published Monday, February 24th, 2014

Cleveland group to run 1,000 miles to reach the Boston Marathon

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    A group of runners from Cleveland, Tenn., meet to talk about their planned run to the Boston Marathon.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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AT A GLANCE

Number of runners: Between 26 and 30

Distance: About 1,000 miles

Mileage per runner: About 48 miles, or roughly 5-6 miles a day

States traversed: Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, plus the District of Columbia

Cities visited: 72

Goal: At least $50,000 in donations

To donate to the Run Now Relay, contact People for Care and Learning at info@peopleforcare.org or 423-478-7071.

Forrest Gump spent three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours running back and forth across the United States "for no particular reason."

A group of about 30 runners from Cleveland, Tenn., plans to spend eight days in April running for roughly 1,000 miles to reach the Boston Marathon. They'll take turns pounding the pavement in an around-the-clock slog through seven states while passenger vans haul resting teammates.

They've got a reason: To raise at least $50,000 for two nonprofit groups, Boston-based Dream Big, which buys sports equipment for inner-city girls, and the One Step Ahead Foundation, a New York State-based group that provides prosthetic limbs to children.

The Cleveland group expects other runners along the way to join in, including elected officials who'll take a lap around the National Mall -- just as Gump, the fictional gardener from Greenbow, Ala., had runners tag along on his epic run.

"We want to get the Forrest Gump effect going for us," said Fred Garmon, one of the organizers of Cleveland's Run Now Relay.

The Cleveland fundraising effort is unique.

The Boston Marathon will swell to 36,000 runners on April 21 -- up from 26,000 last year -- and tens of millions of dollars of donations have poured in for the estimated 263 people injured in last year's bombings that claimed three lives.

But no other group plans to raise money by running all the way to Boston, said Garmon.

"Not that we know of. This was just our idea," he said.

Run Now organizers had the inspiration after they held a 5k race on June 19 that raised $1,879 for One Fund Boston, a charity that has raised more than $71 million for Boston Marathon victims and their families.

"We actually threw this out as a joke: Why don't we run 1,000 miles and raise money?" Garmon said.

The more the race organizers talked about a long relay run, the more they liked it, he said.

The notion of a long relay wasn't completely foreign, since some of the Cleveland runners have participated in the Chattanooga-to-Nashville Ragnar Series Relay, a two-day, one-night run between the two cities that's one of 16 such Ragnar relay runs around the country.

"Some of us have done that, so we were familiar with it," said Cameron Fisher, another of the Run Now Relay's organizers.

The Cleveland runners are working out the logistics of their run, which will include some steep mountain climbs.

"We're trying to stay off the highways; we're going the back roads," Garmon said.

The run will start on Saturday, April 12, to coincide with Lee University's 65 Roses 5k run to benefit cystic fibrosis research, and the Cleveland runners will reach Boston on Sunday, April 20, the day before the Boston Marathon.

Along with the National Mall, the relay will take in other landmarks, such as Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.

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    Matt Ryerson, right, speaks to a group of runners from Cleveland, Tenn., about logistics and their upcoming fundraiser. The group will be running from Cleveland to Boston while raising money for victims of last year's Boston Marathon bombing.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Donors have stepped up to help.

The team's runners will stay on the house at Holiday Inn Express locations along the route. They'll eat free of charge at Panera Bread and will take along food donated by Cooke's Food Store in Cleveland. The team's three passenger vans are on loan from Don Ledford Automotive in Cleveland.

Each runner will pitch in $400 to cover gasoline and other expenses.

That way, Garmon said, "All the money [donated] goes to the victims."

The runners range in age from early 30s to mid-60s, Garmon said. They include businesspeople, a banker, a city official, employees of Lee University, the Church of God International office and People For Care and Learning, a Cleveland-based nonprofit group that aids the poor in Southeast Asia.

"We've got a great group of runners with big hearts," said runner Duane Goff, who's in charge of business development for Voiceopia Communications. "It's going to be very interesting."

After the relay reaches Boston, four of the Cleveland runners will participate in the Boston Marathon. Three of them -- Matt Ryerson, Matt Carlson and Fred Garmon -- got charity bibs from Dream Big.

Cleveland runner Johnny Clemons, a personal trainer, qualified for the Boston Marathon. His resting heartbeat hovers between 28 and 35 beats per minute, according to his bio on the Rock/Creek Race Team's website. And Clemons has won a number of races, including the 2012 Scenic City Trail Marathon.

"He's ridiculous. He runs like a 5-minute mile," said Goff.

Goff said he's at the other end of the spectrum.

"I'm hoping for a nice downhill leg -- but who knows?" he joked.

Cleveland's running community is close-knit, the Run Now Relay runners say. That's why they want to show support for those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.

"When this happened, this really hit close to home -- because we're runners," Fisher said.

Gorman said, "Tennessee is the Volunteer State and we just wanted to show the volunteer spirit."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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