POMEROY, Ohio — Meigs County native Michael Owen has been running for more than half his life, now taking part in trail races across the nation, as well as organizing races which bring hundreds to Southeast Ohio each year.
Owen was a multi-sport athlete in his youth and in school, taking part in basketball, golf, baseball and even a year of football. In seventh grade he tried track for the first time, but admitted it wasn’t really for him.
“I was growing a lot and had knee and growing pains,” said Owen.
His freshman year at Eastern High School, Owen explained, there was a new teacher and coach who had running experience at college. The coach had heard Owen was good at running for conditioning and training for other sports and approached him about doing track that spring.
With a knowledgeable coach in place, Owen took to running and fell in love with it.
Owen became a two time state qualifier in track and a state qualifier in cross country during his high school years.
Owen was recruited to run in college at Shawnee State University.
“I was fortunate to have that fall in place. I’ve been running for over half my life. I can’t imagine not,” said Owen.
He added, “It lead to a career and opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
It was the passion for running and Southeast Ohio that led Owen to SEOTR (Southeast Ohio Trail Runners).
“There was not a lot of opportunity for it here,” said Owen or trail running.
“I was passionate about staying local. My wife is from here, our kids and families. It is nice to make it work in a non-traditional way,” said Owen of making a career through running.
SEOTR is a community based non-profit organizations with the mission of promoting trail running in Southeast Ohio as a recreational activity.
“SEOTR all started with one goal — to help foster a community of trail runners in Southeastern Ohio,” explained Owen on the SEOTR website, seotrevents.com.
“Running can connect people. Battling through extreme weather to reach the finish, running up over a ridge top and seeing the misty morning sunrise, or walking slowly through a hushed pine forest on the needle-lined trail beneath your feet – these moments are known and shared by all trail runners. In Southeastern Ohio, we are blessed with numerous parks and forests, with miles and miles of lush singletrack trails. It is on these trails that friendships are formed and a community of trail running starts to take shape,” wrote Owen.
It is through running which Owen has formed many friendships, adding that some of his college teammates continue to be some of his best friends.
Running is a way to bring people together. Pre-COVID, Owen explained that a group of runners would meet weekly in Athens for group runs.
Near the end of his college running career Owen discovered trail running which led to exploring longer distances.
“Running trails to explore was appealing,” said Owen of running through the trails at state parks and other areas.
Now, he runs ultra marathon distances (anything longer than a marathon, 26.2 miles). Some of those races can be a 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, or 100 miles. He has also been in one race which was longer than 100 miles.
Through SEOTR, Owen has brought those races to Southeast Ohio, with runs at locations such as Lake Hope, Strouds Run and in the Portsmouth area. These races can bring people from across the country to the region, bringing an economic boost to the communities where the races are held.
The first race for SEOTR was held in 2014, a time at which Owen said was the “perfect storm” as the sport was beginning to grow, leading to tremendous growth of the event.
There are now six races hosted each year in Southeast Ohio, with the goal to expand.
“Southeast Ohio is known for trail running now. The races are part of that,” said Owen. “It is really fulfilling.”
Regarding the trails through the hills of this area, Owen said: “We have natural resources here that aren’t in the rest of the state.”
Owen’s latest adventure into running is beginning the cross country teams at Hocking College in Nelsonville.
“It’s a little change in direction. I really enjoyed college running,” said Owen. He explained that for him college running was a good experience, with a lot of lifelong friends coming from that.
“I hope to have that atmosphere. Running is a lifelong journey,” said Owen. He is hoping that the cross country programs will be a place for runners, including those from high schools in Southeast Ohio, to continue their running career along with their education, and lead to benefits later in life.
Running can be a lifelong sport, something with health benefits, not only physically, but mentally and socially as well, added Owen.
“There are people in their 70s still running. It is inspiring to see,” he said.
“You see races with people of every shape, size and age. You think they are not a runner, but then they do it. They finish the race. It doesn’t matter who you are, it is possible,” said Owen. “Anyone who can put one foot in front of the other can do this. Your body will respond to training. People who think they are not runners can start somewhere. Consistency is the key.”
Owen added that he would love to see more involvement in running in Meigs County.
“It starts at the youth level. There is not organized running until the junior high and high school level,” said Owen. “Running at a young age helps to form the love for running.”
“I didn’t know what cross country was until high school,” said Owen. “It would be great to make it a priority along with the other youth sports in the area.”
Trail running and taking part in races is a family activity for Owen.
“My kids are around it. I hope they come to love it,” said Owen. He added that his daughter likes to run races in the family’s yard.
His wife, Bobbi, also races and the couple’s children travel to many of the races as well, having been out west several times.
Family is also involved in the SEOTR races, volunteering and helping out with the races.
“It is good to have that support system,” said Owen.
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Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.