When her estranged stepbrother died, Andrea-Louise Glenn discovered he’d shared her love of running. What followed not only helped her heal, but also resulted in her writing an inspirational book about her running journey
“As soon as my parents called me late at night to ask if they could come over and tell me some news about my stepbrother Mark I instinctively knew he’d taken his own life,” says mum of four Andrea-Louise, 45, from Bristol. “Mark and I grew up as stepsiblings from a young age as his mum had died suddenly when he was a baby and his dad had married my mum when I was three. We weren’t close when we were young; in fact, we pretty much ignored each other. He was an awkward child but I always understood that life had dealt him a rough hand so I empathised with him, even though as a child I had no idea how to express that. In our early 20s we started to connect for the first time by going out socially, but our budding relationship fizzled out when I married my husband Pete, and sadly we never found a way to rekindle it. I tried to bridge the gap with regular letters as Mark moved to different cities, but although I was told after his death that these meant a lot to him he never responded to them. It was a strange grief to process because I hadn’t seen him for 10 years, yet I had a lot of regret and deep sadness that my hopes that we’d find a way to rebuild our relationship would now never be realised.
Reconnecting through running
“Mark had always struggled with how he felt about himself and his place in the world and had suffered from depression. At the time of his death in 2012 he’d also been dealing with constant pain from a back problem. Despite this, those closest to Mark had no warning that he was wrestling with suicidal feelings and were unaware that he was meticulously planning how he’d end his life.
“After his death, I discovered that Mark was also a runner, and that we’d both started running in 2010 and drawn inspiration from the Chi Running movement. This was actually very healing and helped me to experience an almost instant sense of reconnection. I also found out that Mark had gained a place in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon. Mark’s long-term partner very generously allowed me to look through his large collection of running books and take any I wanted. When I came across David A Whitsett’s fantastic The Non Runner’s Marathon Trainer it gave me the idea to run the London Marathon in Mark’s place and raise money for Place2Be, the charity he’d nominated in his will that provides support in schools for troubled children.
“Having decided to run the marathon, the next step was to train for it. Although by then I’d run a 10K and several half-marathons, I found running really hard and couldn’t believe that I could muster the physical and mental resources to run any further. Using the book as my guide, I did four training runs a week from the beginning of January 2013. I trained through niggles and injury, snow, loss of mojo and ‘busy mum of four young children-ness’ and finally the big day arrived. Running the London Marathon was one of the highlights of my life as the event has a vibe and energy all of its own and the crowd support is out of this world. Having run the whole way with only one stop for the loo I was incredibly satisfied to have successfully completed Mark’s marathon for him in a time (4hrs 25mins) and a manner that would have done him proud. Feelings of regret are possibly some of the hardest things to resolve after bereavement and the marathon gave me a way to actively process my grief and remorse. It was my way of demonstrating that I did care, even though I couldn’t tell Mark that. This amazing experience spurred me on to run two more marathons – in Dartmoor Vale and Edinburgh – the following year.
Birth of a book
“As soon as I started contemplating the common ground Mark and I would have found through running, I felt the desire to write about it. Initially I intended to write just for myself, but very quickly I realised that others might find the marathon journey I was embarking upon aged 41 interesting so I continued to write with that in mind. I enjoyed the writing process, which mostly happened poolside on my iPad while my eldest daughter was training with her swimming club.
“In 2015, I suffered a miscarriage and again I used running to help me heal by running the Bath Half Marathon to raise money for The Miscarriage Association. Through my experience of miscarriage, I realised that it is something that women rarely discuss although many of us will have lost a child in pregnancy. In particular, talking about the details of a miscarriage seems to be taboo, so, true to form, I chose to write very openly about mine in the closing chapter of my book.
“With both writing and running, time and company are factors that contribute to the highs and lows, the challenges and the joys. You need time for both activities and, with a very busy family life, that can be a source of frustration. However, carving out the time brings great rewards. When training for a marathon, having company makes those long training runs enjoyable (and builds great friendship memories), but when writing the opposite was true: I needed time alone but with four children that was really hard to come by.
“In 2016 I finally self-published Running Mark’s Marathon: The Making of a Mid-Life Marathon Runner and it was enormously gratifying to get such a positive response to it. Readers have said they appreciate the book’s mix of down-to-earth honesty, humour and the practical insight it gives into training for a first marathon. With my hallmark honesty, my book also reveals things such as the fact that I’d never have become a marathon runner were it not for Tena pads. I’ve never had a strong pelvic floor, even pre-children, so for me this is an essential piece of running kit!
“The highlight of my running journey so far is discovering that you’re never too old to take up something new (be that a sport or something else) or to experience things firsthand where you might previously have thought that you’d always be a spectator. Running has taught me that we’re all capable of so much more than we realise. It takes courage to train for and run a marathon, but actually it takes just as much courage to train for and run your first 10K. Push your personal boundaries and expand your comfort zone and you’ll be surprised how far it will stretch. The same goes for writing a book – if you can dream it, you can do it!’
Running Mark’s Marathon: The Making of a Mid-Life Marathon Runner is available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.