Light in the Dark

When I think back to the times in my life I’ve been in the most blissful state of happiness, it’s been directly correlated with movement, whether it is on a dance floor, up on a stage, or out on one of those brilliant runs where you feel you could go on forever. In those moments was I happy because I was moving, or moving because I was happy?

The past couple years have been dark, for me, for others, for many reasons. There seems to be this shadow that follows me around that I can’t seem to shake. It’s like a wound that refuses to heal, no matter how many fresh bandages I apply. It’s like that time on the Appalachian Trail I thought I’d climbed up and over Williams Mountain (recently revisited so the memory is fresh on my mind!), only to have the horrible realization I’d gotten turned around at the top and ended up back at the bottom where I’d started. There was only one choice, to go up the mountain again, to keep moving forward.

On the AT, every day was hard. I kept going with the hope that my physical condition would eventually improve, but it never did. In fact, it only got worse toward the end with a blown up infected toe. However, through that I found something deep inside of me to keep going that I didn’t know I had- to remain optimistic and hopeful through pain and suffering.

This past Sunday, my usual long run day, the “darkness” felt particularly overwhelming but I set out for my run anyway. Usually running is a wonderful form of tender loving care. I made it less than a mile before accepting that I just couldn’t bring myself to keep going in that moment. What I needed was to just go home and cry.

The next day I set out to finish what I started: a twenty mile run at marathon effort to prepare for the JFK 50 Mile coming up next month. I remember from my previous marathon builds from years past what it felt like to do these extended runs: fast, light, fearless, and free. I didn’t feel any of those things during this run. It felt hard, heavy, and laborious, like I had to fight for every step. But I finished, and I’m glad I did it.

As on the trail, every day lately has felt hard for different reasons. The adage “one foot in front of the other” still applies. I’d like to think that even though my heart feels heavy now that it will eventually mend; that maybe one day I will shed the emotional weight I’ve been carrying around like a ball and chain. I try to focus on the things I can do: I can continue my education, I can keep running, I can love and care for the people in my life, and plant the seeds for new hopes and dreams for the future.


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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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