I almost choked on my carrot when I received an email telling me that I had won a trip to run the Vodafone Marathon in Malta. My first thought was: “Where on earth is MALTA!?”. Google quickly informed me that Malta is a group of islands (archipelago) situated in the Mediterranean Sea below Sicily and above North Africa. ’Nuff said. I immediately replied and said that I would be joining the team (I mean, who says no to a trip to MALTA!?) and started arranging for my husband, Shane, to join me.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The marathon fell on the same day I was due to run my Comrades Marathon qualifier, so I was ready. But when my coach told me that his prediction for my time was 4 hours and 2 minutes, I thought “Oh hell. So much for my relaxed run through paradise …” Whether he meant to do it or not, Coach Neville had planted the seed.
Our plane landed in Malta on 3 March 2017. We made our way to collect our race numbers after we had checked into our hotel, and while waiting in the queue I heard one of the race organisers pleading with people to please drink enough water since it was going to be extremely hot. I worriedly asked the guy what temperatures they expected for the race, and he turned to me, his face pinched with concern, and said, “We’re expecting temperatures of around 18⁰C! Please make sure you drink lots of water!”
I couldn’t help bursting into laughter! South Africans reach for our arm warmers in any temperature under 20⁰C, and here the Europeans were, stressing about overheating.
On the day of the race, the shuttle dropped us off at the starting point, and we spent some time chatting and posing for photos with fellow runners while we were waiting. The race is a lot smaller than most South African races, so it was quite a treat milling around at the start, not packed like a sardine in the middle of the masses. The race finally started. It took us only about 5 seconds to cross the start line — where I come from, this usually takes minutes. The thought of a sub-4 hour marathon haunted me though, and so, we decided gun it and run the first 5km quite hard as it was mostly downhill.
The Malta Marathon is a point-to-point marathon, starting in the walled city of Mdina and finishing in Sliema Strand, the last 5km taking you past the picturesque Grand Harbour. The route was beautiful. Running along a backdrop like that was just incredible. We ran through gorgeous narrow streets, yet we never felt “boxed in”. We were giving it horns and having a ball! The water stations and support were everything one could hope for. One fascinating element in the race, however, was that there were live bands all along the route, over 30 of them, all playing our favourite genre – ROCK. Music was such a great motivator! We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary just the day before, so it was an incredibly special moment when one of them played our wedding song as we ran past.
There is no better feeling than running a race feeling and finishing strong. This is exactly how I felt at the 38km mark. I was ready to obliterate those last few kilometres with a huge grin on my face. We finished the marathon in 3h56, smashing our PB by over 40 minutes. After the race, I had some time to reflect on how we could possibly have gone from a 4h39 to a 3h56, and I could only attribute it to Coach Neville’s training and the self-belief he instilled in me. (The fact that it was mostly downhill and at sea level did not hurt, but we need not mention that…). If Coach had not told me that I had a 4h02 marathon in me, reminding me of my training and the results I had, I would never even have gone for it. I would have been happy with a 4h20 or 4h15 and would have taken it much easier. But because Coach told me his prediction, I believed I could go sub-4, and I did!
To anyone looking to complete a marathon abroad, I would most definitely recommend the Vodafone Malta Marathon. The flights and accommodation were very well priced compared to other more ‘obvious’ countries. Apart from this, running a marathon in that kind of beauty and vibe was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An absolute highlight in my life and running career. Go on, do it! You won’t regret it.