From CAMRA man and camera man to Ultra Runner. Neal Cass shares his story of how a few drinks with some friends saw him go from a non-runner to a distance runner.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
So, born and raised in Horsham (Greater WestSussexshire), I did lots of geeky electronical (non-sporty) things at school whilst coming last in any cross country runs that I was made to do as part of the Physical Education regime of the establishment! Having said that, I was still reasonably outdoorsy and spent a lot of time at Scouts, Venture Scouts making mayhem in the forest of St Leonard, hiking in the Lake District or kayaking up and down the River Dart…
Then University arrived, with beer (although that may have arrived slightly (ahem) earlier), and any thoughts of physical activity went out of the window!
Whilst my younger brother spent more time afterwards doing fit things (mainly involving burrowing underground almost as much as hanging one handed off of mountain tops!), I then embarked on a career in beverage drinking (oops, sorry that should read liquid food and drink manufacturing) or at least programming machines to do it for us – again that lazy streak!
Then along came a young Miss Taylor (daughter of the Patriarch). I started to get dragged from race to race, always refusing to run and instead happy to carry bags or pop up at different places on the course (as long as it wasn’t too far from the start/finish) with a camera to annoy the group of fit and focused runners.
When did you first start running?
Eventually, I was taken to a very nice Italian restaurant in Shoreham (The Hopperati may know of it 😉) and filled with a copious amount of red wine by Messrs Payne, Lindfield, Hedgethorne and Millen before being ‘persuaded’ to run a Fun Run League Race – stupidly choosing to start with the Hangover 5!
Having done a few practice ‘runs’ at Hove Park parkrun, along came the fateful 1st January 2010 when I woke up and realised I couldn’t compete due to an attack of Gout (although back then I was still in denial).
Being uncharacteristically stubborn, even after that setback I managed to get started on the West Sussex Fun Run League eventually running the Worthing Lido in 37:11.
At that point I had found a passion for tracking myself using any sort of electronic device I could get my hands on, starting with a small yellow GPS tracker designed for photographers! This allowed me to match my geekiness with my reawakened love of outdoor life and so my running career gathered pace.
Best thing about being a Hopper?
I guess I have always been a Hedgehopper at heart – mainly because I am not allowed to be anything else by certain family ties (Joking… I think). I have always loved the social camaraderie and joking that comes along with it. Oh, and the gentle competitiveness 😊
Favourite running memory i.e. that WOW moment?
For me the biggest wow was when Rob Clarke managed to drag me around the Three Forts Challenge – I think he had to put up with a lot of whingeing during the event. I was pleased with myself afterwards. Happily I have managed to improve my time and my fastest marathon is now Brighton just under 4 hours.
What’s the longest distance you’ve ever run?
Since then I’ve done a few longer events, including the Downs Link Ultra (38m), and last year a mad fool managed to persuade me that a short run from just outside Arundel up to Winchester was a good idea… Only 53 (ish) miles… Only an idiot would run further… (Luckily the idiot has been saved this year by the world events cancelling everything so the longer Race to the Castle will have to wait until next year ☹).
Favourite running event and why?
Having recently moved to sunny central Sussex, my local Half Marathon here in Barns Green has to be my favourite event… There is even a fantastic exclusive bar-be-que that is held afterwards (even if I do say so myself 😊).
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Over the years, I have had some fantastic support from all the club but especially from Roy who has been a brilliant source of inspiration and help over the years -often popping up at random points on races usually when least expected! Oh, and the Birling Gap on the Beachy Head Marathon when he asked if I would be able to finish…