A Choice to Be

I don’t know how the day got away from me. After spending the afternoon responding to a slew of emails and checking off to-dos, I eyed the clock and realized I had exactly thirty minutes to make it across town, during rush hour, to drop off a batch of apparel at the screen printers before they closed for the weekend. Oh, and while I was on the east side of town, I could drop off that folder of docs for Lauren- she’d need them since she’s taking on my former role as RCTC Pres. Ah, and since I’d be passing off the key to our business mailbox, I’d better swing by UPS and set up another one for myself while I’m out.

It had been clear and sunny all afternoon. Not a shred of daylight remained at 6pm, as I navigated my way back over to the west side of Portland in my little Honda Fit. The forest was waiting. I made the mistake of taking NW 23rd, which was absolutely popping that Friday night, even amidst a pandemic. Fashionable couples in super chic masks strolled down the street on their evening out, restaurant servers scurried around makeshift outdoor heated patios, and holiday shoppers were out on a mission to find the perfect gift. As I inched along down the road, rain began to pitter patter on my windshield, followed by the whoosh of several wind gusts. What began as a sprinkle turned into a steady downpour. I began to regret my very ambitious afternoon checklist. I had six miles to run still, it was already dinnertime, and the weather was fantastically crappy.

It’s one thing to push on through adverse conditions when the stakes are really high. I had no hesitation this summer in climbing out of my warm, dry support van on Bethel Rd in Pennsylvania at 4am into the pouring rain with blistered feet to start a fifty mile day on the Appalachian Trail. Time was of the essence! I had to get to Maine! But a run-of-the-mill, easy six miler? What was the big tradeoff in getting totally drenched, kicking up mud all over my legs, and pushing back dinner and bedtime?

I crept along toward NW Thurman Ave and had to make a choice: turn right and go home, or turn left and head to Forest Park.

Something I’ve tried to convey to my high school runners is that they always have a choice. There’s no pre-destined outcome in whether one has a good day or bad day, or whether one improves or doesn’t improve over the course of a season. No one breaks the finish line tape or runs a big personal best by accident. It all comes down to a series of choices you make over time, in both your actions and your mindset.

Eating those words, and unable to bear the thought of leaving my training log blank that day due to poor time management and the sheer fact that “I didn’t want to”, I flipped on my left turn signal and made my way up to Thurman Gate.

By the time I rolled up to the trailhead, the downpour had eased up into a steady rain. It really wasn’t that cold out. I had worn a t-shirt and tights paired with a Showers Pass waterproof jacket and waterproof gloves, and that was plenty to keep warm and dry. I had my headlamp and flashlight ready to go. All that was left to do was the thing.

It was fine. It was more than fine. Surprisingly, mine wasn’t the only headlamp bobbling out there in the night and I said hello to several other runners and cyclists braving the dark. I zipped along the wide, rocky trail, splashing through puddles, my wet ponytail whipping from side to side. I was having fun! In that moment, I felt like maybe I knew something that the trendy Portlanders sipping seasonal cocktails just down the hill didn’t.

The next morning I went on a first running date with Emily, a writer and runner I greatly admire. We met at the Pacific Crest Trailhead in Cascade Locks and jogged up and up into the misty forest, chatting the whole way. I couldn’t believe how quickly the miles flew by. One topic that came up was, at what point does one get to call themself the thing that they are, or aspire to be? Is there some magic threshold to cross, accomplishment to tick off, or acknowledgement required? Does one have to be knighted and sworn in as the “real deal”?

I was reminded of something David Laney wrote in a post that was circulating on Instagram a few months back, about what it takes to be a professional runner. In a nutshell, it’s not the external stuff like landing a sports contract or free shoes that makes you a pro. He wrote, Being a professional runner means showing up on time, being focused on your workout, planning your training and sticking to that plan even if something ‘better’ or ‘more fun’ comes along.” The same thing could be said about any kind of pursuit (art, music, writing), whether it constitutes your day job or not.

Going back to whether it really matters if I skipped that six mile run… It does matter, but only because I decided that it matters to me. It matters because I want to hold myself to the intentions I’ve set when it comes to the aspirations I care so deeply about. It all comes down to a choice: to be the person I want to be.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this or felt inspired in some way, you can show your support by buying me a coffee. Happy Holidays!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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).

Newsletter 💫

Subscribe to Liz’s weekly newsletter full of inspiring stories about running, music, trails and life.

Success! You're on the list.