Monday, 9 March 2015

Malta Marathon 2015

The dust has now settled on what, for me proved to be a great weekend and an even better race so it's time to record and share my thoughts.

With the demise of the Lochaber marathon, I'd been looking for an early season marathon. I can't quite recall how Malta Marathon came onto the radar, but an entry fee of €30, return flights at £80 and The Intercontinental Hotel at £40 per night B & B probably all contributed.
Ten pillows per bed
With the race itself on the Sunday, Myself and Andy B arrived at Luqa International on our Ryanair flight from Liverpool just after 9 pm on Friday.
We payed €12 each for a minibus transfer to our hotel which seemed absurdly cheap, but was probably compensation for the Mad Max style of driving which saw our driver careering round the narrow Maltese streets with total disregard for any conventional rules of the road, prompting several brown trouser moments.
We arrived alive, if somewhat shaken and stirred at our Hotel, to the very pleasant discovery that it was a seriously posh affair. With more cushions on the beds than you could shake a stick at and fluffy white bathrobes to boot.

Eschewing the hotel bar and the trendy and packed local nightclubs we discovered Andrew's bar, a small, traditional and very friendly place whose regulars seemed to be mostly locals and ex-pats. With Guinness at €3.50 a can it was the ideal place for us to chill out and completely fail to put together a plan for Saturday's tourist day.

Waking up at the crack of 10am, we headed down for breakfast, another very pleasant surprise with the breakfast buffet being quite simply the best hotel breakfast I've ever enjoyed, in fact we both pretty much ate two full breakfasts.........just because we could.
The hotel concierge provided us with maps and advised that the best way to get around the island was the municipal buses, with an all day ticket only costing €1.50, yup that's just over one pound for all day unlimited travel!
With a loose plan to head to the centre of Valetta we duly hopped on a number 12 bus packed with locals, presumably heading to work, one sitting next to Andy who could have done with a slightly closer association with her soap. We plopped down on the only two free seats, revelling in our travel bargain.

Andy, sleeping as usual
To describe Valetta's bus station as chaotic would be charitable, arriving buses seem to halt pretty much where they pleased. Stopping anywhere remotely close to a pavement seemed optional and disgorging passengers in the middle of the road without regard for traffic or personal safety, to an extent that would give any UK health and safety professional heart failure.

We opted to visit St Johns Cathedral, a quite spectacular place of worship, whose custodians seems quite unabashed about selling us entry tickets without telling us the place would be closing shortly, nonetheless we managed a quick tour round. It's a cliche but my photos do not do justice to what is probably the most spectacular and ornately decorated church I've ever seen, and I've been to the Vatican!

With Andy taking advantage of his student discount card, no really he did. We next headed to the Palace and armoury museum and spent an hour looking at lots of suits of armour, swords, pikes and cannon, certainly worth a visit if you're into that kind of thing.

Mind you I am, and even I was a bit armoured out after an hour..."oh look another display case of armoured helmets, that are a tiny bit different from the other 27 cases".

St John's Cathedral
St John's Cathedral
We walked down to the WWII siege memorial which overlooks Grand Harbour enjoying what the locals assured us was unseasonable wind and rain, then headed back to the bus station.

We'd decided to head out to the Marathon start point in the ancient island capital of Mdina, which would give us an opportunity to discover if the marathon route really was as downhill as promised.
The casual Maltese approach to health and safety was replicated in the apparently random relationship between bus numbers, routes and stands but undaunted we hopped an a 212 which promised to head roughly to Mdina.
Malta is an incredibly densely populated island, with many narrow village streets more suited to horses and carts than single decker buses. The Maltese attitude to parking seems to be "I'm here so I'll just stop" with a complete disregard for pretty much every thing else. If the road is blocked so what. The attitude of bus drivers seemed to be "I'm bigger than you, now what are you going to do?", having said that everyone was very friendly and we're still alive>

WWII - Siege Memorial
Grand Harbour - Valletta

 As the bus was request stop and we pretty much had no idea where it was going we actually went right through Mdina and had to back track, but we got there eventually.
By this time the rain and wind was making any prospect of a tourist walk decidedly unattractive. We headed up a typical narrow alley in search of food and found the worlds smallest two floor restaurant. We both ordered paving slab sized portions of Lasagne, coffee and cokes and were slightly bewildered when the bill came to a grand total of €16 euros, NOT each, in total, another bargain.

