PORTLAND — Liza Neustaetter didn't know anybody at last year's Boston Marathon, but as a long-time runner living in Somerville, Mass., she decided to go to the finish line to watch the race on Patriots Day.
"I'm a huge running fan," she said. "It's like the Super Bowl of running. I wanted to see the race. It was my first time at the finish line. Before the bombings, it was a beautiful day. I lost my voice cheering for people."
She was a half-block away when the bombs went off. She was fine, but like many, she wanted to do something to help. When she heard about One Run For Boston last year, a coast-to-coast relay to raise money for the One Fund for the Boston Marathon bombing victims, she signed up.
Neustaetter ran the final leg of the relay into Boston last June. This year, the relay is earlier, before the April 21 Boston Marathon, and she decided to come to Connecticut and run the 7-mile leg that went past her parents' house in Durham on Saturday.
She was joined by five others, including Danny Bent, one of the relay's organizers, and his mom, Angela. Dan Nivison of Southington saw something about the relay on Facebook Saturday morning and decided to run.
"It was a beautiful day," Nivison said. "There were a lot of cars beeping and people waving at us."
The relay started March 16 in Santa Monica, Calif. More than 2,000 people have run more than 3,000 miles and raised over $400,000. The relay will end in Boston on Sunday, with about 700 people, including 17 survivors of last year's Marathon, slated to run the last leg into the city.
"It will probably be more like 1,000 when we get rocking and rolling," said Bent, who lives in England and was moved to organize ORFB last summer with two friends from the U.K., Kate Treleaven and Jamie Hay.
"We're almost there. I've been trying to run 10 miles a day. I just jumped in with these guys. My mum and dad are here. Dad ran the stage before. Mum ran this one. They've come out from England for kind of a holiday of a lifetime in America."
This year's relay was scheduled to come through Portland at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday and it was right on time. Last June, the relay was delayed coming into Connecticut.
"We've allowed more time," Bent said. "It's more organized. The routes are a little nicer, we're going on trails and things like that. People know about it as well. People aren't arriving, thinking, 'Is this for real?'
"We don't eat very good food, we don't get much sleep, but we get a lot of hugs, so that keeps us going."
Brian Horne of Willimantic was planning to do two legs: a 10-mile stretch from Willimantic to Hampton, starting at 9:35 Saturday night and then a six-miler from Douglas, Mass., to North Uxbridge, Mass., at 5:20 a.m. Sunday.
"I have about four hours from when I finish to when I start again," said Horne, who started running in February 2012, has lost 90 pounds and ran a marathon last year in Newport, R.I.
"The running community is such an awesome community. As horrific as all this was, three Brits have come up with a way to do what we do best. It's an awesome thing to be part of."
John Mullaney of Hebron, who is running the leg before Horne from Hebron to Willimantic, had finished the Boston Marathon last year and was back at his hotel when the bombs went off.
"I didn't really hear it or feel it, as close as we were," he said. "It was probably around 6 that night when we left. We had to walk a couple miles to meet the bus driver. We were walking through residential streets and it was very quiet. There were helicopters flying over. Black SUVs zipping around. It wasn't until I got home until I really understood what happened."
Mullaney ran the ORFB last year, too.
"Last year it turned out to be about 7 a.m. [when he ran] and it was supposed be at 3 a.m.," he said. "I was up most of that night, trying to figure out where they were."
Raechel McGhee of Somerset, Mass., had that shift Sunday morning. She was running at 3:20 a.m. from Thompson to Douglas and handing the baton off to Horne.
"I just wanted to be part of it last year," said McGhee, who is running the Boston Marathon for the first time for the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, which treated patients from the bombing. "Everybody felt helpless and we had to do something. This seemed like such an amazing proposition, to start something in Los Angeles and end it in Massachusetts. It was very emotional. Most of the people in the group, I've never met them face to face, but I feel like I know them.
"A lot of good has come from something so ugly."