Brownstown man battles through first 50K race, ready for next one

When times got tough during his first ultramarathon, Michael Powell turned toward positive thoughts.

Before the Indiana Trail Running Association’s OPSF 50|50 started March 27 at the Owen-Putnam State Forest in Spencer, the 26-year-old Brownstown man said the race director told him the course was the worst he had seen in 10 years.

Known as Indiana’s toughest trail race, runners traverse a 14-mile course consisting of 90% single track and horse trails that are rugged and muddy with a few sections of fire road. They can either do 50K (31 miles) or 50 miles. Powell chose the 50K.

“I just got mad to the bone, but I was like, ‘I’ve trained so much for this. I’m going to do my race strategy,'” he said.

For the first 10 miles, he was hitting pace and feeling amazing. On Mile 11, though, he did the splits on mud and hurt his groin.

“It’s OK,” he told himself.

At Mile 17, one of his quadriceps wouldn’t move all of the way, and he experienced shooting pains, so he had to walk instead of run.

“Nope, I’ve got this. I’ve got to keep moving,” he told himself.

Fortunately, a fellow runner stopped and told him he needed salt. Since Powell didn’t have any, the man gave him a handful.

“Salt controls neuromuscularly,” he said. “If you tell your muscles to do it, they’ll do it as long as they have the supplies. But if you don’t have enough sodium in your body, it won’t see the signal. I got some nutrition and felt good, amazing, cranked up the next 8 miles and went back out.”

At Mile 27, though, Powell got real light-headed, fell down on a log and slightly passed out. The temperature went from 40 degrees at the start to 78 at the finish, and he said he can’t run in heat that well.

“I was like, ‘Nope, I’m good,'” he said while taking in more salt. “Once again, I stood up for 10 minutes and said, ‘However you need to, just finish the race.'”

Powell not only wanted to finish for himself but also for his two main motivations: His wife, Kait, and their son, Grayson Robert, who is expected to arrive April 23. Kait had written “Gray-Po” on Michael’s wrist for inspiration during the race.

“I was like, ‘I need to tell my son I did this race, you can do anything you want, nothing is impossible as long as you set your mind to it,'” Michael said.

Once Kait learned her husband finished the race, she shared the news on Facebook.

“To say that I am incredibly proud of this man would be an understatement,” she wrote. “He is one of the most dedicated, hardworking, persevering individuals that I’m in awe of. He continually surprises me by all of his amazing accomplishments, and if he puts his mind to it, he’s gonna do it.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michael could only have one person at the race, and that was his father, Bryan.

“I really wish I could have been there, but I was praying for him throughout the day and sending him encouraging text messages that he may or may not read until after the race was over,” Kait wrote in her post. “I just wanted him to know that he was thought of and loved during this incredibly hard day. But he finished, and I could not be more proud.”

As a personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Seymour, Michael also had co-workers and clients rooting him on, many of them sending him encouraging text messages on race day.

“I wanted to quit so bad. When I was getting those cramps, I was like, ‘There’s no way I can do another 15 miles with this pain,’ and I was like, ‘Why are you saying that? Of course you can. Unless you fall over and can’t move, you can do it,'” Powell said. “Really, it was just I couldn’t let people down.”

Out of the 92 people registered for the race, Powell finished 33rd in 7 hours, 52 minutes. He said nearly 30 runners didn’t finish.

“During a race like that, you learn so much about yourself,” he said. “I call it grit — how much do you want it, how much do you drive to push? That’s a motto we live by at the gym.”

Powell’s interest in running goes back to his time at Medora High School, where he competed in cross country, track and field and basketball.

“That kind of got me into running because it wasn’t about talent necessarily but about how hard you work,” he said.

He then continued cross country and track at Franklin College and also was on the diving team.

After graduating in 2017, though, he got away from running and took on another passion: Weightlifting.

It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 that he returned to running.

“It was a blessing and a curse during the lockdown,” he said. “I was so depressed. I didn’t have anything. I couldn’t lift weights. I couldn’t go hang out in the gym. I could have the worst day and go to work and everything’s gone, but now, when you’re taking that all away, I had nothing.”

Then he remembered he still had a pair of running shoes.

“I just started loosely getting into it,” Powell said. “That kind of got me going again.”

In September, he found a video on YouTube about 50K and 50-mile races. He had completed Half Ironman (swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles and running 13.1 miles) in 2017 in Muncie, so he thought he could tackle a 50K run.

He didn’t think one would be nearby, but he was surprised to see the DINO Trail Run Series’ Jackson County 50-50 Ultramarathon set for Dec. 27 at the Jackson-Washington State Forest in Brownstown and signed up immediately.

“I talked to Kait and said, ‘It’s going to be a huge commitment’ because when I do something … I want to 100% commit to it,” he said. “Then I started training, researching again how to do running.”

One day while running on trails, however, co-worker Alex Cazares called him and told him the race was canceled due to the pandemic.

“I called my wife bawling, ‘I hate COVID.’ She was like, ‘Why are you upset? You can still go run,'” Michael said. “I’m like, ‘Valid point,’ so that’s when me and (Cazares) went out and did it solo.”

Powell said he finished in 6 hours, 40 minutes, so his goal at the March 27 race was to break six hours.

His training included trail running four or five days each week.

“The main key thing was what they call the long run,” he said. “Typically, on a Saturday or Sunday, I did it, and I was trying to do three to five hours of just constantly going.”

He also focused on tempo running and speed work.

At the end of three months of training, he ran 400 miles and climbed 27,200 feet of elevation.

“Looking back, I was just completely blown out of the water,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t seem like that much.”

Soon, Powell plans to begin training for the Jackson County race, which is set for Dec. 4. In a few years, he said he wants to tackle a 100-mile race.

Finishing the 50K, which was his longest distance to date, made Powell want more.

“Your body can do so much more than what you think, and unless you bring it to complete failure, you’ll never find out,” he said. “With these ultras, it’s nowhere close about how fast you are but just how much do you have and keep going.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Indiana Trail Running Association:

DINO Trail Run Series: