Not many people have achieved a world record, and even fewer would say that the record was no more than a vehicle for putting their message out there, but that is exactly what Kate Jayden would say about their latest achievement.
The Great Britain age group triathlete put away their bike and swimming gear to focus on running throughout the first quarter of 2022, running 101 marathons in 101 days – smashing the previous women’s record which had stood at 95.
Jayden’s priority, though, was raising money for charity and highlighting the plight of refugee seekers. The 2600+ miles they covered represented the distance between Aleppo and Dover, and tens of thousands of pounds have been raised for the Refugee Council, the Trussell Trust and the Hygiene Bank.
The Refugee Council provides support for refugees’ physical and mental well-being, and with refugees living on £39 a week – £31 a week below the level classified as destitution – that also ties in to the other two choices: the UK’s food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, and the Hygiene Bank, which provides support with toiletries and sanitary products that people in poverty are more likely to give up to save money before food.
At the time of publishing, almost £40,000 has been raised through this challenge alone, an incredible accomplishment for extremely honourable causes made all the more difficult by a knee injury Jayden picked up on day 47, that has rightly received plenty of national coverage. However, that was not always a given along the way.
“The whole reason for the fundraiser was to get more interest in the charities earlier on,” they reasoned.
“It was also being really visible representation. I didn’t realise that not only with this epic journey of the charitable side and the activism I’d grow so much, but I didn’t realise how much I would learn to be vulnerable as part of the LGBT+ community as well.
“It’s quite easy in some respects to be visible as gay. Even after being in the closet for so long that I basically had osteoarthritis in my back because of it, it was another thing trying to explain that it didn’t just fit this neat gender box.
“It’s just been absolutely madness. Basically, we couldn’t get people interested. The reason this took off so crazily was basically a BBC Midlands interview that I did the day before we went home. I just thought, ‘oh, that’ll be that’. We did a couple of like local newspaper interviews and a couple of radio interviews, but at times it felt like we were fighting to be visible.
“Nobody was interested in seeing the story, yet they were interested when it was Captain Tom. My wife said ‘what do we have to do? Do you have to be a cishet white man? Or do you have to be completely the opposite end and really push your difficulties and adversities?’ That’s not what I’m about either.
“It just felt really difficult at times. What happened was that article written by BBC Midlands was put on to the BBC News website because it ended up in the top 10 most read on their website.
“It carried on and on and on. At one point, my friend said it was number one in the top 10 most read on the BBC main page, and that is just literally people reading an article. There’s no press machine around that.
“It’s that domino effect – the same thing that I would apply to everything that I’ve done throughout this. It’s just shown itself in a different way here. It was just a bit of jogging, and apparently everyone got really excited by it.”
That their story became so popular on the BBC website, and then picked up by plenty of other outlets, was a sign that people were invested in what Jayden was doing.
Becoming one of the most-read stories in the country was not the lightbulb moment that something special was happening though. Instead, those moments had been coming along the way, culminating when Jayden finished marathon number 101 in Brighton.
“When I was finishing Brighton, there were strangers that I’d never seen or heard shouting my name, I was just like ‘this is a bit rockstar’,” Jayden laughed.
“I’d be running along the course – I say running, at this point I was basically running like a pirate because I had busted my knee up – but people reached out saying they had been following my journey on Facebook.
“I’d spent three months just in this bubble, to the point that now every now and then I have to check what season it is.
“That’s how insane this whole thing has been, so coming out of that and then being at Brighton, all of a sudden you saw there was momentum. The amount of people sharing it, it blew my mind that little old me could make such a difference.
“Just because you can’t change the world, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and change somebody’s world. A sense of overwhelm is not an excuse for inertia, and if we all took that same approach, nothing would ever get done.
“You don’t know that you can’t change the world. Until you prove it, have you even tried? It wasn’t that I set out thinking I could change the world, but what I did know that I was good at fundraising.
“I did know that I could likely raise another £5000 this year, and I thought that’d be good because I’d take my total over the last nine years to £40,000 or something. Then the goal became ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could get that to £50,000 over the nine or 10 years since I started fundraising in 2012?’ That was when I actually realised that people had heard about this, but I was completely clueless to it all really apart from what people were commenting on Facebook and Instagram.”
