I chose Malta as our next marathon destination for its warm climate, intriguing history, and an interesting race route. I was not disappointed.
We headed for the Brussels International Airport immediately after work on Friday, February 26, 2016. Richard and I took the hour-long train instead of our car in order to escape the Belgian ring traffic jam during peak hours. Learned that expensive lesson when we missed our flight to Nice last November despite a three hour lead time.
We got to the airport in plenty of time to check in and browse the duty free shops. I noticed Belgian airports now do not announce the departure gates until 15 minutes before boarding time. Or maybe they do this only with smaller airlines? When they finally do, people make a mad dash to the gates in order be ahead in the line and be assured of overhead cabin space.
Our Air Malta flight left at 7:50 PM and landed at 10:35 PM. I planned for a bus to take us to the city centre. When I saw a representative of the http://www.maltatransfer.com website standing at the counter, I went over and asked him how much the shared shuttle ride would cost. He quoted me 14 euros for both of us, two euros cheaper than the online quote of 16 euros. While he was finishing my transaction, I made small talk and asked him about the languages spoken on the island. “We speak Maltese and English,” he answered. “As a matter of fact, we are more English than the English themselves,” he added in his crisp British accent.
The van dropped off the English couple we shared the ride with first before we reached our destination. The Palace Hotel Sliema was one of three five-star hotel sponsors of the marathon.
The hotel upgraded us to a superior room with a balcony on the fifth floor. A fresh fruit platter and a bottle of Maltese wine helped us unwind and settle in for the night quickly.
I woke up early Saturday morning with a massive headache and a clogged nose. Uh oh, this is so not acceptable! Despite my photos, I actually don’t drink so it’s not a hangover. I quickly took the cold medicine and went back to bed to let the medicine do its magic. Still not feeling any better, I rolled out of bed later at 9:00 AM so we can go to breakfast.
The hotel served a good breakfast selection. They also provided champagne, always a good sign a hotel takes good care of their guests. I was determined to shake off the cold so we went out and walked 500 meters to the Sliema Ferry Terminal to get a visual of the end of the race.
Malta is an intriguing densely-packed island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. There are 360 churches, one for every 1,000 people. It’s like a rock, but it has enough land to develop its own vineyards and make its own wine. The people also drive on the other side of the road.
It seemed to be a favorite retirement and vacation destination of the British people. The accent was everywhere we went, and British high street brands were all over the place. We stopped at the Inglot makeup store to try out and buy their HD Illuminizing Loose Powder. I may be sick but I can still shop!
We stopped by Scott’s Supermarket around the corner from the hotel to buy water and other provisions. A long nap followed and we woke up to walk about 1.5 kilometers for the bib pick-up at 6:00 PM at Le Meridien in Saint Julian’s Bay, the race headquarters.
Richard was ecstatic to know there was no marathon expo this time so no shopping! It was strictly a bib and transportation ticket pickup. The pickup was only available from 6:00 to 9:30 PM on Friday and Saturday. There was a long snaking line of people waiting for their turn by the time we got there. I sat down and rested while Richard took care of my bib.
Bib in hand, we walked back to our hotel and attended the mass service at 7:30 PM at the Parish Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, or more popularly called the Stella Maris Church. The service was in Maltese, a language that sounded Italian with some English words thrown in.
The Stella Maris Church, the oldest church in Sliema and Gzira, is just a block away from the hotel so after the mass we went to the top floor of the hotel to try their fusion restaurant, Temptasian, for dinner. It was fully booked so they recommended the breakfast restaurant. We settled for a nice seafood buffet with a bottle of red or white wine and a bottle of still or sparkling water for 31 euros each.
I woke up on race morning feeling just a tad better but determined to run this race. The 31st Vodafone Malta Marathon 2016 promised to be an interesting race with a downhill slope and a 5:30 hour time limit. It was in the back of my mind that I might not be well enough to finish a marathon, but I wanted to at least try and run parts of it.
The buses picked us up at 6:00 AM at the Sliema Ferry Terminal to bring us to start line in Mdina, a fortified city and the former capital. We started at exactly 7:30 AM with less than a thousand runners doing the marathon. There were about 4,000 runners in total with the bulk of the participants doing the half marathon, walkathon and 10K.
I was not expecting to run a faster race but the strong winds and the swirling dust negated any advantage of the downhill slope. There were time limits at certain checkpoints. We had to reach the 15K mark by 9:30, 21K by 10:15, 32K by 11:30, 35K by 12:00 and the 38K by 12:30. Aid stations were positioned every 5K. There were two Powerade stations, four sponge stations and one orange fruit station. We went through several areas and cities before we finished at the Sliema Ferry Terminal. Overall, it was a very well organized race.
Richard took some pictures of the area while he waited for me to cross the finish line.
We met at the finish line and walked back to the hotel together. I cleaned up quickly and we paid the taxi 23 euros to take us back to the airport 25 minutes away. The afternoon throng of travelers had not arrived yet so our check-in and security check went smoothly. While waiting for our 4:00 PM flight, Richard bought me a Maltese silver knight at the gift shop. He knew I would love it since our school mascot is the knight. That little knight now stands proudly in my office to protect me.