If you blink, you might miss him. You have to be fast to keep up with Michael Owen.
When he is not helping plan races around Ohio, the Pomeroy native is running 100-mile races—more commonly known as ultramarathons. Ultramarathons are any distance greater than a marathon, or 26.2 miles.
“The main thing with ultras is that people like to get out of their comfort zones,” Owen says. “They like to get into a place that’s remote or scenic or some kind of forest or wilderness that they don’t otherwise get to on a normal day.”
Owen started running his junior year of high school, and it has been a part of his life ever since. He ran cross-country for Shawnee State University and decided he wanted to continue running competitively after he graduated, so he turned to ultramarathons.
“I love collegiate running, but I knew when I graduated I wanted to do the longer stuff,” Owen says.
Owen completed his undergraduate degree at Shawnee State and graduated from Ohio University’s masters program in outdoor recreation in 2014. Since his graduation, he has made a home in Athens.
His first ultramarathon was back in 2010, when he ran a 50-mile race.
“It hurt really bad because I wasn’t used to it,” Owen says. After an ultramarathon, runners are physically and mentally exhausted. They usually need help sitting and will want to eat and sleep.
Training for an ultramarathon is a combination of putting in a lot of miles being in uncomfortable situations.
While the length of an ultramarathon varies from race to race, it is not uncommon for an ultramarathon race to last more than 24 hours.
“When you’re doing a 100-mile race and it’s 3 a.m. and you’re at mile 70, you just don’t feel good,” Owen says. “If you put yourself in uncomfortable situations during training, then you might mentally be able to cope with those situations better.”
In order to prepare for those uncomfortable situations, Owen might run at midnight during training to get used to running late into the night or run in the rain to mentally prepare for anything that could happen during a race.
“The mileage and the training isn’t that much different than a typical runner, it’s just how you’re doing it and how you’re going about it that’s different,” Owen says.
When it comes to running an actual ultramarathon, Owen says there are highs and lows throughout the race.
“Nothing ever goes smoothly in a 100-mile, but people who are best at it are the ones who can deal with the lows,” Owen says. “It’s how well you cope with those lows.”
His mood will often fluctuate during a long race.
“There are definitely the painful moments of dark places that you go into for races,” Owen says. “You just got to trudge through those and know that’s there going to be a high at the end of the low.”
A typical 100-mile race usually has between 15 and 25 aid stations spaced throughout the course with water and a variety of food including chips, nuts, sweet fruits and candy. Runners may stop for a few seconds to refill a water bottle or they may choose to rest for 30 minutes.
Jonathan Bernard, owner of Ohio Valley Running Company, occasionally runs with Michael.
“He loves being on the most challenging, steepest course—nothing scares him. He’s got that switch in his body that just goes off and he likes to really push himself,” Bernard says.
Wesley Harton, an OHIO student and ultramarathon runner, first met Michael his freshman year of college.
“Michael is just a great person, a great influence, a great mentor, a great friend, one of the best people in Southeast Ohio that I’ve met down here,” Harton, a member of OHIO’s Trail Running Club, says.
During Harton’s first 50-mile race, he remembers sitting on a chair at an aid station “fully slumped over” at mile 44 when he saw Owen passing through the same aid station. Owen was on mile 76 of a 100-mile race.
“It was just a really unique experience to see him powering through and crushing this super unfathomable distance,” Harton says.
Bobbi Owen, Michael’s wife, also runs ultramarathons. She started running just before meeting Owen.
“It’s been a pretty common thread in our marriage,” Owen says.
Their daughter Fern was able to be there when Michael won a 100-mile race, just two months after she was born.
“It was really challenging getting the running in during her first two months,” Owen says.
Owen also helps plan four races around Ohio: the Iron Furnace Trail Run in April, the Thunderbunny 50k in May, Pawpaw 4 miler in conjunction with the Pawpaw Festival in September and the Shawnee 50 in November.
The Iron Furnace Trail Run takes place at Lake Hope State Park Lodge and it is in its fifth year.
“This is one of the most challenging half-marathons in Ohio — maybe the most challenging. I think people like that part of it,” Owen says.
A unique aspect about ultramarathons is the community, and seeing people come back year after year is Michael’s favorite part of the Iron Furnace.
“I don’t see them but once a year,” Owen says. “I feel like a part of their life. It’s kind of a cool, eclectic group of people running; they mainly just want to do it for their personal reasons and everyone has that same idea of what they want to do.”
Michael Owen’s running statistics
- Ran seven 100-mile races in past seven years
- Fastest time for 100 miles was 15 hours
- Slowest time for 100 miles was 26 hours