PHOENIX -- Arizona runners who were not able to make the trek to Boston for today's marathon are there in spirit.
When the first wave of Boston Marathon runners -- 9,000 people -- set off at 7 a.m. Arizona time, runners here in Phoenix joined them, running on a treadmill outside Runner's Den at 16th Street and Maryland Avenue.
Twenty-six relay runners will cover one mile each as they raise money for the One Fund, which helps those most affected by last year's bombing. In the days after the tragedy, Runner's Den runners raised $7,500 for the charity.
Monday's virtual marathon event came together very quickly.
"We wanted to do something to show our support and this is what we came up with," Runner's Den owner Rob Wallack said. "We put out the word on Facebook, and within 10 minutes the event was filled.
"It's been overwhelming," he continued. "We probably could have done thing eight or 10 times over with the people who were interested. … It's happening all over the country."
"Last year's tragedy created such a unified running community," Runner's Den manager Ron French said.
Nate Wallack, the owner's son, kicked off the virtual marathon relay.
"He's the next generation here at Runner's Den," French said with a smile. "We decided to throw him on there first to get things rolling this morning."
The treadmill is set up in front of a replica of the banner that was at the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon. There also is a TV with live coverage of the marathon.
"This is such a great event that the Runner's Den is putting on," relay runner Lori Cepa said right after finishing her mile. "It's a great way to show support for your fellow runners and running community."
David Bluestein, one of the Runner's Den relay participants, ran last year's Boston Marathon.
"I crossed the finish line about 10 minutes before the bombs went off," he told 3TV's Jill Galus.
Bluestein said area residents immediately began doing whatever they could for the runners, offering food, blankets and charged cell phones to call loved ones.
French echoed Wallack's thoughts about Monday's Runner's Den event, saying support and enthusiasm from local runners has been incredible.
"Today is a great victory," he said. "It's a victory for all of us who consider running a way of life. ... We're showing our support to our friends who are in Boston. ... We have to do something physical today. We can't just sit at work and stare at a computer. We have to get out and do something."
"We could have easily filled up eight, 10, 12 treadmills," he said.
"It's just very emotional, very exciting," virtual marathon participant Amber Vansumeren said while Bluestein (runner No. 17) was running his mile, relay baton in hand and an American flag and his 2013 Boston Marathon medal in the other.
"Today is important because runners together, we are a family," she said.
You can make a contribution to the One Fund at RunnersDenAZ.com.The company also is hosting a raffle with up to $2,500 in prizes. Tickets are $10 each and are available both at the event and on the store's website.
More than 36,000 runners are taking part in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Click here to watch live.
Don't forget the real reason we are doing this!!! Let's raise a ton of money for the One Fund for Boston! http://t.co/Lc1DMQu1TL PLEASE RT!— Runner's Den (@RunnersDen) April 21, 2014