Race Report by Cathy Keay
Pondering which Spring marathon to do, I stumbled across a website by Tim Teege a German chap who had run a marathon in every EU capital – now with my obsession of only doing marathons in capital cities this was perfect research for my next venture.
Further details can be found at:- https://www.teesches-marathons.eu/
I then found some really reasonable flights to Malta, with the added bonus that there was a half marathon as well as the full – and my task of “planting the seed” for others to join me on my next venture began !!!
To cut a long story short, 8 of us were travelling to Malta on Friday 28th February. The promise of some dry (and warmer) weather had us all excited and even the early morning trip to East Midlands Airport couldn’t dampen our spirits. The plane was full of UK runners and most of the flight was spent swapping running stories.
A quick transfer from the Airport and we were in our luxury hotel overlooking Silema bay. The bib pickup was on either Friday or Saturday evening – we walked to the next town St Julian’s on the Friday – bib collection was chaotic, the coronavirus meant our T-shirts will still stuck in China, but we all got our bibs, race bags and bus tickets.
Saturday was a lovely day and we all got the ferry over to Valetta, the current capital since 1571, and spent the day wandering around, looking at the lovely buildings and drinking coffee. When we arrived back in Selima they had started to put up the finish area and reality started to set in.
After a pasta/pizza evening meal it was time to have an early night. The marathon was starting at 7.30am, with the bus leaving at 6am to take the runners to Mdina, the old capital. The half marathon was starting at 9.15am with the buses leaving at 7.45am. This was a point-to-point race, generally heading downhill from Mdina to the coast at Sliema.
A very early alarm call at 4.30am for Rachel and myself and we headed to the bus pickup about 400m from our hotel. It was still dark and felt very chilly, although the weather forecast was predicting a hot 21 degrees !!! A 20 minute drive and we were dropped at the Mdina gates, there were a few people hanging around, trying to keep warm. There were approx. 1,000 runners registered for the full compared to 3,000 for the half (854 marathon finishers, 2991 half finishers), so there was plenty of room, and toilets ! We had a wander around the ancient walled city of Mdina founded in 700BC and was the capital until 1530, took a few photos and watched the sunrise. Before we knew it, it was time to get ready and throw our bags into the DHL vans which would be taken to the finish.
The start was quite calm and we ran downhill away from Mdina. The marathon route would spiral around the countryside for about 26k before merging with the half-marathoners. The sun was starting to break through and it was feeling very warm already.
The first 5k headed towards the Ta’Qali National football stadium and the Centenary Stadium and then out towards a farmers market that was setting up – selling fruit, veg and budgies!!! The roads were very bumpy and you were forever looking at your feet making sure you didn’t fall down a pot-hole. There was also a noticeable strong wind and in some places you felt you were running on the spot as the wind was blowing so hard.
The route was pleasant, not a lot to see but countryside, very few spectators, but the miles were ticking along, and the weather getting hotter. There were water stations every 5k, and sponge stations manned by enthusiastic Scouts. I kept getting lots of little stones in my shoes and had to stop at least 3 times to shake them out !
Having only 1000 in the marathon meant that everyone was spread out and there was no bunching or crowding like previous marathons. After looping around for about 13 miles we started heading back towards the stadiums through the BOV adventure park and out to join the half-marathoners and to start the journey towards the coast.
The route went through a couple of little towns, again not much support but the bands were still playing and singing to keep us going. I had started to take little walks at the water stations and had started to pass some of the walkers that were doing the Walkathon. The sun was beating down now and I knew I was slowing down. At 18 miles we then came to an out-and-back section where we’d worked out we might see other Massey Runners. This part was a steady uphill along the side of an old Aqueduct, but it was good to have support along the road and runners to look at on the otherside.
Here I saw Marie O’Connor and Helen Rowe waving madly and looking like they were having a good time and then Rachel Brock on the otherside of the road looking strong – Rachel had passed me at about 9 miles and I cheered her on. I’d been having issues since December with my hip flexor and at 18-19 miles it started to make it known that it wasn’t happy !! After this section we then turned onto a dual carriageway and had to contend with going up and over some flyovers. This section lasted about 3 miles and seemed to take forever – although passing others walking kept me going in the right direction.
More water, sponge and orange stations helped and at about 23 miles we turned off the road and down a very very steep hill towards the marina at Msida. The boats glistening in the sun on the water looked lovely and at this point there were more spectators cheering you on. The final 3 miles followed the promenade and I seemed to get a second wind and tried to ignore the hip pain.
I spotted Helen in front and kept going to catch her, so we could have a little chat and encourage each other that the finish wasn’t too far away. Throughout the run I’d been running with the same marathon runners and there was lots of encouragement to each other. Past a few churches, a few more bands and I then passed our hotel and knew the 42km sign was just in front. I hadn’t set myself a time to complete the marathon as I didn’t want to put too much pressure on, but secretly I’d hoped to scrape under 5 hours – I could see the clock over the finish ticking away, and it still said 4:5X:XX.
I was looking at the supporters hoping to see some red & whites in the crowd and then I heard them (lol) !!!! I managed to put on a little sprint (very little) and then caught up with an old man, dressed in national costume, waving a Malaysian flag and running with bare feet (we’d been playing cat & mouse all race) he held my hand as we ran over the line together and we got a huge cheer from the crowd.
I was so glad to finish – wondered why we put ourselves through these things !! – and then received my huge GOLD medal. Wandering in a daze I bumped in Carol and we shuffled to an underground carpark to retrieve our bags, bumping into Rachel B on the way. Then we caught up with Cal & Marie and all shuffled towards the others. I bumped into my “Malaysian friend” again and took some photos – and then the Malta Eight all met up for lots of photos, with the blue sea and blue sky in the background – perfect !!!
I would defo recommend a visit to Malta, everyone was so friendly, it seemed very cheap compared other European countries, there was lots to see and do. On the race organisation the bib pickup was shocking but the actual race was good, good transport to the start, plenty of marshals, maybe a few more water stations on a hot day, a great medal (let’s see if we get the T-shirt) and not too busy.
A great weekend – with great friends – Thank You Malta