To have raised so much money for charitable causes over the last decade, it should come as no surprise that activism has long been linked with sport for Jayden.
2017 presented a turning point for them personally on that front, taking issue with the idea that charity begins at home as Jayden believes charity begins where it is needed most. Because of that, they could see others raising money for cancer research or Alzheimer’s research, and wanted to go down a different, less spotlighted route.
Jayden wanted to learn something from their fundraisers and help to educate others too, and they are no stranger to struggles. They have witnessed homophobia first hand, and there are regularly issues when it comes to their gender identity – something Jayden says society has not yet caught up with.
“It’s so difficult, but I never wanted to be non-binary, I never wanted to be genderqueer,” they said.
“I would describe myself as genderqueer, I just don’t fit in a neat box. I tried for a very, very long time to say that’s not me. When you see the comment sections on articles about anybody that comes out as non-binary it’s not a place that you want to be.
“People are saying well, compete in a separate category, and I entered a virtual event as non-binary when I was doing this whole challenge. It was a huge thing for me because it would make me very invisible because my results wouldn’t have been on the female page.
“The thing is, nobody cares about me because I’m assigned female at birth. People don’t care about non-binary people who were assigned female at birth. People don’t care about trans men. The problem is the whole transphobia narrative is in itself very misogynistic and very sexist because it’s completely and utterly derogatory, and the fact is you completely obliterate trans men.
“You are completely separating half of the trans population, so I will always be a huge ally to the trans community, and I’ll always stand up where I can and try and lift those voices up.
“Equally, I don’t think that’s something that I’m subjected to, because I have that privilege of being assigned female at birth, but the simple fact is there aren’t non binary records yet. I’m surprised when I fill out an insurance form and they offer MX as a title. That’s a huge deal, I think I’ve seen it four times.
“Unfortunately, Britain has started to grasp what being trans means in the binary sense, but we can’t grasp as a society that gender isn’t that simple. Gender, as opposed to biological sex, is just not that straightforward – and even biological sex isn’t that straightforward.
“I wish was more normal that there were non-binary categories in all sports. I’d rather not be separated, but I think in some respects it’s a lot easier for me to be able to fit into that category than if I was trying to transition, which I’m not.
“The reality is I’m quite a competitive athlete, so if you take me out of a group of, say, 100 athletes, and you put me into a category where there’s only me, there’s no prize there. Sport hasn’t caught up yet. There’s no point separating non-binary people and trans people if you’re not going to put prizes and the prize money there either.
“The reality is it’s not that people don’t want trans people in sport. We all know that the narrative is that people don’t want trans women in sport, that’s always where the hate goes. So until they make that competitive, you can’t separate that because all it does is just further other.
“It just puts you into a separate box again, and it makes you a target. I guess there was an element in that virtual challenge of ‘I’m feeling brave, I’m going to do this and I’m going to tell the people in the Centurion running group that I’m doing this’ and maybe somebody else in the future might look at that and think they have the courage to do that the way I did.
“Centurion have been offering non-binary as a category for quite a few years now. I can’t champion them enough for that because they offered me that opportunity to take that little step out there.
“Alas, I had to say well, what’s the female or male record, you know? And if I’m having to fit into the box of male or female, I’m obviously not going to be sitting in the male category, am I? It’s a tricky one.”
In Jayden’s own words though, “humanity can be as beautiful as it can be ugly”, and they were met with plenty of support as they became more open about their gender identity throughout the challenge.
Naturally there were a few negative comments on social media, but the overwhelming response was a positive one, helping Jayden realise that it was their responsibility to step up and be the representation they needed when they were younger.
Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community was not the only area with a surprising amount of self-discovery through the record breaking effort either, as Jayden also deals with autism and ADHD.
“About six weeks in I got a message from a friend who said their son recently got diagnosed with autism, he’s nine and his special interest is Guinness World Records – and he had been completely and utterly captivated by what I was doing,” they recalled.
“That was like a sucker punch. This nine-year-old kid thinks you’re a hero because you’re breaking a world record. They don’t care about all the other stuff, they just see that person is like me, and they’re doing something really awesome and they see success.
