Malta Half Marathon – 1.3.20

Mayhem in Malta with the Massey 8

Race Report by Helen Rowe

Friday 28th February 2020 –The Massey 8 (Cal Oddy, Carol Martin, Cathy Keay, Cristina Semple, Helen Rowe, Marie O’Connor, Rachel Brock and Rachel Hogg) travelled to Malta in two separate groups – one group gong from East Midlands, and the other going from Birmingham.

The larger group (East Midlands) arrived first, and immediately went exploring, and I hear they settled quite comfortably in a bar not far from the hotel.  The second group (if you can call Cal and I a group) arrived later in the day. We too went exploring on arrival, and then met up with the others at 5.30pm, to walk to The Marriott Hotel to pick up our numbers.  Rachel B did a sterling job navigating, and we arrived dead b 6.00pm, to be greeted by chaos. The overseas registration itself was in a small room in the hotel, but the queue snaked around a large anti-chamber. At one point, after we had been queuing for almost an hour, a security guard tried to get the queue to leave the anti-chamber, and reform queuing from the ground floor up the stairs.  We were having none of that though! Absolutely nobody complied with his instructions. Shortly after that, when we were trying to squeeze up, a female runner at the back of the queue got very aggressive about the way we were queuing, and she accused some of us of queue jumping. We ignored her.

Slowly we crept closer to the front of the queue.  We had been told that we would not get our t-shirts, as they had been held up leaving China, due to the coronavirus.  The organisers were offering €5 refunds, or we could accept one of last year’s t-shirts. We didn’t want either. We had a plan.  I was going to ask if they would post them out to us in one batch, if we gave them a self-addressed parcel bag, and money to cover the postage.  They offered us the option of someone local collecting them for us. Luckily Julie Neville (ex MFRC) was in Malta, visiting her daughter, and they agreed to collect on our behalf.  

Numbers collected, we made our way back to the hotel, and we passed a restaurant on route, which served pizza and pasta, so we booked in for Saturday evening, to carb load pre-race.  Then we found another restaurant/bar to eat that evening. Over dinner there was talk about pins, and some said they had forgotten to bring pins. I said I had spares, and I gave them out.

Saturday 29th February – there is no parkrun in Malta, so we arranged to meet for breakfast, where we rearranged the tables so we could all sit together.  Then we arranged to meet in the foyer, to walk up to the ferry terminal, which is where we have to catch the bus to the start on race day. It was less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel.  We decided we would get the ferry over to Valletta to go sightseeing. Three of us got very excited because we got a return fare for 90 cents (or pfennig as Cal kept calling them), as opposed to €2.80 for the others.

When we disembarked, we took a city tour for €5 each, and were dropped off at the centre of Valletta.  It was lovely. We wandered around sightseeing and souvenir shopping. I kept tabs on the distance we were walking – we didn’t want to do too much the day before our race.  We bought a few souvenirs, and had lunch at a street café, which had very interesting toilets underground. The route to the toilet was reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, through an archaeological dig.  The menu was interesting too – some of us had toasties ”featuring lettuce, ham and cheese” – although some of us opted out of the lettuce or even the lettuce and ham!

We then walked back to the ferry terminal, and returned to Sliema, and to the hotel.  Some of us decided to make use of the swimming pool and jacuzzi – which were lovely. Then we all met up again at 5.45pm to walk to the restaurant for dinner.  We ordered a variety of pizzas and pasta dishes between us, and garlic bread which arrived after the main course! Some people had dessert too. Then we went back to the hotel for an early night (not that anyone got one from what could tell with all the Whatsapp messages pinging back and forth).  

Sunday 1st March – Poor Rach B and Cathy needed to get up really early to get a bus at 6.00am to the start line for the marathon.  They sent us a photo saying it was very cold up there, and smelly by the portaloos. The rest of us met at 6.30am for breakfast, and we all met up again at 7.15am to walk up to the bus for 7.30am.  A man sat next to Marie on the bus, and asked if she had any spare pins. She directed him to me, and I was able to help out again.

We arrived in Mdina at 8.00am.  We went for a walk as we had spare time.  There was a group of motorcyclists congregated at a cafe/bar.  I wondered whether I should be taking that up instead of running.  It was sunny and fairly warm considering it was 8.00am. We went to a café, to use the toilets.  The girls starting worrying that they didn’t have any Imodium – but I had enough for everyone, so I handed some out to everyone who wanted them.  It is better to be safe than sorry! 

Then we found a church that was open (in fact there was a service going on), and we went in to have a look.  We had been told that the churches were very plain outside, but very ornate inside, and that was true.

It was soon time for the off.  There were Half Marathon runners, and Half Marathon walkers (Walkathon), all setting off at 9.15am.  The walkers were supposed to start behind the runners. We very soon encountered our first downhill section, which was quite steep.  But everyone was walking down. A lot of walkers had gone in front of the runners, and they were holding the runners back as a result – it was very frustrating.

The Half Marathon route took us out of Mdina, ad through the countryside, via various villages.  There was not much support on route, but there were lots of bands playing on the way round. It was soon feeling very hot, although there was a strong breeze, which was sometimes a headwind that we were battling against.

I had decided that I wanted to enjoy the run, and also be a tourist, taking photos now and then.  The roads were not fully closed – we often had traffic on the other side of road to us. And at some of the traffic islands cars were being held back to let us go past.  There was quite a lot of shouting from the drivers.

The Marathon runners ran their first half marathon around Mdina and its close environs.  They then joined up with the Half Marathon runners at their 5km and the Marathon 25km point.  There were 3 portaloos, and I decided I would use them. There was a man waiting, so I joined the queue.  We stood there for some time. His wife was in one, and he said that the other two had been engaged when he got there.  We seemed to be waiting a long time, so the man went to check. He said they were both locked. So we waited. His wife came out of her one, and he went in. Two more ladies arrived, and joined the queue.  They queried the two cubicles where there was no apparent movement, and I expressed concern that the occupants might not be OK, so we checked – and found them both to be empty! That was 6 minutes I had wasted waiting for nothing!

There was a long switchback on the route, (at about mile 6-7 for us), and we hoped we would get the chance to see one another, and possibly the marathoners too.  On my way out, I saw Cal on the other side, and then Marie. Then, when I was on the return leg I spotted Rach B, who then overtook me at the water station. I then spotted Cathy, and I expected her to be catching me up shrtly afterwards.  

We had to run over some flyovers, which obviously involved some uphill and then downhill.  When we got to Floriana, there was a steep downhill section – which I took advantage of, although some people were walking.  I did walk a lot during the last 4-5 miles, but it was hot, so I wasn’t beating myself up about it. I was grateful for the sponge stations on route.  

Cathy caught me up with just one mile to go.  I helped a Swiss lady, who needed water, and I gave her my bottle that I hadn’t opened.  She took two swigs, and then gave it back! Then there was another lady who seemed to be struggling, so I tried to encourage her.  She was cursing, and saying “never again”.  

Race over, we had the customary photo with medals and union flags, and made our way to a pub for celebratory drinks.  Afterwards some used the pool and Jacuzzi, as “therapy” for aching legs, hips, etc.

We all met up again for a meal in the evening, followed by cocktails at the hotel.  Then it was time for Cal and I to say goodbye, as we had an early transfer to the airport next day.

The Massey 8 had been great – and I, for one, can’t wait for our next adventure.