Runner Profile: Stuart Mason
The early years
“A comedian or a 10,000m runner”, that was my response to being asked, aged 11, what I wanted to be when I grew up. Well, I have run a few 10k races, and everyone laughs when I tell them I’m a runner, so I guess I have fulfilled my twin ambitions. My answer came in 1973, following a weekend when I watched David Bedford smash the world 10,000m record and then watched the Morecambe and Wise Show; running and comedy royalty in one weekend! Perhaps this summed up my sporting childhood and youth; I was a mad keen spectator and very enthusiastic player, particularly of football, rugby, hockey and cricket, but lacked speed, stamina, skill and coordination, enjoying participation rather than success.
My sporting limitations continued when I was fortunate enough to go to university, but sport brought me something far more important than success: the lifelong friendship of a group of lads who have inspired me and who played a very significant part later in my running journey. The end of university also marked my first foray into some organised running and with minimal training I ran the Reading and Leeds half marathons in 1984. Unfortunately I didn’t kick on from there, allowing children and career to be an excuse rather than a reason.
Roll on to 2011 when tragedy and inspiration pushed me back into running in my late 40s. I was offered the opportunity to run the Great North Run to raise funds for the Bone Cancer Research Trust, a small but very active charity trying to prevent the loss of young lives. The opportunity was given to me by Tim, one of my closest friends from university, who tragically lost his 18 year old son, Alexander, to bone cancer in March 2010. Alex was a very bright and talented student and sportsman with a great future ahead of him, but more than that he was a lovely lad and part of a lovely family. Despite a loss that I cannot imagine, my mate Tim inspired his family and friends, including those of us from our student days, to push and support each other to take on challenges in Alex’s name, raising money and bringing us even closer together in the process. You must read Alex’s sad but inspiring story at www.timalb.wixsite.com/alexalbiston and marvel at the £165,000 that has been raised in his memory.
Living in North Yorkshire made the Great North Run very accessible to me and I loved the event so much in 2011, running just over two hours and raising lots of money, that I returned in 2013 and 2014, improving my preparation and fitness to run 1:56. It also hooked me into running and I continued to run “up north”, regularly at the beautiful Fountains Abbey parkrun, and competing in the Abbey Dash in Leeds and the Leeds 10k.
In late 2014 I decided to take up the offer of a Bone Cancer Research Trust place at the 2015 London Marathon and absolutely loved the experience, feeling equally proud to have maintained the necessary training, learning that I could achieve more than I thought possible, and to have raised significant funds in Alex’s name for such an important cause. This remains my only marathon attempt and was run on training three times a week at the same pace. With a proper training programme I wonder whether there is another marathon in me and my time of 4:14 makes me dream of sub 4…perhaps an itch that will need scratching at some point!
I followed the VLM in 2016 by running the Windsor half marathon; a return to my original hometown in beautiful parkland, finishing below the castle. With my close buddies from university and in support of the BCRT we took part as four relay teams in the World Series Triathlon in Leeds in 2017 and cycled from coast to coast along the Way of the Roses in 2019…a weekend of banter on bikes.
Despite feeling I had become a runner rather than a jogger I was still training by “going for a run” at the same pace, and on my own. That was about to change in 2018! There is synergy in the fact that this profile goes live on 1st April as this marks three years to the day since I moved from the north to Felixstowe and decided to bite the bullet for the first time and join a running club. Felixstowe Road Runners has been a huge part in helping me settle quickly into the town and this was one of the main reasons I wanted to put something back in by offering to be Chairperson when there was the possibility of the post being unfilled. As well as providing me with a raft of friendly faces, the structured Tuesday night sessions have done wonders for my running fitness and given me a chance to run competitively as part of a team, which I have relished.
My first training session was made memorable by being adopted as part of a trio by Duggo and Jess Farthing who reassured me that they would run at my pace. I had never run so quickly in all my life! That is until, just a few months later, I was chatting to Solly on a Tuesday evening when that evening’s coach called again for trios to form up. As I looked around for those of a similar pace, Solly said, “You’re not going anywhere, you’re with me”, I didn’t argue! Robin then joined us to make the trio and my induction into FRR was complete. I didn’t realise that my achilles tendons were screaming because my lungs were bursting! The recovery jog home took about a week!
Running my first cross country season for the Reds having not run cross country for 44 years (!) and competing in the Woodbridge, Framlingham and Twilight 10ks have been highlights, along with the Coastal 10 and the Great Bentley half where I got my time down by 7 minutes to 1:46. I seemed to set PBs in just about every race in 2019 because I benefited from the regular structured club sessions. FRR made me fitter and lighter!
The social events such as the Ekiden, Two Rivers and Run Bike Run have also been really enjoyable. I don’t feel the same about the 2020 Stowmarket half just before lockdown as it resulted in the unique experience of being beaten by Slow Paul (who unsurprisingly has never let me forget) and also a knee injury which still hampers me a whole year on. Felixstowe parkrun provided a habit forming start to the weekend before lockdown and I am really looking forward to its return. I have also enjoyed non-competitive running for relaxation, both with my partner, Becky, and my grown up kids, one in the Yorkshire Dales and one in London, all of whom have got into running and cycling.
Running isn’t an obsession for me but coming back to it later in life I have loved that my times have been getting better…although I know that won’t last. I like to mix running with some cycling and hill walking and over the last couple of years I have found great benefit in all my activities from participating in Helen’s Pilates classes at www.hdcoreandmore.co.uk. I hope to take part and enjoy my running for as long as possible and also hope to contribute to the club as much as I can. As lockdown appears to be easing I look forward to taking part in Tuesday club sessions again and pulling on the FRR red t-shirt (vests don’t suit a man of my vintage!). It will be great to take part in local races and club social events, once again benefitting from the inclusive and friendly club ethos and ensuring that, as a club, we continue to punch above our weight!
Next month’s nominee
Thank you for nominating me, Richard. My nomination for May is the first person to speak to me when I started at FRR. From then on he always greeted me with a smile and a “Hello, mate!”, only admitting months later that he couldn’t remember my name and was too embarrassed to ask!. Step forward Jess Farthing.