“I guess the reason I always found autism hard to come to terms with is because women aren’t represented in that category. All of the research and studies are always done on men and boys, the same with ADHD. So I learned to be more vulnerable in that respect, because the simple fact was what I was doing was so exhausting, I was constantly putting myself through sensory overload.
“I regularly have autistic meltdowns. Sometimes I’d have several a day and then I’d go a few days and things would be better, then it would come back. It was the most exhausting thing ever, but because it all meant so much to me to do this I was willing to put myself through that.
“What I learned to do was actually be more open about struggles you might face. The more we hide our struggles, the more difficult it becomes then to actually acknowledge that it is a struggle.
“It’s not a superpower, either, I hate that. Yes, it gives me a really individual, unique way of thinking and it gives me some quite good skills that are useful, but it presents a lot of struggles.
“Being open about that was a huge thing because with the ADHD, there was a lot to manage in terms of medication. I have meds three times a day, and they basically help me to not eat peanut butter out of a jar for breakfast and keep hold of a job.
“Much as people would like to think that they’re speed, that’s not the case. They basically make my brain a little bit quieter, and I can function a little bit closer to what other people do. If everybody else is working on 100%, it means I might be able to pull myself to 75% and I’m still working harder to achieve the same thing, but not twice as hard maybe.
“Timing those, particularly when the runs were in the evening instead of morning, because I had to hold my job in the daytime and I was having to finish the marathons by midnight for them to count for the record, if I was so close on time I was constantly having to focus and recalculate everything, and when meds wear off towards the end of day you can get a bit scattery.
“People wouldn’t have seen those things if it weren’t for this journey in some respects, so it was really important to me to show especially to kids that, hey, actually, you don’t have to be identical. You don’t have to be defined by your condition, by your disability, by what other people perceive as your weakness.
“Look how you can use it to your benefit, and I definitely think there are times it benefits me when I focus on a project, when I have a task and when I have something that really captivates my interest.
“It was also a huge challenge that I had to be honest about because I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t. Equally, I didn’t want it to be ‘oh, look how hard things are for me because I have ADHD and I’m on the autistic spectrum’, because then it does the opposite.”
Between becoming more open about their identity, becoming more open about their ADHD and autism, educating people over the plight of refugees, raising tens of thousands of pounds for three charities – and, of course, physically running 101 marathons in 101 days and dealing with the media attention that came with it – it is a wonder Jayden has had any time to think in 2022.
What, then, would make it all worthwhile for them? What would they want people to take away from their accomplishment?
“So many people have connected with my journey and what I’ve done and what I’ve tried to achieve, and that’s how they’ve been connected with the charities,” Jayden added.
“I had this kind of revelation one day where I was asked to do a speech when I came into the village on day 96 – the day I broke the record – and I remember just going, ‘okay, no problem’.
“You can imagine exactly how it went, like here are a few statistics, and apparently they thought I’d actually written it in advance and everyone was crying. For me to make people cry and get to talk to them about period poverty and about refugees, I think something succeeded.
“The thing that I said to them was you’ve all seen something in me. The whole village has turned out and the whole next village turned out, you saw something in what I achieved. So many people have been so willing to offer such kind words, like ‘you’re inspirational’, or praising my endurance or what I’ve achieved, my resilience, my strength, and all of these kind words.
“Stop. Don’t give those words to me. Think about why I’m doing this. The journey was 2620 miles to represent the journey from Syria to the UK. I was highlighting the journey of a refugee – trying to make that human again.
“If you can offer me, in my white privileged, UK-living who can afford to run marathons everyday, such kind words that I’m inspirational and you see my tenacity and my strength and resilience and you think that’s inspirational, stop and think about how much you should amplify that and the way you apply that to the story of a refugee.
“A refugee goes through that journey in real time, in real struggles. They don’t get a choice. They don’t get an end date. They are fleeing for their safety in whatever form that takes, so if you can see that in me, take it away and think about the way you think about a refugee the next time you see a story written.
“Think about what they’ve gone through, because their strength of character, their endurance, their resilience, their resolve should be something to be absolutely admired, uplifted and positively welcomed to our country. That was the one thing that I wish people would take away from this.”
Kate Jayden’s fundraiser is still open, and you can contribute here.