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Resolve To Run: Former Plainfield Resident Joining Marathon Charity

One of Rachel Mathewson’s New Year’s resolutions was to perform actions outside of her perceived comfort zone. As it turns out, the first major initiative carries tremendous meaning.

Mathewson, 35, was one of 72 runners chosen for Team MR8, a charity squad running next month’s Boston Marathon in remembrance of Martin Richard. Richard, an 8-year-old Boston resident, was the youngest of three people killed in last year’s bombings near the race’s finish line.

A Plainfield native, Mathewson now lives in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood and was witness to the resilience and generosity of the city’s residents in the wake of last April’s tragedy.

“It was just overwhelming, the amount of support from strangers to the victims and their families,” said Mathewson in a phone interview. “There was a palpable sense of loyalty that you usually only see in families of taking care of each other as neighbors. That really struck a chord with me.”

During the aftermath, a digital photograph of Richard holding a homemade sign reading, “No more hurting people — Peace,” circulated widely and became a symbol of Boston’s recovery. In January, Richard’s parents, Denise and Bill Martin, created the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation with a mission to honor Martin’s message by investing in education, athletics and community. All proceeds from team MR8 — each participant must raise a minimum of $7,500 — will benefit the organization.

Mathewson has raised about half of the minimum so far while training for the 118th Boston Marathon, which is scheduled for April 21.

Following last year’s tragedy, the demand to participate as part of a charitable team — and therefore be exempt from qualifying-time standards — is extremely high. With a limited number of overall charity-team bibs available, many teams increased minimum fundraising figures as a necessary filter. The minimum set by the Boston Athletic Association, which oversees the event, is $4,000.

“(A sum of) $7,500 sounds like a lot, and it is,” Mathewson said. “But there’s so much interest for people to run as part of a charity that it’s understandable.”

Just being selected for Team MR8 was highly competitive. One of more than 250 applicants from around the world, Mathewson took on an 11-page application that included several essay questions. She had less than two weeks to submit it — no easy task as the mother of two young boys. A devoted morning runner, she tried to convey how much the exercise has become part of her life.

“I tried to do one question per night,” said Mathewson, a 1997 Lebanon High graduate who attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in Virginia. “I talked a lot (in the essays questions) about how running has really become part of me. It’s no longer just a means to an end, a way to be healthy or lose weight.

“I ran through both pregnancies, and running was instrumental in helping me find a new sense of normal after having kids. I also talked a lot about how proud I am of the city and to be raising my kids here.”

On the day Team MR8’s roster was to be announced, Mathewson still hadn’t received an email from organizers as of 8 p.m.

“I had pretty much given up,” she recalled. “I opened up my email to send a message to one of my supporters, to tell her that I hadn’t heard anything and that I must not have been chosen, and there it (the selection notice) was.”

Then came the hard part — training. While she runs most every day, Mathewson’s only marathon experience came five years ago, when she finished Ireland’s Dublin Marathon in about 4 hours, 47 minutes. While that time is excellent for a first-time marathoner, it still wouldn’t qualify her for Boston, which demands 3:40 for her age group.

Mathewson’s weekly training regimen now includes three days of solo running in two- to-six-mile increments, plus Saturday outings with Team MR8, whose members meet at Boston’s Copley Square and run parts of the route in reverse. On March 1, many of the MR8 team participated in the Super Hero 17 run, featuring participants dressed as super heroes and running the last 17 miles of the Boston Marathon route. Similar events are scheduled for the near future as Marathon Monday approaches.

“The group runs help bring some humanity to the cause and let us get to know each other,” said Mathewson, who has partnered up with runners carrying similar pace times for the Saturday outings. “There are a lot of great people involved.”

For her solo runs, Mathewson occasionally takes advantage of Boston’s Charles River Esplanade, but mostly sticks to early-morning jaunts around her Brighton neighborhood. It’s a hilly area, which should help her tackle a rollicking Boston course and its infamous Heartbreak Hill near mile 20.

The Dublin Marathon course was relatively flat, Mathewson noted.

“I’m always running uphill, but it’s going to be a little different in a marathon,” she said. “It’s new territory for me, but it’s something I really wanted to be a part of.”

Mathewson is one of 24 Boston residents on Team MR8, which includes runners from 35 states as well as Europe, Asia and South America.

For more information or to donate, visit www.teammr8.org.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.