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New Runner, Isaiah Stowers, Runs a Marathon for Small Businesses

Isaiah Stowers after his marathon

Isaiah Stowers, a middle school science and video production teacher from Stockton, CA, started running in November 2019, a few months before the pandemic sent the nation into a shutdown in early 2020.

But he didn’t just casually take up the sport. Instead, he dove feet-first into setting big goals (like running a full marathon less than a year after he took his first running step) and filming every step of the way on his newly-established YouTube channel, Stowers Does it All.

“I don’t have a background in running. I didn’t do cross country in high school. I didn’t even do typical running activities like being a running back or wide receiver in football,” says Stowers.

But then, when a friend invited him to run the Golden Gate Half Marathon in San Francisco in 2019, he agreed, albeit jokingly. Little did he know, his friend was serious.

Stowers prepared by watching YouTube videos and running a little bit “here and there.” Despite minimal preparation, something changed for Stowers that day. Suddenly, he found himself on a fast-track path to being a runner with no intention of looking back.

We caught up with Stowers to hear the rest of the story, starting with the San Francisco starting line from just over a year ago:

All photos courtesy of Chris Cabatian @itscabatian

What was that first race like for you?

I’ll never forget the feeling of inspiration that overwhelmed me. All of these people wake up at the crack of dawn to come and run 13 miles. Why? Because it’s what they do.

Throughout the run, I saw people in the crowd holding up signs that said “you can do it!” or humorous quotes like “All toenails go to heaven!” These were complete strangers cheering me on, looking me in my eyes, just to remind me and everyone else in the race that we were doing something special. I was hooked. I told myself that in 2020 I would sign up for EVERY running event I could.

And then COVID-19 shut down the nation. Things got canceled and I was devastated. But then I came across a virtual race company (Medal Dash). And through them, I have been continuing to race.

So, what compelled you to run a marathon? Why go so far?

I have a YouTube channel called Stowers Does It All that’s dedicated to running culture and fitness. When I was challenged on social media to do the marathon, I thought to myself ‘OK, but how do I make a 26-mile journey entertaining? How could I make a video of this?’

Stockton doesn’t have very many beautiful trees, giant landmarks or skyscrapers… But what we do have are small businesses. So I combined my talent, Medal Dash’s marathon, the challenge of running a marathon and Stockton’s small-business struggle into a Small Business Marathon to highlight 26-plus local businesses in 26 miles.

The response from the community was overwhelming. So many businesses wanted to be a part of it! It was supposed to be just a few businesses at first… But by the day of the marathon, I had 41 businesses on board.

Why did you want to run a marathon to highlight so many local businesses, though?

Stockton is an interesting town. It’s home to more than 313,000 people. It’s the 13th largest city by land mass in California and it runs on small businesses. When all of the businesses were forced to close due to COVID-19, many business owners, like so many business owners across the country, started to worry and panic. One of our renowned historical bar owners was very vocal about how the closures were harming his business. If you drive around now, you can see the empty office spaces and buildings from businesses that didn’t make it.

Looking back, how do you now see your marathon accomplishment having a positive impact on your community into the future?

There are people that do marathons all the time. There are ultramarathoners that would look at my run as a piece of cake. And then there are people who cannot or will not even run a mile.

What was awesome about my marathon was that it motivated people to want to get out and run. People now tag me on their runs on social media. What I wanted to happen came true: it got the people talking. It got the community recognizing other businesses.This united people.

What about for you, personally? How has the experience positively impacted you? Or, more broadly, how does running impact you?

It keeps me in shape primarily! Second to that, it also gives me a sense of belonging. The runners in our area support each other very well. It’s really uplifting. However, I think the positive impact is everywhere now. My YouTube channel is getting more attention. People recognize me when I’m doing my morning jogs. My students root for me! Other business owners now want to work with me on other projects. It’s amazing.

During a challenging running event, there is always a moment (or many moments) where we’re faced with a decision. It could be to call it quits or keep going, or it could be simply overcoming an obstacle or fear. And it’s often an emotionally overwhelming moment. Can you recall what those moments were like for you during your marathon?

Businesses were supposed to put out water so that I could stay hydrated during the 26 miles. My biggest fear was that they would forget and I would be left without water. The first few I passed forgot, and so I was worried for the first 3 miles. What if there would be no water for the entire route?… But then I arrived at the Fleet Feet store in Stockton. The employees not only had water waiting for me, but they were outside and ready to run with me! We went around the shopping center a couple times before they sent me on my way to the next district of businesses. That moment truly warmed my heart.

The second moment was getting to the finish line. It was in that moment that I understood why athletes cry when they win the finals, the World Series or the PGA masters. So many people came out to see me finish. It was truly amazing.

I also want to thank the amazing staff at Fleet Feet SMB. When I first got into running, I had terrible shoes. So I stopped at Fleet Feet and got my feet scanned. They had very informed employees that taught me about which shoes I should get. From that moment on, I have not been into another shoe store. To be completely honest. I don’t trust anyone else to give me an informed response like I got from them.

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