sabino High School in Tucson, Arizona, with coach John Brooks, before walking away from the sport for decades.
After his birth in Denver, Snyder’s parents bought a general store in Collbran, on the Western Slope of Colorado, where they lived from 1976 to 1982. When the economy tanked, his family moved to Tucson, where he spent his years from eighth grade through college.
“I was the second smallest kid in a class of 500 and wasn’t going to sign up for football. I remembered that my sister tried running track in Collbran, and she got a lot of positive attention from my parents, even though she dropped out after two weeks. So, I went out and was the last place person on the team for most of the first year. I stuck with it, ran on the junior varsity team, and moved up to varsity as a junior in high school,” recalls Snyder. In his senior year on the varsity team, Snyder “cracked the top seven a few times” in races.
Sabino High School is located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the cross-country team’s training runs were on the trails, including a one-mile effort. But back then, formal trail races didn’t yet exist in the area. “I’ve since researched that there were really, really small grassroots events with 15-person clubs having unorganized unsanctioned races,” says Snyder.
At the University of Arizona, Snyder graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, which plays a role in his running and professional life at the shop, where he utilizes photography skills for the social media and creative direction of the brand. The university didn’t have club or intramural cross country or track, so he dabbled in running and cycling. Halfway through college, he turned 21 years old and started drinking more than running.
In Tucson, you need to hit the trails really early before temperatures rise. “I had hangovers and I lost my way from running for a long time,” says Snyder, who graduated and moved back to Denver, where he planned to be temporarily, and got a job as a bartender.
“The only thing that was making me happy was drinking, and that doesn’t actually make anyone happy in the long run. I eventually had a realization that the last thing I’d done in my life that had brought any joy or accomplishment that didn’t involve drinking had been running, and that’s how I slowly got back into it,” says Snyder. “I’d lost running friends, and then I lost friends from the music and bar industry … Ultrarunning especially acts as a therapy for a lot of people. Running is my religion. I’ve made it my life, and sometimes it’s overwhelming because I watch running movies and work at a running store — it’s my social and work life and can be a little over-consuming sometimes, so it’s nice to have a balance with other interests, like art,” says Snyder.
Snyder first met Chris Sullivan around 2007, when Sullivan had just moved to Denver. After going on a few runs, Sullivan invited Snyder to Ouray, Colorado, for a race. Snyder recalls, “It was the Imogene Pass Run, and he’d said, ‘It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ and that I had to sign up for it. He did it four years in a row. I did a few trail races that summer to build up — like the Go Pro Mountain Games 10k — but nothing that prepared me for the Imogene Pass Run. You realize, ‘I’m going to run over those mountains?’ I’d barely done Grays and Torreys” [two 14ers located in the Front Range of Colorado that are popularly summited by Coloradans].
Another favorite early race of his was the 2010 Mount Lemmon Marathon, an uphill road marathon to the top of the route at 8,164 feet, located outside of Tucson.
“The first half hour was horrible, and at some point, my mind shifted, and I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to stop. The next four-and-a-half hours — I finished in five hours — I got into a flow state, and time stopped, and I got it done. Even though it’s only a marathon, that was my first real race,” says Snyder. “Imogene Pass was also when I realized that running for more than a couple hours was where the magic happens. Later there were times I’ve done Leadville and mountain 100ks where you’re out there forever and alone. That’s the beauty of the sport,” says Snyder, who says two of his all-time favorite races were the Never Summer 100k and the Gran Trail Courmayeur 100k, with support from friends Oza and Milan Klanjsek. He’s also paced runners at the Hardrock 100 four times.
Nearly 30 years after moving back to Denver, Snyder is still rooted in the Mile High City but made a huge career and lifestyle shift circa 2011. He started working at Runner’s Roost, his first job in the running industry and at the shop where he and Sullivan had been going to run club for a year and a half.
Initially, the position was part-time, but “it got to a point where I was still working at the bar, drinking too much, and I couldn’t find a healthy balance. I was doing short trail races, so I’d get off from bartending at 2 a.m., get two hours of sleep, and try to run a race completely hungover. I had a great manager at the Roost, who gave me close to full-time hours — it made a world of difference. It was a much healthier choice for me to do the store management. There were great people who mentored me, and I can’t see myself working in any other industry,” says Snyder. That year, he paced Sullivan at the Leadville 100 Mile and started to get an itch to run further, in addition to dabbling in triathlons.
“I am inspired to be like Bill Dooper. His influence on me is huge and seeing that he can enjoy the sport from a non-running perspective. I want to keep running until I can’t, but even when I can’t, I’m still going to be a fan of the sport,” says Snyder, who is 53 years old. This season, he’s fighting a hip injury and tracking miles on the treadmill a couple of times a week. He plans to incorporate gravel riding and cycling into his routine to help with his recovery and is excited by the concept of combining rides with runs.
“There’s something magical about these races, learning stories of the common person running and the gathering of folks, but also, you can create your own, and it can be just as radical. I’m embracing that,” says Snyder.
He also takes heart in prioritizing bringing newcomers into the fold with BPRunCO through small, inclusive meet-ups. Snyder says, “Run meet-ups can feel like ‘it’s who you know’ — unwelcoming and elitist without even realizing it. With customers, if there’s someone new and they’re asking about where to run, they’re the first person I’ll invite to a group run. I didn’t plan on hosting a group run, but why don’t we roll out the red carpet and show this person Colorado hospitality.”
In fact, Snyder was the first person to offer me —the author of this article — an invitation, encouraging me to join a free-of-charge women’s training group for the 2016 Leadville Marathon. He’d helped organize the meet-up through Runner’s Roost, which opened the door for me to meet so many wonderful people in the trail running and ultrarunning community. At the time, I didn’t know any trail runners, and he helped me feel right at home.
Call for Comments
- Have you heard of Phil Snyder and the BPRunCO? Have you ever joined any of their run groups?
- Do you agree that the stories of back-of-the-pack runners can be just as inspiring as those of the front runners?