Starting the Running Season? Do It in Malta!

This post was first published on MaltaFreePress on Feb.26,2013 and was written together with Kristina Allik and Signe Milkov. MaltaFreePress blog is now (unfortunately) offline.

3,200 people, 42 kilometers, a one-man-show event: the Land Rover Malta Marathon hits the road tomorrow at 8am for the 28th time. Although tomorrow we will be on the road with the runners to get a perfect picture of the Marathon in Malta, today we want to give you some interesting facts about its past and its present.

First thing first: the Soul of the Marathon

People say that if you want something to happen, then you need to give all to that.

And that’s what Scotsman John Walsh did –  one year after the other.

Once he settled in Malta, Mr. John Walsh decided to devote himself to running becoming a successful long-distance running coach (bringing always his work home, as amongst other he also happened to train his future wife Carol) and engaging himself in a not too easy cause for the habits of many in the island: the promotion of an healthy lifestyle.

During the years, Walsh often used the pages of the local daily <i>Times of Malta</i> as a chance to promote his ideas and try convincing Maltese people that, after all, something different <i>could be possible</i> even in a country that ranks third for obesity in Europe right after the UK and Ireland.

Once he turned to his 30s, Mr. Walsh engaged himself also in the organization of what today we know as the Land Rover Malta Marathon,  a social and sporting event that year after year found a way for breaching the islander’s hearths and move from several tens participants to this year record of over 3,000 people.

Unfortunately, as already happened during last year’s edition, Mr. John Walsh will not be there  to enjoy the success of his creation and the great numbers of runners wearing the official bibs as he died in 2011 during one of his routine runs.

After the death of John Walsh, marathon co-founder Joe Micallef took the rock on his shoulders trying to continue keeping the event alive in line with the work and the principles set by Mr. Walsh both in making running a more popular activity and persuading Maltese that there might be an (healthier) life beyond Pastizzi and bragioli.

„Who is going to change the Maltese? Me! I am going to do that“, he said during a friendly talk he had with us right on the Marathon registration spot in Tigné Point.

<b>Plenty of awards, yet no advertising</b>

As expectable, participants to the Malta Marathon 2013 will have plenty of medals and awards waiting for them after the 42 kilometers route from Mdina to Sliema.

Perfectly in line with the dimension of the event and the role its committee of organizers played in it, during the previous years, most of the medals given to the runners were designed by the man who took care of every single detail of his creature – yes, you guessed right, Mr. John Walsh.

This year, however, things are going to be a little different as 2013 medals have been designed by one of the Malta’s leading senior artist, Mr. Charles Cassar.

Cassar decided to be faithful to the design conception and keep using signs from Malta’s rich heritage as it already happened in the past. Therefore, should you be amongst the 3,000 people at the starting lane tomorrow, keep in mind that (should you make it till the end) a gallery from the navy of the Order of St. John taking center stage of this years medal will be awaiting for you right in Sliema.

Besides the medals, which are given to all participants, there are going to be also bigger prizes for the best runners.

Most interesting and new thing for us was the way organizers decided to split the different prize categories into two – Maltese and foreigner winners.

According to Joe Micallef, this is one of the ways organizers can motivate Maltese to join the Land Rover Malta Marathon as the chance to actually win <i>something</i> without suffering from the competition of the foreign runners coming to the island might be good enough to push someone to put their running shoes on and test themselves.
Yet, while getting some pieces of the Marathon-puzzle together, we found something quite unexpected, because if it is true that this marathon is meant to be the biggest athletics event on the island, we expected actual <i>advertising</i> to play a much bigger part in its organization.

When we asked about that, Mr. Micallef smiled back at our question and tried to explain us that in such a small island there is no better advertising than word of mouth, and the marathon does not really need more than that.

Yet, once we also went around questioning some people in the street – or even calling the leading taxi companies to know more about what will be going on over the Maltese roads on Sunday morning – it seemed that local people did not know (or, even, care?) much about it.

So, <i>how is this possible</i>?

The answer seems to be fairly simple and be made by a combination of the positive feedback given around by those who run the marathon in the past and the advertising the Maltese Ministry of Tourism pushes abroad to make the event more popular in the international circuit.

So: although the marathon does not have an „official“ Facebook page, although people on the street are probably going to be surprised by seeing the runners on Sunday morning and although the Maltese national press seems to be too focused on the upcoming elections to care even a little about the event…the „silent ads“ strategy pushed by Mr.Micallef seems to be working quite well, seen the number of participants ready to take the challenge on February 24th.

<b>Charity at the Marathon</b>

As already happened during 2012 edition, also this year marathon will give the non-profit organization Inspire a chance to do some important fundraising to finance its activities and provide therapeutic, education and leisure services to people with disabilities in Malta and Gozo.

By offering Inspire the chance to offer registrations to the marathon through its own platform, marathon organizers allowed the NGO to repeat the experience that already one year ago managed to bring an extra income of  €11,500. Not bad, definitely not bad.

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