Why Boston?

Last year, the evening before the 2013 Boston Marathon, I was home in Portland, going for a quick jaunt around the waterfront loop. While I wasn’t physically in Boston, I specifically remember feeling a sort of magic in the air. I was the only runner out there. The city was quiet and the air was hauntingly still. It was the calm before the storm.

I was feeling positively giddy in anticipation of following the race online the next morning to cheer on friends, colleagues, Portland Running Company teammates, college teammates, coaches, and my all-time running heroes Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan. To me, the Boston Marathon is the biggest sporting event of the year. As I ran around my familiar running loop, I tried to channel the excitement and nerves my fellow runners in Boston were probably feeling just as they were winding down to go to sleep before their big day.

The next morning I had a great set up- a live stream of the elite race on one tab, a website tracking all of the runners I knew personally on another tab, the Runner’s World live updates on another tab, then following @flotrack and various other handles on twitter mobile. It was an emotional morning of witnessing struggles and triumphs. I was so incredibly inspired and proud of everyone. As I was waiting for the last few people I was tracking online to cross the finish line, I refreshed my twitter feed for probably the thousandth time that morning, and my heart dropped. There had been an explosion at the finish line. No, wait, now two explosions. I quickly jumped back on my computer to check the news and there was nothing. It had literally happened within the past minute or two. As I refreshed my twitter feed, photos of the scene emerged and I knew whatever happened was serious. It dawned on me that a pretty enormous amount of people that are part of my community and from all different parts of my life could have been near the explosions, and I had no idea if they were injured, or worse. I texted anyone whose number I had to make sure they were safe. I heard back from some, but not all. I then began to receive texts from concerned friends who thought I might have been there, followed up by a few that read along the lines of, “Good, you scared the shit out of me!” The rest of the day was a waiting game. I had spent the morning glued to my computer and phone waiting to see how my friends and fellow runners would fair in a footrace. For the rest of the day I was glued to the same screens waiting to find out if those same people were alive.

Thankfully, everyone I knew was safe and physically well. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel shaken that an attack of that magnitude would hit so close to home. It directly affected my community. The people that piece together almost every part of my life, and not just runners. I ran Boston in 2011 and both of my parents were cheering for me on the homestretch, just near where the bombs went off. So what happened last year, despite whatever reasoning there was behind it, was extremely personal.

The next evening, Tuesday, April 16th, I went out for a run on that same familiar waterfront loop that I had run on alone the night before the race. It was different that time. There were tons of runners out there, donning yellow and blue, wearing Boston Marathon finisher shirts from years past, and some wearing their finisher shirts from the day before. There were people carrying American flags and many wearing race bibs printed with the number 415. As I ran by them we nodded at each other, and I noticed that even people out walking or driving by in their cars would give the runners a little nod or a wave. It turned out that everyone was congregating on the east side of the waterfront for a group run that had been quickly put together after the events of the day before, to mourn the lives that had been lost and as a sort of show of solidarity among the running community. I was never so happy to see so many familiar faces- those who had returned from Boston, my personal running buds, and even just people I recognized from local races, group runs at Portland Running Company, and track workouts at Duniway Park. It was then that I knew I had to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. Not for myself, but because I’m part of something much, much bigger.


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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