When Hillsboro native Johnny Clemons lines up Monday for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, he will feel relieved. He’ll feel relieved because he wasn’t there last year with his family at the finish line as they were the previous two years, and because he will be starting the last of nine straight days of running marathons.
A 1996 Hillsboro High School graduate, Clemons is one of 26 runners, most them fellow graduates of Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., who are running 1,075 miles from there to Boston, Mass. to deliver about $60,000 in relief efforts related to last year’s bombing at the marathon that left three dead and many others injured.
The son of Debra and Jerry “Buzzard” Wilkin of Boston, Ohio, Clemons said that while he was not at the Boston Marathon last year, he watched the events unfold.
“The first thing I thought was that I was glad I wasn’t there because the previous two years I was there and my wife was on the finish line with two of our three kids,” Clemons said. “I was just in disbelief it was going on. Why would they attack a marathon?
“I was just shocked it happened. I was also a little mad, and it makes you want to give something back to the people that are hurting, to let them know that we don’t give up, and we want to come back this year and do it even better.”
Clemons ran track and cross country, wrestled and played golf at Hillsboro, and said he still holds the school cross country record. He said his love of running started when he was young and was trying to cut weight for wrestling.
“I used to run to school (from the neighboring village of Boston) and run home and round around Rocky Fork Lake, even in seventh grade, and that’s a marathon right there,” Clemons said.
After high school he ran at Ohio University, the University of Rio Grande and Lee Unversity. He said he recorded times of 4:01 in the mile and 1:49 in the 800 meters, and that he was better at the shorter distances.
But after college, there weren’t a lot of competitive opportunities at those distances, so he eventually moved on to marathons, and now focuses on what’s called ultra running, or anything more than marathon length. It’s done over all types of terrain and Clemons has competed at distances of 50 kilometers (31 miles) and even 100 kilometers.
He said he won the one 100K race he ran at Lookout Mountain in Georgia on a day that it was sleeting and raining. He said that in a 50K race he’ll finish a race in anywhere from 3 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours, depending on the course, and that he’ll take in 6,500 calories, eating and drinking the whole way.
Now 37, he said he’s ranked in the top 2 percent of ultra runners in the country, and that when he goes to a race, he goes to win.
On April 12, Clemons and 25 other runners departed Cleveland, Tenn. for an eight-day relay to Boston, Mass. They run 24 hours a day, and Clemons’ part of the relay involves running a marathon, – or 26.2 miles – every day. He said it’s been challenging, because the weather and time of day he runs varies. For instance, he said that on day two, his run started at 1:30 p.m. in 89 degrees, and on day three his run started at 4 a.m. and it was freezing.
The relay idea started with a small 5K Fun Run organized by a group of avid runners shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing with a goal of sending a little money to support the families in need. The goal for the event was $500, but a large crowd turned out and donations were nearly $2,000.
In a conversation between two planners of the event, and encouraged by its success, someone jokingly said, “You know what would be really cool? If we ran this to Boston and handed the check to them personally.”
They ultimately mailed the check, but a new idea had been born.
When Clemons, a personal trainer and nutrition counselor with a wife and three kids ages 7 to 14, found out, he decided he wanted to be part of it.
Each of the 26 participants are paying their own expenses and sponsors are covering the additional needs. They started out with $50,000, but are raising funds along the way and when they were in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, the fund had grown to right at $60,000.
One hundred percent of those funds will go to two charities – the One Step Ahead Foundation, which is committed to serving the children who suffered amputations because of the Boston Marathon bombing; and Dream Big, a Boston-based non-profit serving underprivileged girls through sports, with running the driving force behind the entire project.
Clemons makes his home in Cleveland, Tenn. He said his best marathon time is 2 hours and 26 minutes, but that won’t be what he’s shooting for Monday when he’s standing at the starting line for this ninth consecutive marathon.
“In some ways I’m going to feel relief that I made it to the final day and that I’m still standing,” he said. “My goal is to be as fresh as possible so I can go under three hours. I’ll just feel excited to be there. I won’t be pressured and I’ll be able to enjoy it.
“I usually go to win, but this time it’s about distance and trying to do what we’re doing for these people.”Anyone wanting to help can visit http://runnowrelaylive.com/
Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.