Sunday 16th September had been a target date in my calendar for many months. Mostly in a good way but also in an “I feel a lot of pressure” way.
After competing in my first ever sprint triathlon on my birthday back in June I very quickly turned my attention to running training. Determined to give 100% to honour Milly I talked to my lovely PT and worked out a plan to not only complete the half marathon, but to do so in a decent time. I’ve been adamant all along that I am “not a runner” and that this would be my first and my last distance event, so I wanted it to be a good one. Go big, then go home.
Unfortunately I picked up a slight injury during the Tri, which put the brakes on any actual running. My “training” therefore consisted of a rigorous routine of physio/rehab exercises and as much Body Attack as I could fit in. The sum total of my running efforts was 7 training runs over 10weeks for a cumulative distance of 50km. At the end of August we were questioning whether or not I should even be attempting it. There is no doubt that I was completely unprepared.
The pressure in the run up to the event was completely self-made. Bottom line was I could’ve walked the course and still achieved what I had set out to do. But that really wasn’t good enough for me, and I didn’t think it was good enough for Milly.
Despite setting up the JG page when we signed up months and months ago, because of my disastrous prep I felt apprehensive about the fundraising aspect, and really did delay in sending out “the email”. What if, when it came to it, I couldn’t actually do it?
There was never any doubt about Matt’s ability to run a half marathon. Having not run once before the start of the year, and barely deploying his own training plan until the start of August, it turns out that he is actually rather good at it. Admittedly he has probably left it a smidge too late to launch his running career, but despite threatening to sell his running shoes on eBay the day after the half, I’m actually convinced he’s got some more races in him. Watch this space!
In the week leading up to the event I was so moved by the incredible support that we were receiving. Not only in terms of donations, but also the encouragement and moral support that I desperately needed. My grieving has been incredibly slow and incredibly painful, and this half marathon has been a major milestone in my grief calendar. I still don’t know what I was hoping or expecting to feel, or how I thought things might change, but I was totally certain that I would feel “something” different afterwards.
When race day arrived I felt surprisingly calm and ready to go. Even though I was physically completely unprepared, mentally I was ready and knew that I was going to finish. Matt was running for time – he was too quick not to – but for me the goal was just to “finish” and accept I’d have to deal with injury and fall out after the event.
Setting off from Reigate Priory and heading towards home felt daunting… it’s actually quite a long way to Horley and back…. 13.1 miles of long way to be precise! Matt and I started out side by side, but after the first km uphill we knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold the pace that he needed to smash the clock, so he charged off ahead. Headphones in, with a killer playlist, I settled into my stride alone.
You may recall that the reason we chose Reigate was the route.. specifically that it comes right past our front door and so along a stretch of road that formed part of Milly’s walk every single day.
Running down from Lonesome Lane I saw the smiling faces of Oz & Karen, and Carol & Amy outside their house on Lee Street clapping & cheering people on. Seeing people you know on the route really makes such a difference. Our house was about 5.5miles in, at which point I was holding a steady pace that would’ve got me a 2 hour ticket had I been able to maintain it.
Coming over the bridge into Mill Lane I was on my first “home straight”. Heading actually for home, past my dear neighbours who I am saluting here. John’s greeting for me was “well done love, only 20miles to go”!
A few more paces and into the waiting arms of my parents, Matt’s mum, and brother and sister-in-law. The pause was less than a minute to slurp some fluid before setting back off on “Milly’s walk”.
Rounding the corner at the top of our road I passed Matt coming the opposite way and followed up the Reigate Road just a few minutes behind him. This part of the race was so poignant for me, as I really was retracing Milly’s steps. In the “training days” Milly and I would walk endlessly back and forth past this road sign…. back and forth.. forth and back
It’s quite hard to run with a lump in your throat. In fact it’s quite hard to do anything with a lump in your throat and a build up of intense emotions making your face ache. I seem to spend a lot of time like that at the moment.
The drag up the A217 to Reigate is llooonnnnggg and largely free from houses. My pace was dropping off, the 2hour pacemakers were out of sight ahead, and my lack of running was evident by the pain in all of my joints. I didn’t know how far off the mark I was going to be, but by the time I reached the killer hill on Park Lane East I knew I had no chance of hitting a time that I wanted. Although everything was hurting quite badly, stopping was not an option, and neither was walking.
The pain was etched on my face as I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2:09:45.
I could barely stand as I staggered into the medal zone. I was completely overcome with exhaustion and emotion.
Matt managed to find me and prop me up, along with my parents, friend Marion from ECR and my stepson Jamie and his girlfriend Willow. Having that support at the finish meant such a lot to me even though I couldn’t really string a coherent sentence together.
Matt had finished almost 20 minutes before me with a fantastic time of 1:52:02 and even pulled his quickest split out of the bag for the final km. I am so proud of him
(Although he was 16 seconds too fast really… 1:52:18 would’ve been out of this world!)
At the time of writing this, our fundraising total is £2,835.75. This is truly a staggering amount and far more than we had ever hoped to raise.
