By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston marathon runners are poised to set an off-course record this year, in the form of charity fundraising.
Donations to charity teams linked to the world-renowned race are flooding in from around the globe and are poised to break last year's record performance of $21 million, a year after a bombing at the finish line killed three people and injured more than 260.
Some of the biggest beneficiaries will include foundations set up by families of the victims, as well as some of the Boston-area hospitals that provided life-saving support for the injured, according to charity organizers.
"There isn't any question it will be a record year," said Tom Crohan, head of the non-profit program for race sponsor John Hancock. "What last year's events did was broaden interest in the positive elements of this race. People realize, if I'm ever going to get involved, this is the year."
The Boston Marathon has long been a major fundraising event for charities, since committing to raise money can help a runner secure a berth without meeting the race's fast qualifying time requirement.
Last year's bombing energized fundraising to a new level, bringing in more charity runners and greater interest from donors.
The Boston Athletic Association accepted 9,000 additional runners this year to accommodate the thousands of people caught mid-course at the time of the bombings, bringing the race to its second-largest field of runners ever at 36,000. Many of those additional runners have found places on new or expanded charity teams.
One of those, Team MR8, shines a light on the increased public support among donors. Set up by the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the explosions, the team's 100 runners have raised more than $800,000 in about four months.
"This young boy was kind of the face of this. We're all affected, we all feel it," said Susan Hurley, the founder of Charity Teams, which is managing Team MR8.
Stephen Noxon, one of Team MR8's runners and a friend of the Richard family, said he has raised nearly $45,000 on his own.
"The support has been amazing. These are people who identify in some capacity with the scope of this loss, people with kids, or people with a connection to the marathon," he said.
He said the team was counting down to the April 21 race.
"It's going to be a very difficult day for us," Noxon said. "The physical challenges will be small compared to the emotional ones. But we are looking forward to finally doing the run."
Team MR8's funds will support the Martin W. Richard Foundation, which aims to support peace through educational, athletic and community programs.
Teams have also been set up in support of foundations for the other two people killed in the bombing, Krystle Campbell and Lu Lingzi, as well as Boston-area hospitals and charities that focus on research for injuries most closely related to the blasts, like amputation, and eye and ear damage.
The Miles for Miracles team benefiting the Boston Children's Hospital - one of six trauma centers that handled blast victims - has raised $1.8 million so far, up from $1.6 million in 2013, said Stacey Devine, associate director of special events.
Two ethnic Chechen brothers are suspected in last year's bombing. Investigators say they placed backpacks containing homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the race's finish line.
One of the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shoot-out with police days after the bombing. The other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is awaiting trial on terrorism charges. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
When the Boston Marathon first started accepting charity running teams in 1989, total donations amounted to $6,000.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)