Rachael Bland's Husband Steve On London Marathon Training Through Grief

What Works For Me: Steve Bland on how Rachael's favourite songs motivate him to keep running in her memory.

When Steve Bland joins more than 40,000 runners on the starting line for the London Marathon next Sunday, he’ll be doing so with a special soundtrack.

“I’ve got a playlist of songs that were some of Rachael’s favourites and if I’m struggling a little bit, I put those on. There’s a couple of Killers songs that really stir me,” he tells HuffPost UK.

He is running just seven months after his wife, Rachael Bland, died from cancer at the age of 40. The BBC Radio 5 Live presenter captured the nation when she shared her story on the You, Me and The Big C podcast and now, Steve is preparing to run the 26.2 miles in her memory, alongside Rachael’s brother and some of her closest friends.

Training while caring for their three-year-old son, Freddie, has been tough, but Steve is determined to push forwards and make Rachael proud. “I tend to think about Rachael a lot when it’s hurting a little bit – when you get into the teens of miles of the run and it starts to hurt and you need a bit of something to drive you on,” he says. “I think of her and try to think about why I’m doing it.”

Rachael, Steve and Freddie.
Steve Bland
Rachael, Steve and Freddie.

Steve has completed two past marathons and planned to run the 2018 marathon with Rachael. But when her health deteriorated, the pair deferred their places. “She died in September and it wasn’t very long after that I thought: ‘I’m going to have to do this, aren’t I?’” he says.

Running – alongside promoting Rachael’s book, ‘For Freddie’ – has provided a welcome distraction in recent months, but it hasn’t made grieving any easier.

“Grief is just part of life now and it probably will be for quite a long time. It’s not a process where there’s going to be a start and an end, it’s learning to live without her,” Steve says. “But running probably has helped in terms of giving me something to focus on... it’s been a bit of a distraction.”

On hard days, he’s grateful for the open fields and country lanes that are five minutes from their front door in Cheshire.

“It’s quite nice to get out in the beautiful countryside and be by myself for a couple of hours,” he says.

Steve at the Wilmslow half marathon with Mark Harrison, Rachael Hopper and Henry Jones.
Steve Bland
Steve at the Wilmslow half marathon with Mark Harrison, Rachael Hopper and Henry Jones.

Despite recently completing a half marathon, Steve admits he’s nervous ahead of race day – he isn’t as fit as he was for his 2006 and 2012 marathons, he says. Becoming a single parent overnight has introduced more day-to-day challenges than he anticipated.

“You don’t think about all the little things; like you can’t just go for a quick run. You can’t just pop to the shops if you need some milk. You can’t just nip out and that’s been quite hard,” he says.

“For the other marathons I’ve done I’ve always gone out for a run in the evening, but obviously I can’t do that without arranging babysitters now. It sort of turns it into a big deal and that’s been difficult.”

At three-years-old, Freddie is too young to understand his mum’s death, Steve adds. “He know’s she’s somewhere else, but I think he thinks she’s somewhere else in a physical place. He doesn’t understand the finality of it all,” he says.

“He still talks about things in our house as being “mummy’s TV”, “mummy’s this”, “mummy’s that”. After Rachael died I sold her car and he told me the other day that I shouldn’t have sold it because mummy might need it. He doesn’t understand that she’s not going to come back.”

Rachael, Freddie and Steve.
Steve Bland
Rachael, Freddie and Steve.

Despite the setbacks, Steve is determined to cross the finishing line to raise as much money as possible for Macmillan Cancer Support, who offered invaluable help to the family in Rachael’s final weeks.

“When we knew she didn’t have very long left... it’s a time when you’re very confused, you’re very upset and you don’t really know what’s going on,” he says. “It’s very, very difficult, but we had a great Macmillan nurse called Caroline who just made everything a lot easier for us and was a real support for us.

“I guess a bit of it is, not paying them back, but doing my bit to say thank you to them.”

His running group, #TeamRachael, have already raised more than £8,000 of its £15,000 target. So, what would Rachael have thought of it all? “I hope she’d be really, really, really proud of us. I know she would, actually,” says Steve.

“She’d be just thrilled that we’re doing this and hopefully raising so much money in her name for a charity that was so important to her. She’d be over the moon. I’m sure it will be an emotional day, but I think it will be an amazing day as well.”

Steve Bland is running the London Marathon for Macmillan Cancer Support as part of #TeamMacmillan. Take on your own challenge event to help Macmillan be there for people living with cancer www.macmillan.org.uk/challenge. You can also support Steve’s fundraising here.

In ‘What Works For Me’ – a series of articles considering how we can find balance in our lives – we talk to people about their self-care strategies.