Malta has always been a place I’ve fancied to visit. I knew it had close ties with the UK in its history but was also full of its own long history and beautiful architecture, which I’ve be curious to see. The fact it also held its own marathon in February was a bonus and a perfect reason to leave cold wet England and sample Malta’s warm hospitality and weather.
The date of the marathon had fallen well for the school holidays this year and meant we could all have a family holiday. This was also taken up by my friend John and his family making for a great weekend.
We went out on the Thursday afternoon so we could have a couple of days exploring the island before John ran the half and I ran the full marathon on the Sunday. On the Friday we took a short ferry to the Island’s capital, Valletta. We spent most of the day walking round its narrow streets admiring its ancient architecture. The place reminded me of Venice but on a hill, without canals. We came across the very pretty Lower Barrakka Gardens and Alexander Bell Tower at the far end of the city, watched the firing of the Noon canon and ventured under the city into the once military top secrete Lascaris rooms, which was the HQ of the allied forces in Malta during the Second World War.
On Saturday we took a bus tour around the north of the island, which included the ancient walled city of Madina. It was like going back in time many hundreds of years as we walked along the extremely narrow streets only just wide enough for the smallest of cart and horses which still go round the inner walled city today, giving tourist rides.
We were staying at the Marina hotel in Sliema, which Yuk-Lam had picked because of its close proximity to the race finish. I was impressed as it was almost directly outside the hotels entrance!
The race was a point to point affair. Starting in the middle of the island in Madina and making it’s way to the coast and Valletta, round the bay and finishing in Sliema, in front of our hotel.
Runners were picked up by coach from Sliema and bussed to the start.
We got to Madina at sunrise. Madina is on a hill and looks down to the coast, this made for a glorious view of the sunrise as I collected my thoughts before the marathon start. I first bumped into Barry and enjoyed his company for half an hour before we split up and prepared for the race. I then bumped into a handful of 100 Marathon club members and enjoyed their company until the race started.
I had done very little training over the last 3 months and wondered how I would fair trying to run 26.2 miles. I had a lot of questions as I waited for the start.
How much fitness and more importantly stamina had I lost?
Would my cardiovascular system be up to the task?
Had my knee healed well enough after the operation in December?
Would my more recent coughs and cold affect me?
And lastly my sore chest from my recent coughing, which was still sore and I’d taken a couple of pain killers before the start, aggravate me as I ran?
The race started and we ran out of Madina and into the surrounding countryside, which to me was surprisingly green. I wonder if it is the same in the middle of their hot summers? I took the pace easy, I would be happy just to run round and wasn’t after any competitive time. The course is a net downhill course and the race profile on the internet suggests not much else but I must admit there were quite a number of undulations, making for a harder first half than I was expecting.
While I had been waiting at the start it had been very cool and I had elected to wear a thermal top. I started to regret this as the race progressed, the sun came out and the temperature went up to a warm 18 degrees.
As I continued into the second half of the race I was very pleased that my knee was working well, I was running steady and albeit sore, my chest was quite manageable. As I got to the outskirts of Valletta and the 20 mile point I found myself getting increasingly tired. I think I had reached the limit of me current fitness. Mind over matter I pushed on trying not to succumb to the desire to walk. At about 22 miles I had nothing left and reluctantly had to adopt a run/walk routine. Until this point I had been on for a time well inside 4 hours which would have been fantastic but it now looked out of the question. Finishing became the only goal.
At the start of the race I had messed up starting my Garmin and only realised some 4 or 5 minutes into the race so I wasn’t able to accurately measure my time and distance during the race.
As I came down into Valletta and on to the waterfront with only 3 miles to go I got myself running properly again and doing some rough maths in my head thought I could still possible sneak under 4 hours. With this renewed determination I pressed on as hard as I could as I made my way round the bay and to the finish in the distance, I knew it was going to be very tight. I pushed and pushed until I was over the line. The clock above the finish showed 4 hours and some 30 seconds but maybe my chip time could be under the 4 hours?
After looking on the internet the next day I found my chip time was 4 hours and 9 seconds. Never mind still a great effect and achievement after all that has happened over the last 3 months and it’s a great mental feeling to know I can still run the full marathon distance.
We have all enjoyed the holiday and loved Malta, it has some fantastic ancient architecture and history. The story of how it was involved in World War II is amazing, the island put up with so much punishment and fought on. We all hope to come back again in the not too distance future and explore more of this little gem in the Mediterranean.