Running has helped me to navigate grief, says teacher ahead of London Marathon

A teacher who started running after the death of her father said training for the TCS London Marathon has helped her to deal with the grief of losing a former pupil.

Charlotte Jones, 37, said she hit “rock bottom” after her father Chris, 64, died in 2016 and found running helped her with “navigating different emotions and building up new routines”.

The routine of training for her second London Marathon, on Sunday April 21, has also helped her to “keep on track” after the sudden death of five-year-old Malika who fell into a canal near her home.

Charlotte Jones with five-year-old Malika (Handout/PA)
Charlotte Jones with five-year-old Malika (Handout/PA)

Miss Jones will dedicate the run to Malika and is raising money to buy sensory equipment in her memory for The Bridge Primary School, in Islington – a special school for children with severe learning difficulties and/or autism – which she left just before February half term.

She initially planned to use her Team TCS Teachers marathon place to fundraise for her new school, Cherry Garden School, in Peckham, south-east London, which is a special school for pupils aged two to 11 years who have severe and complex learning differences.

“I found out straight after the half term that one of the pupils in the classroom I had just left – her name was Malika – unfortunately she got in an accident over half term and she passed away. It’s hard to talk about, it’s hard to process,” she told the PA news agency.

“Even though I’ve left my old school I still have that connection and something that Malika really, really loved was light up things and sensory things so what I’d really, really like to do is to fundraise money to get some really amazing sensory equipment in the classroom because it can be very expensive.

“So my ‘why’ has changed a bit. I thought it was going to be about getting some fun things for my new school but I’m still going to honour my old school and get something in Malika’s memory. It’s really important to me.

“I want to get something very special.”

Miss Jones got her place to run as part of the Team TCS Teachers initiative which has given 15 teachers the opportunity to take part in the London Marathon.

“It made sense. It made having the marathon place even more meaningful. Having it through being a teacher, it all just connected together and I’m doing this because I’m a teacher and I’m going to do this now in memory of Malika.”

She added: “On my last day at the school, I took a selfie with all the pupils and I’ve got a really nice picture of me and Malika so I might have that on me so when it gets tough I’ll have a little look at it and remember why I’m doing it.

“It will be nice to have a memory of us while I’m doing it.”

Miss Jones said she was inspired to start running to cope with “a really, really difficult time” following her father’s death from cancer and after watching the BBC documentary Mind Over Marathon.

Charlotte Jones with her father Chris (Handout/PA)
Charlotte Jones with her father Chris (Handout/PA)

The show followed people living with different mental health issues as they trained for the 2017 London Marathon and Miss Jones told PA: “I just found it really inspiring. I thought if running helps these people maybe it would help me.”

She joined the Chasing Lights Collective and said: “Running has saved my life.

“I felt at rock bottom, and I found running at the right time. It has given me purpose and brought me so much joy.”

She told PA: “It’s just been a really, really helpful tool in terms of navigating different emotions and building up new routines and friendships. It has really, really helped me.”

The structure of marathon training has also helped her to cope with the shock of Malika’s death.

Charlotte Jones’s 2022 London Marathon medal with her father’s London to Paris bike ride medal (Handout/PA)
Charlotte Jones’s 2022 London Marathon medal with her father’s London to Paris bike ride medal (Handout/PA)

“Again when things are difficult, running helps. Starting a new school was quite daunting anyway but leaving somewhere I have known so well and then experiencing loss and being away from my old team was difficult.

“Running has helped me because every weekend I have to get up, I have to do my run. It’s helped me keep on track. It’s been a really helpful tool.”

Training has also helped her to feel connected to his late father.

“My dad was actually a really keen cyclist. He did London to Paris on the bike.

“That’s kind of where I have connected with him now, knowing he would have done all the training, all the fuelling and planning routes and stuff.

“He didn’t know me as a runner. I wish he did but in a way I feel I have more respect for what he achieved in cycling.

Charlotte Jones’ favourite photo with her father Chris (Handout/PA)
Charlotte Jones’ favourite photo with her father Chris (Handout/PA)

“It kind of spurs me on. He did it, it must have got hard for him. It inspires me a bit.

“Sometimes on long runs, you can be running for a good two to three hours and a lot of thoughts run through your mind. I think of my dad and his training and what he would be saying to me. It’s a nice way to feel more connected to him.”

Miss Jones said her experience of PE at school was “probably quite negative” and, while she is not a “natural runner”, it gives her a “sense of achievement”.

“It might start off with 2k or 5k and, the next thing you know, you can train for a half marathon. It’s quite amazing to know that your body can do that,” she said.

Team TCS Teachers inspire students to be active through the TCS Mini London Marathon, either in central London on April 20 or by running, jogging, walking or wheeling 2.6 miles in their own schools before May 10.

Miss Jones said Cherry Garden School has pupils who use wheelchairs and mobility aids and movement is “a real priority” as part of a curriculum that is “fun and motivating”.

“It’s really great that we can also include students that are in their wheelchairs or in their walking frames, they are not limited, they can also get involved and clock up the miles as well.

“Classes will keep a tally and hopefully go beyond the 2.6, see which class can clock up the most mileage.

“Everyone at this school loves a challenge.”

– To support Charlotte to raise money for The Bridge Primary in memory of Malika, visit: