Traverse City News and Events

Back To Boston: Local Runner Plots First Boston Marathon Return Since 2013 Bombing

By Craig Manning | March 31, 2024

For years, Jamie Somerville viewed the Boston Marathon as a dream. On April 15, 2013, it turned into a nightmare.

Somerville, 41, is one of Traverse City’s top distance runners. He’s also one of the 26,839 people who ran the Boston Marathon in April 2013 – the day domestic terrorists detonated a pair of homemade bombs at the famed marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. Somerville escaped unscathed, at least physically. Recalling the story now, though, he’s candid about the mental scars he’s been carrying around ever since.

“I remember thinking, ‘I don't need to run any more marathons.’ And I never wanted to run Boston again,” Somerville tells The Ticker.

Eventually, Somerville found the strength to race again, even scoring a 2:38:15 personal best at the Bayshore Marathon in 2022. And two weeks from tomorrow, on Monday, April 15, he’ll lace up his racing shoes and give the Boston Marathon a second try – 11 years, to the day, after his first. When asked what got him back in the game, he credits Traverse City and its robust, supportive running community.

Growing up in Arcadia, Somerville gravitated toward basketball – not running – as his sport of choice. He recalls being confounded when his stepdad, a competitive Ironman athlete, would tackle 24-mile runs on the weekends. But Somerville’s perspective started to change when he attended Northern Michigan University in Marquette – a place, he says, defined by its “big endurance culture.” While there, he also met his future wife, Annie, who came from a family of marathoners. By the time the pair had graduated and moved off to rural Virginia to begin their careers as schoolteachers, Somerville was on a crash course with long distance running.

Somerville ran his first marathon in 2010, and soon set his sights on the big one: the Boston Marathon. As the oldest and most prestigious annual marathon in the world, Boston is a bucket list event for many runners, not least because of its rigorous qualifying standards. Indeed, Somerville says it was the selective nature of the race that most inspired him to push for it.

“It was the competitive nature in me,” he laughs. “What makes Boston so cool is that there’s this exclusive side to it. You’ve got to make the cut. While I might not ever win a big marathon, the idea that I could hit this number and then I would get to go, I loved that.”

Somerville qualified for Boston with a 3:02 marathon in Marquette in September 2012, then spent seven months gearing up for what he hoped would be the biggest, best race of his life.

It wasn’t meant to be. When April 15, rolled around, Somerville was recovering from an illness and struggling to run at his best. His dream race quickly turned into a grueling grind, and he thought multiple times of not finishing. Thinking of his high school students back home in Virginia kept him going.

“The last day of school before the race, all the students lined the hallways out to my car to cheer me on and send me off,” he says. “So, I gave myself this pep talk: ‘Hey, all your students are back home rooting for you. You can’t quit! It’s a privilege to be here. Just soak it up and enjoy it.’”

Somerville finished in 3:37:11, found the friend who’d made the trip with him, and beelined back to the hotel. An hour or so later, the first bomb went off, right where his pal had been waiting for him to finish.

“I’ve thought so many times about that,” Somerville says. “What if I’d chosen to walk? What if I’d been going through the finish area a little later? What if we hadn’t gotten out of there in time? I was just so grateful for both of us to leave Boston intact and alive.”

Somerville flew home that afternoon, and was back in the classroom the next day. As he recalls it, he was almost afraid to face the students who had been so supportive of his Boston Marathon journey, only to see him fall short of his goal. “I was still carrying this weight of what felt, to me, like a full failure,” he says. “But then I went into class and my students were coming up and hugging me, saying they were just so glad I was OK, and I thought, ‘Oh, right! Nobody cares about [your marathon time]. They care about YOU.’”

A year later, Somerville and his wife moved to Traverse City and took teaching jobs here – him as a social studies teacher at Elk Rapids High School, her as a language arts teacher at West Middle School. Getting involved in the local running community soon had Somerville wanting to race again.

“I met Kevin Tarras, who’s gone on to win the Vasa 25K ski race a couple times, and he said, ‘I run with some people around town; let’s get you in with the crew!’” Somerville says. “He introduced me to [2003 Bayshore Marathon champion] Eric Houghton, and to a bunch of other guys I still run with to this day, all of whom had run faster marathon times than me. They all told me, ‘You have to try Bayshore.’”

A few years, a few Bayshores, and a few other marathons later – including a fourth-place finish at the Cleveland Marathon in 2021 – Somerville says he’s rebuilt the confidence and love for running that led him to the Boston Marathon in the first place. Now, he’s ready to try it again.

“At its best, that race is a huge celebration,” Somerville says. “It’s humans having a good time, from all walks of life, and it’s such a beautiful thing. Having that ripped apart in 2013, that’s the part that sticks with you. I’m excited to go back and just truly celebrate the experience this time.”

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