JK goes the distance at London Marathon and raises over £5,000 for Ambitious about Autism
I’d never run a marathon before, so waking up to the realisation I’d impulsively bid for a spot in the London Marathon at TalkTalk’s Night of Ambition – our annual fundraising gala in support of Ambitious about Autism – made for quite the morning!
Nevertheless, I have no regrets. It has led me on a journey that has challenged me both mentally and physically, all in aid of a fantastic charity that stands with autistic children and young people across the UK. It also resulted in an unexpected meeting with Manchester United and England legend Paul Scholes, a fantastic advocate for autism visibility – and a top bloke all round.
Before the marathon – training and advice from footballer Paul Scholes
The training was tough and I was delayed twice through injury. My main issue was holding onto the past too much. I used to do triathlons when I was younger and learnt a certain intensity of training that just wasn't working for me. This time, getting someone to hold me to account and sticking to a routine was key to my approach.
I had the fantastic opportunity of meeting Paul through TalkTalk’s partnership with Salford City FC, at Scholes Gym in Oldham, run by his son Arron and daughter Alicia. Paul is really down to earth and humble despite his incredible talent and success.
He shared with me his personal experience as a father to his son Aiden, who is autistic, and it really brought home what this marathon was truly about. I learnt two key things from Paul: one – you need to keep busy in life as things change; and two – don't get distracted, stay focused and dedicate yourself to the goals you have set.
Paul was very generous with his time and open about his experiences, making two videos with us. In the first part of our conversation we spoke about sport, family and my training for the marathon and in the second video, Paul talks about life with Aiden.
On the day
The old adage from Mike Tyson that everyone has a plan until you get punched in the nose is apt! The first challenge on race day was the skies opening up as we stood shivering on the start line. Wet feet could mean blisters… the second was when an ex-colleague mentioned to watch out for mile 18, when I’d hit ‘the wall’ that marathon runners often talk about – and he wasn't joking!
Having my family in the crowd, cheering me on between miles 15 to 18 – where they could see me two or three times – was exactly what I needed. Our dog was there too in his Ambitious about Autism top and all this was motivation to KEEP GOING. My advice to anyone running a marathon, whether it’s a friend, family member or dog in a vest, make sure you have some support in the crowd at this crucial stage of your run.
My favourite moment was when my legs seemed to get a second wind around mile 21 and that carried me to mile 25 where I saw the awesome team from Ambitious about Autism, had a final hug with the family and then made it onwards to the finish line!
The most rewarding parts of my marathon experience were the number of people who offered me advice and support as well as the terrific donations for an amazing cause. In total, we raised more than £5,000 that will go directly to Ambitious about Autism. So, to the many people from different parts of my past, from school to first jobs and beyond, I can’t thank you enough!
What this experience has taught me
This experience has taught me so much, particularly when it comes to autism. Paul in particular taught me that it doesn’t matter who you are, whole family support is needed to overcome the challenges that autistic people face.
It was also a pleasure to learn more about the amazing work being done to help autistic people access employment opportunities and to create diverse and inclusive workforces – something that TalkTalk is especially active with as lead partner of Ambitious about Autism’s Employ Autism programme. It's very inspiring and we’ll continue to raise awareness about the opportunities and challenges that are out there for autistic people and their families.
If I had to pick two messages to share with someone considering competing in a marathon to raise funds for Ambitious about Autism, my first would be about the running itself. If making the quickest time is not your goal, learn to run for longer times and don't worry about distance. I trained to be able to run for three to four hours without stopping and then went for it and let the crowd and my family carry me through.
My second is to take the time to get out there and educate yourself about autism and neurodiversity more generally. There are so many misconceptions out there and also so many amazing organisations and initiatives that are making a difference in this space. The work that Ambitious about Autism and others do is phenomenal. We should all do our bit to contribute to their mission where we can. Their latest campaign, ‘Written Off?’, is focused on protecting funding and rights for autistic children and young people.
About the author
Jonathan ‘JK’ Kini is Managing Director at Salford-based connectivity provider TalkTalk. This year, JK ran the London Marathon on behalf of Ambitious about Autism, raising over £5,000 for the charity.