By Matt Wisnioski
The running community in the New River Valley is vibrant and supportive because of Michael Stowe.
Two years ago, Michael created NRV Running Shorts to showcase “some of the amazing runners in our community.” The result: 20,000 page views and 10,000 unique visitors.
Michael’s community-building goes far beyond this site. The NRV running scene consists of overlapping subcultures. There are Pub Runners, Striders, ultra and trail runners, the Track Tuesday crew, school and college athletes, and national elites. Show up at any of their gatherings and you’ll find Michael as participant, volunteer, or cheerleader, earning him the nickname “mayor” of running.
A lifelong resident of Virginia, Stowe entered his first race in 1994 when he was a young reporter for The Roanoke Times. “I was hooked.” He’s since completed dozens of races “with many ups and downs in my training and fitness.”
While Michael champions other runners, he plays down his own accomplishments. This past November he smashed the three-hour marathon barrier, running 2:58:53 at the Richmond Marathon. Ever humble, he attributes his success to the community. “I never could have done it without Jordan Chang’s support, encouragement – and his willingness to block a fierce headwind,” he says of his friend who was the race’s 3-hour pacer.
Today, Michael was set to lower his personal best even further at the 124th running of the Boston Marathon – on his 50th birthday no less.
With Boston postponed, Michael was gracious enough to answer constituents’ questions and print their expressions of gratitude.
Hometown: Ridgeway, Virginia, a small community in Henry County
Occupation: Communications at Virginia Tech
“Stow” or “Stowie”? Stowe rhymes with row – but in college my friends called me “Stowie.”
What’s your running background? Wow, I feel old realizing I’ve been running consistently for more than 25 years. Tennis was my sport from age 10 to 22. I started running casually for exercise after I stopped playing tennis as a walk-on at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In 1994, I ran my first race, the Shenandoah 4-miler on Brambleton Avenue in Roanoke, as part of the media team for The Roanoke Times. I ran my second race one year later one the same day I married Linda Jilk – one of the happiest days of my life. I’ve been running ever since.
What is your earliest running memory? It definitely involves getting a side stitch running the 600-yard dash at school as part of the PE tests that were required in Virginia. I also loved running around the subdivision with my neighborhood friends playing basketball and whiffle ball during the day and “kick-the-can” after it got dark.
Most satisfying running accomplishments? Mainly, I’m thankful my body still allows me to keep pushing myself after all these years. Nothing is more satisfying than spending time running up and down mountains with family or friends.
Proudest race moments? It’s a tie between the 2018 Richmond Marathon when I met a goal of qualifying for Boston and the 2019 Richmond Marathon when I broke three hours. For many years, I would have told you that reaching either of those goals was beyond my ability.
I ran my first marathon in Richmond in 1997. I trained to run 3:30 (or so I thought) but started cramping at mile 18 and ended up running 4:25. Same story at Richmond in 2001 (4:22) and 2002 (4:15) and at the 2004 Marine Corps Marathon (4:37). Finally, after eight disheartening marathons I decided my body wasn’t cut out for the 26.2 distance. I kept running 20-30 miles a week but for many years I never raced anything longer than a half marathon.
I made a major life change in 2015 when I transitioned from journalism to higher ed communications. My commute went from 90 minutes a day to less than 10 minutes – but more importantly it allowed me to run in the evenings and gave me the opportunity to plug into Blacksburg’s amazing running community.
I started going to Runabout Sports Pub Runs on Wednesdays and Track Tuesday workouts and group trail runs on Saturdays at Pandapas Pond. I bought my first GPS watch and joined Strava. Without even realizing it, I was making new friends, having fun, doubling my weekly mileage and – much to my surprise – running faster.
When I realized that this year’s Boston Marathon would fall on my 50th birthday I decided to try and qualify for it. After a solid summer and fall training block, I achieved that goal with a 3:07 finish at the 2018 Richmond Marathon.
I had no plans to run the 2019 Richmond Marathon – my sights were set on the 2020 Boston Marathon. Then, three weeks before the race, Jordan Chang encouraged me to sign-up and run with the 3:00 pace group he was leading at Richmond. “Just turn off your brain and run,” he said.
So, that’s what I did.
Most frustrating running experience? A two-year battle with Plantar fasciitis.
Who inspires you? Such a long list. My wife Linda (a runner for longer than me) and my daughters, Emma and Eliza, keep me moving and inspire me to stay healthy. Also, the Track Tuesday speedsters (Danny Rau, Brett Shelley, Darren Driscoll, George Tolton, Jenn Fleming, Alisha Ebert, and Michelle Lowry, among others) and Blacksburg’s ultrarunning crew (Brett Sherfy, Danny Mathieson, Trevor Stewart, Jordan Chang, Sean Raines and many more). I’m also trying really hard to keep up with Ignacio Moore, Andy Norton, Shawn Huston, Scotty Scott, Brad Paye, Matt Wisnioski and the rest of the NRV masters group.
Favorite route to run? Anywhere around Pandapas Pond. My go-to loop: Poverty-Snakeroot-Horse Nettle.
How would you describe the running community in the NRV? Welcoming. Encouraging. Inspiring. Strong. Tough. Resilient.
How has it changed since you’ve been a part of it? James DeMarco transformed Blacksburg’s running community after he opened Runabout Sports in 2003.
Yes, Blacksburg had a running club and occasional group runs and races before James came to town. But the community blossomed and grew once he got here and began spreading his knowledge, enthusiasm and passion. Many runners don’t know James, who moved to Wisconsin three years ago, even though he still owns Runabout and gets back to Blacksburg a few times a year for races and the High Performance Running Camp. But his influence is all around in our robust running community.
It took a visionary to meld together the Blacksburg High cross country and track teams he coached with the activities of Runabout and the Blacksburg Striders to create the family of runners – fast and slow, old and young, trail enthusiasts and road warriors – that exists today.
Advice for runners in this difficult time? Listen to your body and just keep moving forward. Don’t worry about running fast or far. Be kind to yourself.
Running goals for 2020? I’d love to complete a full Catawba Runaround with a group of friends. Here’s hoping we can hit the AT together this fall. I also want to keep sharing stories of our awesome community.
Running achievements by 2025? Stay healthy and moving. I’d love to eventually run the Boston Marathon and complete an ultra longer than 40 miles.
Any plans to run for Blacksburg mayor? No comment.
The Community Speaks:
Vince Baranauskas: Michael is an amazing person that radiates positivity and is a treasure to our NRV running community. He brings everyone around him up, and I look forward to running hundreds of more miles with him!
Laurie Bianchi: Michael is so encouraging and positive. Taking his talents as a writer and giving us stories about the other runners in the community has been so much fun. It’s allowed connections amongst the runners that would not exist otherwise, and that is a really cool gift he has given us all.
Jordan Chang: Michael and I have been running (pun intended) in the same circles for many years but have really only gotten to know each other well in the last year or so through Pub Run and Track Tuesday. Even though it’s only been a short while, I have many fond memories of the times spent with him. Many, many of those memories are from running together, hammering track workouts, slogging through long runs, and stopping to admire awesome views out in the mountains. One of the best moments we have experienced together was during the 2019 Richmond marathon. He had jumped in last minute and all of us knew that he was due for a big day based on his monster training over the summer. We ran together for the first 21 miles and then he decided it was his day and took off, never looking back. It was incredible watching him pull away from the 3:00 pace group effortlessly and go on to set a huge marathon PR!
Jason Church: I met Michael like I met most of my running friends/family: at Pub Run. It wasn’t till May 2018 when we finally really got to know each other at a going away event for Nikki. We discussed running like most of us do and discussed him running EDU and how I was going to attempt a 50K that coming October. From that day Michael has been beyond supportive of my running endeavors. I was participating in the 8 miler at EDU that June, and he was doing the 50K. He caught up to me with around a mile left in both our races. Michael told me I was doing an awesome job and to finish strong and that he was on fumes. I said thank you and to crush it!
