Faces of fallen friends flash behind Robert Green’s eyes with each footfall.
Duane Goff puts in the extra mile with thoughts of his friend Danny Jenkins fresh in his mind.
Melissa Steve ignores the pain of frozen hands and says a prayer of thanks for the ability to run as she extends the distance.
Thoughts, emotions and convictions swirl into one driving force as almost 30 Cleveland runners prepare their bodies and minds to relay run 1,000 miles in honor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing victims.
“Run Now: Relay” organizers Cameron Fisher and Matt Ryerson approached various members of the running community with the opportunity.
Responses settled on a mixture of incredulity and interest.
“They went home and had the conversation with their wife or husband and it generally went something like this, ‘You are crazy. That is insane,’” Ryerson said. “And then a few minutes would pass and they would almost always say, ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’”
Steve jumped on board with the encouragement of her husband, who has also spent hours watching the couple’s two toddlers while Steve trained.
“I felt like I was going to miss out if I didn’t do it,” Steve said. “I remember standing still at work and looking at the news [of the Boston bombing] and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Runners Steve, Green, Goff, Ryerson, Fisher, Garmon and Ivey Lawrence expressed how personal the bombing felt.
Goff saw the relay run as a way to respond directly to the terrorist attack in a positive light.
“I wanted to be a part of something that showed how hope, love and peace can make a major impact and difference because, you know, the tragedy was all about hatred and destruction,” Goff said. “We have a completely opposite approach going into this and running these miles for these people we do not know.”
Supporters and well-wishers are encouraged to join the joggers for the first leg of the journey. A launch will be held at Lee University on April 12 in between events for the annual 65 Roses 5K for Cystic Fibrosis. The group plans to jog from 11th Street, through residential areas and down the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway. Two miles later, the trek will end in front of the old First Tennessee bank on Raider Drive.
Farewells will be made before runners pile into the five vehicles pointed toward Boston.
Hours, weeknights, family time and early mornings meant for sleeping have gone into training for the nine-day trek.
Intrigued by the idea, Lawrence picked up running for the first time in her life to join the team.
“When this whole thing started, I literally had never run a mile in my whole life,” Lawrence said. “This group of people inspired me to start running and I finished my longest run last week, which was seven and a half miles.”
While Lawrence will primarily serve as the logistics person, she said she also wanted to put in some miles contributing to the cause.
Steve joined up with three other ladies on the team to train for the long journey.
She said at least two ladies meet four times a week.
“We put in three days during the week and then one long day on Sundays,” Steve explained.
Goff runs alongside Ryerson, Fisher, Garmon, Chris Conine and friends several times a week. The group tends to take on anywhere from four to six miles at a time. Members of the group take time to locate half-marathons as extra training for the relay.
“It used to be a couple of times a week. Now it is three or five days in a row,” Goff said. “Hopefully everyone will get one week where there is a week of back-to-back running.”
Green said his wife jokingly asked why he was not running the relay by himself.
He expressed his appreciation for the support of all of the runners’ families. Green pointed out all of them would be gone for longer than a week, in addition to missing Easter at home. And still the families encouraged their respective loved ones to take on the challenge.
“I’ve been a part of the running community for a while now. I thought it was pretty inspiring Cleveland would endeavor to take on this huge task,” Green said. “We share our support with the Boston community.”
Runners for the event can be found at runnowrelay.org and include: Ryerson, Fisher, Goff, Miranda Fulbright, Merica Stum, Matt Jenne, Steve, Matt Carlson, Garmon, Green, Johnny Clemons, Ben Williams, Cindy Moore, Corey Divel, Jamie Barks, Brandon Fulbright, Lawrence, Don Bennett, Vanessa Torrence, Trae Cody, Dana Ayers, Britney Cooke, Tim Spires, E.K. Slaughter, Conine, Madison Torrence and Chris Wilds.
All of the runners agreed to pay their own way in order to give all funds raised to the Boston-centered fundraisers: Dream Big and the One Step Ahead Foundation.
Goff expressed an interest in seeing the spirit of the other cities.
“I want to see how many people will come out and run with us ... and see how many people will grasp the vision,” Goff said. “Even though they are not from Cleveland, they can be a part of the experience, even if it is running with us through their town for a couple of miles.”
Garmon said he is eager for cool conversations with people in the towns along the route.
Added Garmon, “I hope we bring notoriety back to Cleveland, because this is home and it is one of the best homes in Southeast Tennessee.”