I've sat down fifty times to try and write this over the last three months, and each time I've not managed to finish it. 'The great is the enemy of the done', so they say. I've wanted this post to sum up what Mark meant to me and how he affected my life, but each time I've tried, I've read the piece and decided that somehow it doesn't do him justice. But time is pressing - you'll see why if you read on - and so this is going to be the equivalent of a live take. I've given myself an hour to finish it, and I'm posting it then.
Mark 'Moose' Mills passed away this summer after a fight with cancer. He was my good friend, mentor, training partner, adventure partner, partner in crime, ultra running inspiration, and probably the reason I got back into endurance sport and ultimately ended up living the life I have today.
I first met Mark in 1998 when I was working at Kabeyun, a summer camp in New Hampshire. It's impossible to put into words the effect that he had on my life. Part of the reason I've found it so hard to write this is that I'm trying to describe the feeling that I had when I was around him, rather than just 'the things he did.' The things he did were incredible, but it was the way he made people feel that really set him apart.
Just saying - he used to wake me up at dawn so we could run into the mountains - doesn't describe how being around him made me feel. He was by turns warm, caring, peaceful, funny, crazy, inspiring, hilarious, energising, gentle, and wise.
Just saying - he ran fifty 50 milers, eleven 100's, 106 marathons and cumulatively 65.000 miles in his lifetime, he was hit by lightening twice - isn't big enough to describe the way he made us feel when he'd flop into the lake next to us at the end of a long hot day, and immediately ask how our day had been. How you'd be laughing at his stories, feeling great about the world and yourself. I think that everyone he met felt like he was their best friend. You just felt so valued in his company. He was genuinely one of life's special people, with the ability to make everyone he came into contact with feel like this.
Those of you who listen to the podcast might remember me talking about going to Boston for Mark's memorial service in Episode #88. I got emotional and only just managed to hold it together without breaking down completely due to the skill and fast talking of my cohost Helen. Not that it embarrasses me to get upset on-air over the death of someone who had such a profound effect on me - but I'm glad I kept it to a wavering voice and a couple of deep breaths, as sobbing hardly makes for enjoyable radio.
So what do you do to mark the passing of a great soul? We gathered back at our old summer camp and had a celebration - over a hundred of us - and we told stories about him and how he'd affected our lives. I personally couldn't say anything, because grief and sadness dissolves my vocal chords somehow, as you'll have heard on the podcast - and I literally lose the physical ability to speak.
But I wanted to tell my stories -
...of how we ran up, and down, and back from Mount Major together on July 4th 1999 - 15 miles on a day it was so hot that the tarmac was melting, and we ran out of water, and we were convinced we were going to die, and how we lay in the lake at the end of the run trying to cool off, hallucinating...
...of how he sat with me for hours the next day when I found out my brother had died...
... of how, when we almost ran into a big black bear and her two cubs on a wilderness trail, he pushed us aside and ran towards the bear, shouting, to give the rest of us time to get away...
...of how I'd called him up in 2012, when I'd given up drinking for good and was finding it so hard - and as a non-drinker of over thirty years, I hoped he'd have some words of wisdom - and he offered to get on the next plane and come and sit with me ...
...of how I knew that he meant it, that those weren't empty words, he'd be on the next plane. He meant it.
So I want to do something to honour his life and the positive effect he had on me and my friends. I talked with his wife Kate and his son Thatcher, and I want to raise money in his name to help contribute to the cost of his medical bills. My way of saying - thank you.
We're going to have a charity raffle through the podcast - details to come soon - where you'll be given a ticket to the prize draw in return for making a donation. Many of our friends, guests and companies that have been on the podcast over the last two years have already kindly offered to supply prizes, products and race kit, so we'll have some real 'money can't buy' prizes in there too. Watch this space for more details.
I'm so grateful that I'm able to do something to celebrate the massive positive effect that Moose had on my life, and on the lives of many of my friends.
When someone who's larger than life dies, it's hard to accept that they've gone. Maybe 'larger than life' means that their spirit is larger than life can hold, and life had to let them go.
And then we have to let them go, too.
So long, old friend. And thank you.
Mark 'Moose' Mills. 12 Nov 1954 - Aug 13, 2016
You can donate to Mark's memorial fund here : http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/podcast and for every £20 you donate, you'll get a ticket to our Prize Draw, to win awesome money-can't-buy triathlon prizes!