Quality race bling
Two more buses took us back to the race HQ hotel and 10 minutes queuing provided race number, t-shirt, and baggage bag (a black bin sack with a small sticker with your number on it), A quick nip back to Andrew's bar, this time for food, where I failed to eat a modest pasta dish and Andy hoovered down two courses and a salad. Sensibly limiting our Guinness consumption to one each, we were tucked up in bed at the sensibly early time of 9 o'clock, with multiple alarms set for 4am.


Sunday 6am and a chilly and blustery seafront at Sliema (the race finish), not liking the look of the huge queue for buses to the start we queue dodged our way onto one of the first buses to Mdina, arriving fully 90 minutes before the race start. Even with a plastic poncho and a throwaway cotton T-shirt over my running kit I was frozen, we quickly headed into a nearby cafe, which provided a welcome coffee and a loo.
Although the event advertises 4000 participants, there are actually three events

Full marathon with c 700 runners starts at 8am Half marathon starts at 9:45 Half marathon for walkers 9:45
Marathon route Left to right
Although all the routes shared the last 10 miles or so, the timings meant that if you were able to get through 13 miles in under 1:45, you should ahead of the bulk of the half marathon runners before the routes join.


The weather had improved slightly by 8am, with less sign of rain but a persistent and swirly wind, perhaps the weather fairies were looking kindly on us?
The race is run almost entirely on closed or coned off roads. It is extremely well marshalled by police, traffic wardens and volunteers, water, energy drink and sponge stations were frequent and well stocked and manned.

Net downhill overall, but a couple of little slopes to catch the unwary

The route is also net downhill with most of the notable height loss in the picturesque first 4 miles. At 4 miles you start a series of loops round the national stadia and former RAF airfield of Ta'Qali, there are no real hills but there were a couple of upslopes which saw you running into a strong headwind. From the start I could see Andy ahead of me, the gap varying from 150 - 250 metres, but as we approached the 9 mile point I overtook him. With a brief hello and a feeling that that I might be overreaching myself I pushed on. I've been running well of late and I'd decided on the Friday night to try for a PB, if I couldn't do it on a downhill course when could I, so no chatting, playing up for the cameras and NO fannying around.

Without boring you with the details of mile by mile splits, I went through the half way point in just over 1:36. I'd convinced myself that I needed 3:15 for a London "good for age" and this was still very much in prospect. Approaching mile 20, the heavens opened and gave us a generous dump of rain. With the Maltese drains unable to cope the next couple of miles saw intermittent wading through sheets of water coursing across the route. 

The final three miles of the route is absolutely flat and follows the twisting coast road. I'd been racing and yo-yoing with an Italian lady for a couple of miles, my mile splits had been slowing so I gripped myself, gobbled down some salt to preempt cramp and for probably the first time in my running career, pushed myself really hard. Italian lady dropped behind and I focused on the finish complex up ahead. It was slightly disconcerting being passed on this final stretch by half marathoners, but not by many.

Finish gantry in sight and I started to stride out, only to discover that it wasn't the finish gantry, just extra inflatable gantry advertising DHL, one of the race sponsors...darn.
Working hard at the finish
Keep up the sprint, only another 200 metres or so, I've missed the 3:15 but nailed a PB, under the clock, stop the watch...bazinga...... 3:16:06, a near 10 minute PB; 72nd overall and 7th in my age category. Collect my medal and space blanket and bottle of water, keep moving and head for our agreed meeting spot on the adjacent church steps.

Andy finished in a creditable 3:28:01 having decided that if he wasn't close to his PB, he'd be better taking it easy and saving himself for another day.

There was a slight delay in retrieving our bags, the downside of hundreds of identical bin bags in the back of a DHL van I suppose, but again hugely friendly people manning this area.

Back to our hotel for a shower then a proper big post-race feed and an hours kip before hitting Andrew's bar again for R & R.

Overall I'd give this race a 9 out of 10, I'd definitely do it again and I'd recommend it to anyone. 

I'm ecstatic about my PB and the added unexpected discovery that I only needed to beat 3:20 for a VLM good for age place.

Plenty of  photos during the actual race too as every participant could sign up via Facebook for a free online, automatically posted photo album. Where many marathons try to charge you £20 for a single photo, Malta gives you a free album. Another example of the incredible value this gem of a race represents.



  1. Sounds like a good feed....never mind the brilliant PB! Well done!

  2. Well done on the PB, brilliant race and read. (Gotta love a "Aw f*ck, this isnae the finish!" moment!

  3. Fantastic result Keith, knocking 10 mins off our your PB is brilliant running.

  4. My wife and I are running it in 3 weeks. This is just making me more excited. Thanks.

  5. Great report, really looking forward to this one now! :-)