There are so many conversations we had over that year, but after I finished High Bridge 50K that October, Michael asked if he could interview me and do a write up about me and also about me finishing High Bridge 50K. When Michael published the write up and interview on NRVruns, I was humbled and touched. Michael made me feel like a ROCKSTAR in the write up. I had people reaching out to me that I never met to congratulate me on my accomplishment and telling me that I’m an inspiration! Michael’s write up made me a local running celebrity in a way. I feel the biggest thing that makes Michael such an inspiration is that no matter how slow or fast someone runs or how far they may run, he is always there being supportive – cheering others on because they are accomplishing something by moving forward and not giving up.
Three cheers for our hero, Mike Stowe!
Who we’re all so lucky to know
His grit levels: stunning
He keeps this town running
Best wishes for your big 5-0!
Darren Driscoll: I believe the first time I met Michael was my first (or second) time at the Pub Run. I think he also was the person I saw the most at Pub Run for the next 3+ years (broken bones aside). His passion for running and his desire to improve was unparalleled. I remember my off-hand comment about how he should start showing up on Track Tuesday to get some speed work if he wanted and I kid you not, he was at the track the next week saying something to the extent of “I’m gonna get crushed by all you guys.” I have never been surprised when he PR’ed during race and I was absolutely never surprised to see him fall down during a run a Pandapas. When I look at the type of person and runner I want to be in 20-30 years, he is the first person I have in mind.
Alisha Ebert: I met Michael through Pub Run and I quickly realized what a supportive, encouraging, and sincere person he is. He always finds a way to lift runners up whether by reminding them of their hard work or that some days it’s just about enjoying the run. He is welcoming to all those he runs with in a kind and genuine way. No matter what race or trail or challenge you’re thinking about attempting his first response is “You can do that – easy.” Several times, when I threw out a race I’ve wanted to try, even if I was uncertain about it, I was immediately met with his signature confidence. He is a humble and dedicated runner that has truly made an impact on so many. In the short amount of time I’ve known him he has taught me a lot about building a community, creating connections, and supporting those around you. #GoForStowe 2021
Lisa Garcia: My favorite Michael running stories usually involve some blood, broken bones and glory. What a tough man! You fall down, break a wrist, slice open your head or some such thing and you just keep going until you cross the finish line! And, then there is speed – my gosh, so much speed and determination and perseverance. Michael you are a running inspiration and humble and gracious and so incredibly generous with words of support and encouragement. Thank you Michael, for supporting me as a small part of the running community and making me feel included. Happy birthday, friend!
Corinne Guimont: Michael has been so encouraging to everyone in the local running community. I really appreciate NRV Runs and the opportunity it’s given all of us to learn more about each other and everyone’s different running backgrounds. Thank you for all that you do and for bringing us together in a new way, happy birthday!
Shawn Huston: Michael is such a positive guy. The running community as a whole is a supportive one. It’s people like Michael that make this happen. He always has a kind, encouraging word. That encouragement has meant a lot to me, particularly at the start line of the Richmond Marathon this past November when a few words from Michael helped calm my nerves.
Linda Jilk: You may note the bloody arm in the photo above, but what is not obvious is the broken wrist from a fall early on in the 2017 Conquer the Cove 25K. One of the many things I admire about Michael is his grit and determination – this guy isn’t going to let a broken wrist stop him from completing a race, or coming back the following year to conquer the cove’s marathon (never mind his determination to backpack 50 miles across the rugged Icelandic backcountry post-surgery with wrist in cast, but that’s another story)! He works incredibly hard to overcome obstacles to pursue his goals, and always makes time for what’s important, and that has always been family, but also includes running. . . he even competed in the 9 am Shenandoah 4-Miler (winning the media team event, I might add) before racing to get ready for our morning wedding ceremony! Michael never gives up and pushes as hard as he can to be his very best – whether as an athlete, husband, dad, employee, son, or friend. He is my hero and my inspiration, and, after 25 years of marriage, I still “fall” for him everyday!
