Why I ran a marathon two months after an operation

Clare recently graduated from her mentoring year with Chance UK. Apart from being a fantastic mentor to the girl we matched her with, Clare literally went the extra mile for us: she ran the Paris marathon in support of the children and families we work with.  Read on for an inspiring story of Clare’s resilience and commitment.

Why I ran a marathon 2 months after an operation

Clare Schwarzberg, Jun 2019

Two months before the Paris Marathon, on February 15th 2019, I collapsed and had a seizure in the road.

I went to drop something off at the post office mid-morning on a Friday, and thought I’d pick up some breakfast on my way back to work. It smelt amazing because the bread had just been taken out of the oven. While I felt slightly lightheaded earlier that day, as I stood in front of the bread the feeling doubled and I knew I had to get back to the office.

As I left the shop the sun flashed between the gaps in the trees and light-headedness became complete disorientation. I trusted I was walking in the right direction, but I had no idea where I was. I remember the overwhelming need to lean on the pedestrian crossing button to support myself. The next thing I noticed was the top of the green pub on the corner near my work. I only spotted the top because by that point I was falling. That was the last thing I saw before the paramedics were sitting me upright against that same green pub, because I’d collapsed in the road and had a fit.  Since I left the post office, the whole experience lasted less than 10 minutes.

It turns out, when I fell I landed on my chin.  The impact fractured my chin between my front teeth, and as the force spread around my jaw it cracked on the right side and completely shattered the left.  That Friday afternoon, and for most of the following week, my best friend and I set up camp at the Royal London Hospital. I had two metal plates fixed to the fracture on my chin, and two more on the left side of my jaw.  The nerve on the left was completely exposed, so that the surgeon needed to stretch and operate around it to secure the metal plates. The doctor told me when I woke up that the nerve looked like three golden hairs braided together.

I missed two mentoring sessions because of my accident.  The first on the weekend of the fall, and the second was four days after my operation.  I attended a group session the following weekend with other pairs in the Girls Programme. Sometimes my mentee can be quite shy, and I was nervous my swollen and still paralyzed jaw and cheeks (from the stretching of the nerves) would discourage her from attending the group session. My mentee was so happy to see me, to try and comfort me she told me that all her friends had fallen and had a fit, and that it was okay because everyone did it.

This was what I thought of as we saw the Arc de Triomphe arriving at the marathon.  Two of my best friends came to support me, but once they called for my time-group, I was alone. In the vibrant atmosphere, however, I didn’t feel that way.  I looked around at the other people aiming for a 4 hour finish and noticed that I was one of the only ones who was running their first marathon in that time, indicated by the yellow Eiffel Towers on our bibs.  The day before I went to change my finish time from 4 hours 30 minutes down to 4 hours. If I hadn’t had my accident I would have aimed for under 4 hours. When I changed my time-group I was thinking of my mentee and that a major part of the Girls Programme is to teach resilience in young girls.  What kind of example would I be setting if I couldn’t demonstrate how to believe in yourself?

When I woke up I also learned I had passed the £1,000 mark in my fundraising, which was already £200 more than my goal.  A beautiful donation I received that morning had the caption, “For a better world.”

And that is the truth: all of us mentor for that better world. Not only for the immediate impact that mentoring has in giving a child time away from their problems, but the work that Chance UK does to prevent future anti-social behaviour by giving young children a chance to escape the cycle of vulnerability and low aspiration that disadvantaged families can find themselves in.  The kids in the programme now might be the ones to change the world – and volunteering for them and fundraising for them is what will make that happen.

That thought hit me at 13 miles, and honestly I couldn’t believe I’d already made it halfway.  Thinking about the future that my mentee would grow up in, that she might have a hand in changing, made me run faster.  I’d been holding myself back up until that point, because I was scared I’d burn out from taking time off training. But the atmosphere was electric, my playlist was amazing, and the support of my sponsors, all of the people that took their time and put their money towards Chance UK, drove me forward.  Not to mention the exposure I’d managed to give the charity, thanks to my incredible experience of falling and getting up to run again.

I can’t imagine what my year would have been like if I wasn’t a mentor.  The day of the Paris Marathon marked my 10th month of volunteering with Chance UK.  With only 2 short months left until my mentee and I will need to say goodbye forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who were important to me when I was a kid.  The people that inspired and motivated me when I was her age, the ones that taught me to love running.  Seeing the way she looks at me and hearing the way she talks to me, I can feel an immediate impact that I have had on someone else’s life.  Imagining all the hardships that she will experience as she grows up is a complicated emotion, especially when you realise that you will no longer be there, however I truly believe that this year has given her the confidence and resilience to prepare her for it.

I ran my marathon in 3 hours and 54 minutes, raising over £1,100 (before Gift Aid) for Chance UK.

If my experience has inspired you to consider becoming a mentor, apply now! The staff at Chance UK are incredibly supportive and make sure you understand the commitment and what you are getting into. They are there to prepare you every step of the way.

To find out more visit: https://www.chanceuk.com/become-a-mentor/