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Thousand-mile relay to bring donations to Boston Marathon victims

Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneui
Cathey Park of Cambridge, Massachusetts shows her cast signed by U.S. President Barack Obama after he spoke about health insurance at Faneui

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - For many first-time marathoners, the idea of covering 26.2 miles on foot is a daunting one.

That distance is a jog around the block compared with what a group of Tennessee runners will undertake next month when they set off on a 1,075-mile relay to Boston, where they plan to deliver more than $50,000 in donations to charities that help victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The plan for 26 runners to run that distance in continuous, alternating 6-mile shifts was the brainchild of Matt Ryerson, head of the Cleveland, Tennessee, branch of the United Way charity. The idea started to grow on him during a run with friends the day after the April 15, 2013 attack, which killed three people and injured 264.

"Our whole run we talked about how we felt about what happened," said Ryerson, 42. "It was a personal experience for all us. Running events are usually such good-natured, good-spirited events."

Members of the Cleveland Half Warriors running club - whose name is a play on its members' preferred distance of 13.1 mile half marathons - plan to set out from their hometown about 30 miles northeast of Chattanooga on April 12.

Accompanied by support vehicles, that will provide runners with a place to rest between relay legs and shuttle them to hotels and meals, the group plans to spend eight days on the road, passing through major cities including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York along the way before arriving in Boston on April 20, the day before this year's marathon.

At the end of their road, they plan to present checks totaling at least $50,000 to Boston's One Step Ahead Foundation, which is helping children who lost limbs when the pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs went off at the finish line last year, as well as Dream Big, a Boston-based charity that provides equipment and funds that enable girls from low-income families to participate in sports.

The run, which invites comparisons to the cross-country jaunt undertaken by the hero of the 1994 Academy Award-winning film "Forrest Gump", will get off to a tough start, along roads through the Appalachian Mountains.

"That will be pretty taxing on the body," said Ryerson, one of five members of the group who plan to run the Boston Marathon when they arrive.

The most miles in the group will go to personal trainer Johnny Clemons, who plans to run 26.2 miles each day of the relay in addition to the elite Boston race.

Clemons, who last ran the Boston Marathon in 2006, said he is looking forward to returning.

"What happened last year makes you mad and makes you want to go out and help," he said.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Stephen Powell)

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