[Author’s Note: This is the final article in an eight-part series in AJW’s Taproom called Race Director Chronicles, where we profile the unsung heroes who make our sport’s racing possible.]
Michael Owen ran his first ultramarathon on the ripe previous age of 21 at The North Face 50 Mile Championships in 2010, ending tenth. Now 34, Owen continues to compete at a excessive degree in ultras throughout the nation. Nonetheless, lately he has additionally established himself as one of the profitable occasion administrators within the U.S. because the mastermind behind Southeastern Ohio Path Runners (now SEOTR Occasions). In his function as director, Owen presides over six wildly profitable path runs on this particular little nook of Ohio. Not too long ago, I sat down with Owen to ask him a couple of questions.
Michael Owen in race director mode. Picture: Stu Siegfried
AJW: How lengthy have you ever been directing ultrarunning and path operating occasions in Ohio?
Michael Owen: The primary race I directed was throughout graduate college in 2014, once I was 24 years previous. It was a bunch challenge for an occasion administration course I used to be taking. This primary race was a path half marathon on a number of the most rugged trails within the area, and we had 82 runners!
This was the identical time I used to be establishing a path operating “membership” for the world, known as Southeastern Ohio Path Runners, which aimed to advertise the game of path operating and to foster a path operating group within the area. I used to be so lucky the professor of that occasion administration class urged my group to placed on an occasion for SEOTR, and that’s what kickstarted all my occasions! That first occasion was my solely race for 2 years, however it grew to 180 runners in yr two, and that confirmed me there was some potential in placing on path races, and it was additionally an effective way to develop the path operating group.
SEOTR as a “membership” morphed extra right into a race administration group in 2016, and is now branded as “SEOTR Occasions.” We presently host seven annual occasions with 15 race distances starting from one-mile enjoyable runs to 50 miles, with a yard extremely format occasion that has reached 229 miles.
The yr 2023 was the tenth yr of directing path races, and it’s laborious to imagine subsequent yr will kick off a second decade!
AJW: What’s the most satisfying facet of your work as a race director?
Owen: I’ve actually liked being a part of the expansion of path operating in southeastern Ohio and the broader area. A variety of my greatest associates are from this sport, and I might have by no means met them with out being a race director.
On an occasion planning degree, I’m actually drawn to particulars and group. Occasion directing is sort of a large puzzle the place there are quite a few items that must be carried out, some at particular instances and in a particular approach, all needing to return collectively for a last product. I benefit from the satisfaction of seeing all these items come collectively on race day. The purpose is for runners to have a tremendous expertise at your occasion, so if all these behind-the-scenes duties had been carried out effectively it’s good to know you helped present that memorable expertise for them.
Michael Owen hugs a finisher at one in all his occasions. Picture: John Dolovacky
AJW: What makes operating in Ohio so distinctive and particular?
Owen: I actually prefer to advocate for Ohio path operating! I feel lots of people which have by no means been to Ohio view it as a flat flyover state with a variety of cornfields and farms. There’s a variety of that kind of land, however Ohio additionally has an unlimited quantity of land formed by glacial outwash that carved deep and steep ravines. I used to be born, raised, and nonetheless reside within the far southeast portion of Ohio, the place the land is a part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We don’t have lengthy uphills, however there are steep, rugged, and really frequent uphills.
In southeast Ohio we’ve got an incredible community of path programs at dozens of state parks, state forests, and the state’s solely Nationwide Forest. With out a big metropolitan space in southeastern Ohio. These trails will put you in some distant and much out areas, and that’s what I’m drawn to essentially the most. There’s a way of freedom, possession, and wilderness in these areas, which might actually form who you’re as a runner. I feel this ruggedness is a superb instance of the mentality of Ohio path runners, and it’s evident by the folks from Ohio who do some fairly wonderful issues on this sport!
AJW: What are the three greatest challenges you face as a race director?
Owen: Being a race director requires downside fixing, rapidly adapting to altering conditions, and pondering quick when obstacles come up. Going through the COVID-19 pandemic as a race director was essentially the most difficult second in my profession, however I prefer to suppose it gave me extra instruments and perspective to face future challenges!
I’m so lucky to have a devoted base of volunteers at our occasions, in addition to a pair key workers members who work on bigger duties, however volunteer coordination and planning is without doubt one of the most vital elements of my race directing. With out having a serious metropolis populus to attract from, we’ve got restricted useful resource swimming pools, plus a lot of the path runners within the space will probably be operating the races! Volunteer recruitment, coaching, planning, and execution is without doubt one of the greatest areas that I’m targeted on whereas planning an occasion, as a result of it’s so essential in offering a great expertise to runners. My longer distance races have single-loop programs that require extra help stations — which is the expertise I wish to give our runners — however it offers logistical hurdles to get the allowing, the variety of folks signed up, and the gear to these places.
Climate has been difficult at a few of my occasions. Climate could make or break the turnout of the occasion, add security considerations, or create powerful conditions almost about canceling, suspending, or delaying an occasion. I’m often glued to climate forecasts as my occasions method and modify or enact plans based mostly on what the climate will probably be.
Lastly, I’ve discovered it laborious through the years to handle my private run coaching throughout race directing. Through the busy instances of race directing, I typically find yourself not operating as a lot as I hope. Folks typically remark to me that I’m fortunate as a runner that I get to be concerned in operating for my job, however typically it’s laborious to separate private operating from race directing, and on the finish of the day I simply wish to not take into consideration operating. Through the yard extremely I direct, I find yourself not sleeping for a number of days straight, and people forms of occasions are laborious to bodily bounce again from. Fortunately, these are challenges that may be labored by, and I wouldn’t wish to do it in another way!
AJW: What adjustments have you ever seen within the sport because you started directing occasions? Constructive? Unfavorable? Each?
Owen: The game has grown a lot worldwide previously decade, which I’m grateful to learn from, however that has created adjustments that may doubtlessly be adverse. Nonetheless, I prefer to suppose that development is at all times a internet optimistic. One of many adjustments I’ve acknowledged is a shift away from “club-based” occasions to occasions being a part of a enterprise construction. I bought into the game by operating grassroots occasions placed on by golf equipment like West Virginia Mountain Path Runners (WVMTR), so I’ll at all times have an affinity towards these forms of occasions.
However with the expansion of path operating, I imagine having people directing races as a profession is the brand new regular. To supply top-level races, there virtually must be somebody devoted to it full-time. On the identical time, I feel there must be a community-focused method to occasions nonetheless, the place the race director is a neighborhood one who understands and is a part of that group. I couldn’t think about directing a race in a spot I wasn’t from or aware of.
AJW: What are you wanting ahead to most within the 2024 occasion season?
Owen: I stay up for rising our current occasions and getting them nearer and nearer to the imaginative and prescient that I’ve for them. I like to take a look at our lineup of occasions as every serving a singular objective. A few of our occasions are extra superior and supply an enormous problem to veteran path runners and ultrarunners, however different occasions are extra suited to first-time runners and youth. For the group to develop, I feel it’s vital to deal with all these areas, and never simply the massive, lengthy, and laborious races — as grandiose and interesting as these forms of occasions are. I feel our occasions are to the purpose in 2024 the place we will begin specializing in these areas of development extra, and I stay up for greeting all these new runners on the end line!
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes, appropriately sufficient, from Ohio. Wooly Pig Farm Brewery in Fresno, Ohio, is house to 1899 Outdated Pils, a implausible, traditional, old-fashioned German pilsner that’s mild and crisp. A splendidly clean pilsner, 1899 goes effectively with absolutely anything however particularly traditional U.S. Midwestern barbecue.
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