Daniel Kolasa: Happy 50th Birthday to Michael! His ever-present smile and positive energy made the grueling Track Tuesday workouts in pre-Corona times more bearable. Hopefully, we will get to run those again soon. His profiles of local runners on NRV Runs have helped me learn a lot about the running community in the New River Valley and make me want to challenge myself more as a runner.
Michelle Lowry: Michael is a force in the Blacksburg running community. He is the glue that holds us together. He has helped me feel comfortable slotting into the squad, and I am really grateful for all his encouragement. Happy Birthday Michael!
Danny Mathieson: Michael’s dedication to the local running community is unrivaled – exhibited through his own pursuit of excellence, unwavering commitment to training groups, knack for capturing runner’s stories, and his proclivity for putting up with the shenanigans of his running brood. Stowe for Mayor 2021.
Andy Norton: I got to know Michael running Chicken Hill on third Wednesdays of Pub Run. We were the old guys trying to chase down the youngsters. That was a bonding experience for me, and over the next couple of years, Michael unfolded into a more and more impressive human. From his support of other runners to his relationship with his daughters, he has taught me about the kind of friend and father I want to be. Michael is such a natural leader that he seems hardly aware of his leadership, and he represents everything I love about the Blacksburg running community: the joy, the pain, the aspirations, the humility, and most of all, the fellowship.
Ignacio Moore: Michael pushes himself and those around him to be the best that they can be. He is humble in his accomplishments and the first to congratulate you on yours!
Erik Olsen: I have been “chasing” Michael for at least 14 years. That’s how far back I had to go to find race results where I actually finished before he did. Since at least that time, Michael has continued to get faster, and has always supported Runabout Sports, Blacksburg High School, and Blacksburg Striders running programs. The launch of his NRV Running Shorts page has been a fantastic way to get to know local runners and stay motivated. I’ll keep chasing him with hopes of catching him again. Michael motivates and keeps us moving in so many ways! Let’s all run/walk April 20 in celebration of Michael and his many years of support for our running community.
Bradley Paye: I first met Michael when I inadvertently cut him off and nearly put him down in the open race at Blue Demon. (The fact that there were only about 8 runners made it particularly obnoxious) Naturally, this led to a great and ongoing running friendship. When I ran a Boston qualifier a couple of years ago, Michael was the first to email congratulations. I marvel at the fantastic NRV running community and Michael is unquestionably near the center of it all. Michael: I’m sad not to be able to celebrate your birthday in Boston as planned, but I hope you have a great one nonetheless!
Daniel Rau: Running aside, Michael is one of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. He has lent me so much of his running and camping gear over the years. Running wise, he is a great person to run with, works hard, and of course- is tough as hell.
Durelle “Scotty” Scott: One of our community’s running cheerleaders. Our paths crossed years ago running to and fro on the Blacksburg Cross Country course, cheering on our kids. Since then, we’ve shared stories and parenting while navigating trails from Beauty to Gap Side. I’m glad to have gotten to know Michael, even though I’m struggling to keep up! Looking forward to more running adventures as we navigate our world, hopefully without tripping on a root or a rock. 🙂
Brett Shelley: Michael was a welcoming face when I moved to Blacksburg. I’ve always been a roads runner, but slowly Michael has convinced me to find less explored areas and enjoy the run (yes, trails). When I quit coaching, Michael was a friend that helped find a new love of running – even if I never coach again. I guess we have a little joke between us, I’ll coach if Michael runs for Mayor. He’s a tough guy with the warmest of hearts.
Brett Sherfy: Michael is a role model as a runner, dad, and member of the Blacksburg community! His ever-present drive is most evident on Tuesday evenings when he’s circling the Tech track locked-in on the runner in front of him trying to as we jokingly say “get better.” His hard work paid off when he broke three hours at the Richmond Marathon last fall! Running accolades aside, Michael and Linda have fostered a sense of adventure and active lifestyle in their two daughters that can only be described as contagious. Just last week he ran 20 miles with Eliza from their home to the New River to celebrate her 20th birthday! When Michael isn’t running, he’s there supporting and cheering for the running community at RunAbout races or many, many local cross country meets. Michael selflessly gives his time and energy to support other runners accomplish their goals. In December, Michael crewed me at a challenging race that begins at midnight. Despite being in DC on Thursday morning and not arriving home until late Thursday evening, Michael was there through the night to make sure I was supported and accomplished my goal. Michael is the type of person who lifts up those around him. I am truly grateful for his friendship and look forward to many more miles together!
