BEVERLY (CBS) – One of the thousands of athletes running the 2020 Boston Marathon already knows what it is like to run a virtual marathon. In 2014, Nathan Blackwelder of Beverly ran from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The former Marine was a contract worker at the time and heard about Team MR8, which raises money for the Martin Richard Foundation. He reached out to the organizers and told them he wanted in.

“Martin Richard made a little sign as part of a school project and he said, ‘No more hurting people. Peace,” Blackwelder explained. “It means everything.”

8-year-old Martin Richard was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings. (Photo credit: Richard family-Facebook)

“We started at about three in the morning,” he recalled of the 2014 virtual race. It was officially recognized by the BAA and included more than 500 runners.

“I didn’t know any better because I had never run a marathon before. They had road guards to make sure the trucks didn’t run us over. They might turn around and clap a little, so that’s what [I thought] a marathon was.”

“So the next year when I ran Boston, with thousands and thousands along the whole route just cheering, it was a huge difference,” Blackwelder said, remembering friends, including the Richard family, who greeted him along the way.

“I would also see young children sometimes. That would just hit home.”

Training for this year’s race, Nathan spent a lot of miles listening to a popular Ozzy Osbourne song. A verse in Crazy Train, reminded him of Martin’s message of peace.

Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love
And forget how to hate.

“It’s right in line with Martin Richard,” he said. “Especially now with all that has been going on. There is a lot of anguish; there is a lot of animosity between people out there. I just think if we go back to that simple, basic message of ‘No more hurting people. Peace.’”

Former marine Nathan Blackwelder is running his second virtual Boston Marathon (WBZ-TV)

“This is probably going to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done and I have been through Marine boot camp, and training, and war.”

This will be the last year MR8 has a marathon team. But the organization will continue to work to spread Martin’s message of peace and investing in positive change for the future of young people and their families.

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