The Run Now Relay team persevered through nights of cold, wet runs and calf-burning mountains with encouragement, prayer and determination.
Victory over the gargantuan mission was sweet.
Whoops of joy filled the air Saturday as the 26 runners joined once more to finish the relay side-by-side at the start line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.
A chant rose above the din of pre-marathon preparations as a small wave of neon yellow shirts crested the hill.
“Boston Strong!” shouted Run Now Relay runner Kyle Page.
“Tennessee Tough!” answered his 25 teammates in unison.
Corey Divel’s group ran the last leg together before meeting up with the rest of the runners.
“This is the best running day yet for us, so it was kind of a running high,” Divel said in explanation of the energetic runners. “We ran mostly nights [during the relay].”
The heat of midday and the icy cold of the late-night runs tested the runners’ perseverance. Participants constantly reminded themselves and each other why they were on this “crazy” journey. First, to show support and love to Boston in light of last year’s bombing. Second, to raise money for charities Dream Big! and the One Step Ahead Foundation in honor of those affected by the attack.
Dream Big! founder and CEO Linda Driscoll was on-site for the big finish.
She described the whole venture as “beyond amazing.”
“When they cross the [Boston Marathon] start line, they are going to impact the lives of kids and help them get involved with sports,” Driscoll said. “[Think] about the fact of whether or not they could have done this in the wrong pair of sneakers, or sneakers that are not meant for running.”
Continued Driscoll, “That is what our athletes do every day. [Run Now is] helping us break down that barrier that keeps students from participating [in sports].”
One Step Ahead Foundation representative Bob Emerson said he is inspired by all of the support shown through the relay.
“[There has been] an outpouring of support for a very good cause,” he said. “I think that it is a fantastic and huge undertaking.”
Both Driscoll and Emerson accepted checks on behalf of the organizations they represent. The effort managed to raise more than $60,000 and counting. The final total will be split between the two Northern-based nonprofits.
Team member Tim Spires said the last leg was very emotional. It came as a result of months of planning on the part of Spires, Matt Ryerson, Ivey Lawrence and Fred Garmon.
“All the support back home meant a lot,” Spires said. “It really meant a lot for all of us to get that support from back home.”
Encouragement poured out from “The City With Spirit” every day the runners remained on the road. Supporters urged the team on through text messages, phone calls, Facebook posts, Instagram photos and shout-outs on Twitter. Chief among the supporters were Lee University’s William Lamb and Cleveland High School.
Divel reiterated Spires’ sentiments.
“Thanks to everybody,” he said. “Everybody was amazing — the whole group, the community and our sponsors. It was an honor to be associated with all of these people. Not [only] together, but individually everyone is amazing.”
Participants ran through Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. A majority of the relay was spent on the back roads of U.S. Route 11 and U.S Route 1. The total mileage was estimated to be 1,075.
Run Now discovered Friday the group would be unable to finish the eight-day journey at the Boston Marathon finish line Saturday. A recent hoax had the police on high alert. The decision was made to finish strong at the start line of the race instead.
The town of Hopkinton brimmed with activity as the runners not in the last leg of the journey gathered. Hollers and laughter marked the arrival of each team. The entire crew headed out as the last leg drew closer.
As one, Run Now Relay took on the final stretch in their neon yellow shirts.
The relay completed 26.2 miles shy of its initial goal. Instead of admitting defeat, relay organizers asked Johnny Clemons to carry the team the last 26.2 miles of the journey. He did so today as a part of the Boston Marathon.
“I feel honored to be able to carry it across,” he said. “I am humbled by it.”
Clemons, who was dubbed ‘Johnny Marathon’ for his mission to run a marathon every day of the journey, completed at least 183.4 miles. He was set to complete his seventh and final marathon of Run Now Relay today. At one point, he ran three marathons in 48 hours.
The elite runner is glad he joined the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Everybody gets along very well,” Clemons said. “We’ve got some really good people on this team. “
He was quick to point out the reason for his success.
“I am a Christian, so obviously I couldn’t have done this without the Lord,” Clemons said. “He is the one who kept me strong and from getting injured. I was praying all the way up here. It is easy to get injured from running that many miles.”
Fellow teammate Ben Williams was dubbed “Johnny.5” for his goal of running a half-marathon every day. He reportedly increased his distance from the 13-mile range to 20 on his last run. According to Williams, the nickname is both an honor and an overstatement of his abilities in comparison to Clemons.
He said his immediate team made up of Jaime Barks, Tricia Sherlin, Yuri Davis and Duane Goff had good synergy the entire week.
Group members continuously encouraged each other. They often received a helpful boost from people back home. The Cleveland High community often sent its encouragement to the Run Now Relay team, and Williams in particular.
“It was amazing. It got me super-charged. Every time I saw a new wave of texts, I ran twice as fast that night,” Williams said. “I was channeling all of their support. It was definitely pushing me to go harder.”
Although Williams said he will eventually forget the runs, he will remember his teammates and the people they met along the way to Boston.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “I am completely blessed to have been involved in it.”
Teams like the Purple Pavement Pounders, the Free Birds and the Blue Boston Boomerangs uploaded photos of the journey along the way with the hashtag “runtoboston.” Every Instagram and Twitter post with “#runtoboston” showed up on the official Run Now Relay website’s social media tagboard. The digital images and stories can still be found at the effort’s website.