RAF Halton turning the heat up at the Malta Marathon

With the success of the 2015 event now a distant memory, it was only right that Malta Marathon 2016 be afforded to those who missed out last year. Therefore, along with an enthusiastic team from RAF Marham, team Halton, comprising of 15 personnel, underwent a programme of training assured that the dark, cold hills of Wendover will be exchanged for the warm and sunny (down) hills of Malta.

With record numbers predicted for the 31st annual Malta Marathon, it continues to attract worldwide popularity, it truly is an event to be a part of. Varying in standards and with the option to run the full, the half or join a walkathon, the event is Malta’s main sporting spectacle to raise money for local charities as the valleys and sleepy towns of this tranquil tiny Mediterranean island transform into 26.2 miles of running bliss, well…. for some anyway!

All the talk and promise of sunshine and warm winter temperatures were a point for some heated discussion for the 2015 event given that the UK was probably enjoying better weather, but, for 2016 the talk and promise of warm winter sunshine lived up to its reputation. The entire duration on the island was a reminder of just how warm a Mediterranean winter can be and was becoming quite a concern for marathon day.

With the itinerary ensuring enough time to prepare, both Halton and Marham underwent some Force Development, visiting WWII sites around the capital city of Valletta and a tour of the silent city, the start line for the race. Our team was ready, no injuries, some weather related anxieties; just lots of carb loading meals to be had and, for those really going for it, a mild 10K along the coast line just to get those legs working.

Without much more to do, the anticipated 0500 on Sunday morning had arrived. Early to breakfast, followed by a short stroll in the early morning darkness for the coach transfer. Safe to say there were some unimpressed faces as the realisation of what they had signed up to had arrived. The coach headed north west to the start area; the historic site of Mdina, tracing back more than 4000 years, but today, in all its majestic glory and at Malta’s highest point, some 200m high, it is the start of the Malta Marathon 2016.

Although cool, the early morning sun reminded us all how warm things will soon get. A light breeze was very welcome and as start time approached, the weather had settled into a gentle spring like morning with sunshine, light winds and climbing temperatures. Worrying running conditions for some, but at least the excitement and anticipation was setting in. With a final dash to the toilet, bags dropped, good luck gestures passed, the gun went off and we were on our way. The route was unchanged from 2015 but the sunnier weather made the views truly incredible. With a predominantly downhill start from the city gates into the valleys below, scenes from the blockbuster movies Gladiator and Troy were instantly recognisable to the movie buffs. Onward to small villages with gathering well-wishers, banners flying, bands playing and fuel stops plentiful, it wasn’t long before the running flow had set in. Onward to the National Stadium and US Embassy before joining the half marathon runners heading east across the heart of Malta to the coastal town of Sliema. It was sightseeing all the way, passing through the historic town of Mosta, itself a notable place in history boasting an unexploded 500lb German bomb.

With the temperatures now reaching the ‘early summer’ scale, the thousands of runners struggled on and from Mosta it was along the regional and undulating bypass to Malta’s capital city of Valletta. With the gates to the city just ahead it was a steep left turn down the hill to the Pieta harbour, honeymoon town to the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip but more to the point, a welcoming sea breeze. Running along the marina, following the coastline it was now a mere 3 miles to the roaring crowds gathered on Sliema front. Thoughts of having to run the equivalent of the ‘Wendover Loop’ provided that much needed mental adjustment to finish the gruelling distance in one piece. Supporting event staff were kept very busy along these final miles, sponges and water stands proved crucial for most. Passing the ‘Black Pearl’ now moored following filming around the island, crowds were gathering for the final mile to Sliema front. Hours earlier it was dark and cool but now the warm spring sun welcomed runners home, to refreshments, medical aid and as impressive as last year, a rather heavy commemorative medal.

Both teams succeeded with excellent timings, including the fastest at 3hrs 15 mins up to around the 5 hr mark, but no injuries and smiles all around. An evening award ceremony ensued to recognise individual personal achievements and as both teams enjoyed a celebratory meal, the talk was of no less, 2017………

My fourth year on this event and Malta delivered once again and, with aspirations to have unit representation from across the UK, this marathon promises to be popular for all standards. Well done to both Marham and Halton. Next year interested parties already include Cosford and Henlow to join us on what promises to be another fantastic event.