The fundraising side is so very important to the rescue – Nikki of Epsom Canine writes:
“Heartfelt thanks to Heather Bray and Matt Bray for their tremendous fundraiser in memory of the lovely Milly x They raised a fantastic total of £2823.25 for ECR in a year where kennel fees have nearly doubled and fundraisers have been thin on the ground x Cannot thank you enough guys and know how hard the last months have been for Heather. Lovely to see you both last Sat at our walk and having a cuddle with Trixie xxxxx”
The fact is that the real thanks go out to all of you. We really are beyond overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of so many people.
“THANK YOU” on it’s own doesn’t really seem weighty enough to show my gratitude and appreciation. But it’s the best we have in our language so here we go…
♥ Thank you ♥ to every single person who donated – we can see almost everyone’s names and I will be reaching out individually as much as I can.
♥ Thank you ♥ for the early donations as soon as we started the page and when we were still totally engulfed in grief. It really helped us to focus on a positive. I know these thanks are hugely and embarrassingly overdue… at the time I was suffering from severe social paralysis, and, as ridiculous as it seems now, I just couldn’t handle even reaching out to acknowledge. So so sorry for my lateness, I realise it must have seemed very rude.
♥ Thank you ♥ for the “special” donations.. meaningful numbers and perfectly calculated amounts to hit meaningful targets. None of this went unnoticed and, for someone who has developed a lifelong habit of making sums from the numbers on a digital clock face or a number plate, this was so appreciated.
♥ Thank you ♥ for making donations at specific times on specific dates to give me a little boost when you knew I would be struggling.
♥ Thank you ♥ for donating twice!
♥ Thank you ♥ for donating with Milly in your heart and your memory.
♥ Thank you ♥ for donating on race day, when I was systematically checking FB and Insta and email almost continually as a means of distraction.
♥ Thank you ♥ for cheering us on around the route, for handing out jelly babies and for high fiving us on the way to the finish.
♥ Thank you ♥ for every message of kindness and support, not only for the Half, but also just generally towards me this year.
♥ Thank you ♥ for sitting with me in the canteen the very next morning, listening and showing such compassion when I was basically jibbering and in shock.
♥ Thank you ♥ for sorting and printing photos and stationery and mugs for me. In the first few weeks putting focus and energy into something tangible was an amazing coping mechanism.
♥ Thank you ♥ for checking up on me, sometimes constantly.
♥ Thank you ♥ for messaging me with my new most frequent emojis “hearts” and “paws” and treasured hashtag… #becausemilly.
♥ Thank you ♥ for avoiding eye contact with me in the office because you know I will struggle to stay composed.
♥ Thank you ♥ for making eye contact with me at a crucial moment when my eyes are shiny with tears and you want to pull me back up over the edge.
♥ Thank you ♥ for not losing patience with me when I haven’t replied, sometimes for days or weeks.
♥ Thank you ♥ for knowing when I need to talk and, equally, when I need to be distracted instead.
♥ Thank you ♥ for not being awkward when you’ve asked me how I’m doing and, out of nowhere, my throat constricts and I can barely squeeze out any words for fear of sobbing.
♥ Thank you ♥ for endlessly going over and over things with me, empathising with me, hearing me and understanding me when I’m trying to analyse why I’m still feeling how I’m feeling so many months on.
♥ Thank you ♥ for not judging me and for accepting that I am just not “ok” and may never be quite whole again.
♥ Thank you ♥ for letting me talk and talk and talk, and share all my thoughts and feelings even when I’m feeling a bit bonkers and not really making any sense.
♥ Thank you ♥ for letting me cry, and sometimes sob, despite not knowing what has set me off or what to do to help me, especially when it’s in the middle of the night and I am inconsolable all over again.
♥ Thank you ♥ for looking at my “Remember a day every day” pictures, liking and commenting on my posts. Complete strangers sending their love and best wishes, reaching out from around the globe to show their appreciation and affection towards Milly. It’s overwhelming.
♥ Thank you ♥ for reading any/some/all of my story and laughing, crying or smiling along the way.
Thank you all so very much for everything …
but most of all, THANK YOU for caring and THANK YOU for remembering. My biggest fear is that because she could never really be widely known, Milly will just fade away. The actual thought of this can bring on a chest tightening anxiety in me. I want to believe that my feelings will be enough to keep her memory alive, but in case they are not, I’d like a buffer of the combined power of you all behind me, remembering her just a tiny bit, and helping me out.
By now you may have worked out that I am a super sensitive person. Many a time I have had to check myself with a reminder to “not take it personally”. I think 999 times out of 1000 this feedback is given in a negative situation… someone did something against you… “don’t take it personally” you are told. So this is how you try to be and try to think. And in a lot of those negative situations it protects you, and you are able to distance yourself and not take it personally. Which is good, right?
But what about the flip side?…. I know I have never thought about that before…..
So now, on reflection, I don’t think I want to be a person who goes through life striving to take nothing personally, because, frankly, sometimes stuff is PERSONAL.
Sometimes people have done things.. good things… to you, for you, about you.. because of YOU.
Every single thing I have given thanks for above I have taken HUGELY personally, and more importantly I have taken personally on Milly’s behalf.
Because for me, it is all about her. It always has been.
because Milly… x
Run Reigate Half Marathon – 16th September 2018