It takes a certain type of person who trips over his own feet and face-plants a mile before the finish line of a marathon to get up, ignore the cuts on his face, hands and knees, and soak in the kindness of the marathon spirit.
But Run Squad member Stuart Malster isn’t your average sports-enthusiast-turned-runner. In fact, he was never any good at sports or running in general. Two years ago, he watched a couple of his friends run a half marathon, and upon realising one of them was a smoker, he decided he should be able to do it as well.
”I always hated running. I was rubbish at sports when I was younger – I had a pair of trainers, but they were packed away in a cupboard,” Stuart explains.
Hoping to get some inspiration from other runners, Hove-based Stuart decided to look up some local running clubs when he came across Nick Rivett Sport and The Run Squad, just after the Brighton Marathon in 2014.
”I couldn’t run from the TRS starting point at the bottom of Grand Avenue to The View cafe – less than a mile – on the seafront in Hove,” he laughs. “I had to try a good few times, and bin my old trainers, until I managed to get past it.”
When he’d managed to run the whole mile, and eventually drag himself through a 5K in one go, he went to his first TRS session feeling quite nervous, but amazed by how welcoming everyone was.
”It’s unlike me to do anything sports-related, but something inside of me just clicked and this gritty determination appeared,” he recalls.
Starting out in the 10-minute mile group and making his way into the 9’s, Stuart enjoyed the social aspect of the club perhaps a bit too much, and was encouraged (or potentially slightly bullied) by his fellow runners to move up a group.
A mere five months after starting out at TRS, he ran the Reigate Half Marathon in 2.04. Stuart started taking part in the club’s unofficial Friday runs across the Downs as well, which is where he had his first encounter with the leg cramp that was due to haunt him on the day of his very first marathon.
In February this year, he ran the Brighton Half and knocked 30 minutes off his time from 18 months earlier – completing it in an impressive 1.34, especially for someone who had previously declared he was rubbish at running.
But there were bad runs too. Mixing his passion for running with his job as cabin crew wasn’t always the easiest task. On a 20-mile race earlier this year, he was suffering a bad jet lag when he made his way to the start line alongside his fellow Run Squadders, and ended up hitting the big, bad wall.
”I was lying on the floor after the race debating whether or not I could do the marathon, but the support from TRS was amazing. People told me to refocus and remember the things that had gone well in my training. If I didn’t have that support, I might have pulled out of the marathon,” he says.
”Someone once told me, when you have an occasional bad run, and there will be some, pick yourself up and carry on, because without any bad runs, the good ones wouldn’t feel so bloody amazing.”
All this training was leading up to the Brighton Marathon this April and on the week commencing the race, Stuart found himself monitoring every little detail.
”I was obsessing over what I ate, diagnosing myself with every injury under the sun and due to an achilles injury, I couldn’t run in the eight days leading up to the race, which was really hard,” he recalls.
Joined by Nick Rivett, who was recovering from a back injury and decided to help pace him for 18 miles, Stuart was on for a sub-4 finish.
However, due to intermittent cramp in his calf which took its toll at three miles from the finish line, he got to see the marathon spirit he’d witnessed from the sidelines two years previously, in full force.
”I had to stop due to my pains and a total stranger just started massaging my calf whilst giving me words of encouragement,» he says. «I was blown away with kindness.”
Stuart carried on running when, less than a mile away from the finish line, he tripped and flew face first into the pavement, acquiring battle wounds all over his cheekbone, hands, knees and shoulder.
A fellow runner stopped and peeled him off the ground. ”I told him to carry on running so he didn’t mess up his time, but he just looked at me and said ‘mate, we are going to do this. I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease yesterday, so believe me, you finishing is more important than my time’.
”I think that was the moment I realised it’s not just about the time, but about the marathon spirit,” he says. Despite the cramps and tumbles, he crossed the finish line with the total stranger he’d encountered a mile previously, in 4.00.23.
And with kind donations from his friends and family, Stuart raised £840 for the chosen TRS charity Whoopsadaisy, adding up to the total of £18,368 already raised this year by the club.
If there’s one thing Stuart believes more than anything else, it’s the words of the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer: ”If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
Or, if you’re feeling particularly brave one day, run one.