Skip Slocum: Michael’s kind words, helpful tips, strong work ethic and enthusiasm for both the sport and community have been such a gift! I truly appreciate all of the encouragement he’s offered me and I know there are countless others who would say the same.
Ed Smith: Michael is stronger than he looks: an athlete’s body and the quizzical look and stare of a curious mind. He is a careful runner but has a spirit consistent with the old Adidas refrain “Runners We Are Different.” It is so appropriate that the new generation of runners in the NRV are getting to know him and his immense skills to rally others to structured and unstructured runs. Many may not know that the stalwarts of Striders, John Hosner and Ray Myers, recently passed. I see Michael as the “link” to that glorious past of NRV Running. We used to do 5 AM runs (before I couldn’t keep up) and I recall the week after April 16, 2007 when he was our glorious resource on those runs before going to hold pressers with the National Media. He is a humble man both in his personal life and on his runs: even after I couldn’t keep up and abandoned running with him. Whenever and wherever he saw me around town, he will change directions and say “lets go, I will run with you.” He has taught me so much not just to be a great citizen of our running family, but how to be a “girl dad” even as that moniker becomes fashionable: strength and commitment and motivation. He is a resource and I am very happy I remain in his circle.
Cori and Doug Sterk: Michael is such an awesome person and fellow Pub Runner, we are so glad we met him at Pub Runs! He is always such a positive and kind spirit and we are thankful to know him, and thankful we live down the street from him and his wonderful family!! 🙂 We admire his great attitude towards running and training! He is such an incredible inspiration!! 🙂 We wish you a Happy 50th Birthday Michael and happy running 🙂
Trevor Stewart: Danny is on to something: Stowe 2021! Michael’s curiosity, positivity, and willingness to push himself is fun to watch. We are grateful for all you do for the squad. Happy birthday, buddy!
Ginger Stewart: Michael is such a special person. When our son was interested in learning everyone’s full name, he took a special interest in “Michael William Stowe”. I have always enjoyed my interactions with Michael, and it is a delight to see him on the road or trail anytime. Happy birthday, dear one, and happy trails!
Eliza Stowe: I couldn’t be more lucky to find constant inspiration to work harder and be kinder, the best running partner (and someone to drop me going up every hill) and a gourmet egg chef all in the same person.
Emma Stowe: Thankful for my dad for getting me into running (as early as elementary school, he would encourage me to run the half mile to the end of our road and back) and inspiring me to keep running and training for longer distances in my adult life (joining me in NY to pace me in a half marathon and continuing to offer remote support)! Can’t wait to race together again soon!
Jess Thornton: I have loved getting to know Michael over the past couple years! He’s too quick for me to run with, but I always enjoy his witty conversation and ever-present smile. Michael is always in a good mood – and friendly to all the Pub Runners. Looking forward seeing him pass me on Wednesday night pretty soon.
George Tolton: Everything that Michael says or writes is inspiring. I’ve only known Michael for about a year and I don’t think I have ever heard a negative word come out of his mouth. Every time I hear words of encouragement from Michael during a Track Tuesday workout, it puts a smile on my face and causes me to push that much harder.
Matt Wisnioski: I first met Michael at mile 3 of the Blacksburg Classic. I was just getting into racing, and he and Andy Norton (another great running ambassador) were moving with relaxed concentration. I thought, there’s a guy who looks like he knows what he’s doing, I’ll run with him. He beat me that day, the smiling bastard, but my impression was correct. Michael has since helped me work through running and non-running challenges with poise and wisdom. He is a community treasure.
Others are encouraged to add their memories and thanks in the comments.
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