My journey to 21 KM run

I never used to run, apart from the sports day at primary and secondary school, always preferred adventurous sports like abseiling, camping and diving. So during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, I found myself at the age of 37 years, working long hours at home with little activity. By February 2021 I was obese at 85kg and would end up out of breath after a 10-minute walk along a promenade. Something needed to change, we bought a kayak, my wife and I, and started going at weekends. There was little improvement so something else needed to change. In July 2021, I started my running training and today, 7 months later I completed my first 21 KM run. This is a journey of self-awareness, health, mental control, friendship, goal setting, support and love.

This is where my best friend and diving buddy, Matthew Farrugia, comes in. He went through a major life change and became fixated on fitness. Sharing his insights and knowledge, I set out a plan to start with walking, then intervals, then complemented with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Just two weeks after starting, I started developing shin pains and was recommended to a great Podiatrist Mr Clinton Schembri Francalanza. Found out I am severely flat-footed and needed to work a lot on my running technique. Bought a proper running shoe with a stable frame and gradually started improving my technique. My first lesson, get the right equipment and listen to your body.

In time I started to be able to complete a 5 km run in one go with no stops at a personal best of around 32 minutes. That is when my friend Matt told me to do a trial race at the 3-cities route, starting from St. Angelo, via Bormla, to Senglea point and back. What should have been a 6′ per km pace ended up being a 5’30” per km with a stitch forming at the 3rd km. That is where Matt’s motivation and support kicked in, maintaining the same pace and telling to keep running. We ended the run at 27’16”, a 5-minute improvement and a mind-opening experience, running pain only hurts. I rested for a week, then repeated the distance and pace on the treadmill, then repeated it on my own improving to just below 25 minutes.

My first 3-cities track in under 28 minutes.

This was after just over 3 months of training, losing on average 600 grams a week, at which point was weighting 74kg. My next goal was to keep going to 71kg and complete a 10km run. In December I started running with another friend and colleague of mine, Luke Vella Critien. We started running three times a week and gradually picked up distance and pace. Kept pushing my limits until we managed to complete 10 km at the 3-cities route in under 50 minutes. Having completed this goal I set my next goal for endurance, to be able to complete 21 km. Luke asked if I’d consider going up to Imtarfa Tower, a route I was afraid of due to the incline and thought I was not going to make it, but I did not want to miss on the opportunity so we went for it. Our first 12 km route, with a steep incline, is yet another mind-opening experience, with a controlled pace you can conquer any route.

At around this period two other great events happened, my wife decided to start walking with me, then my brother started following a similar programme to mine. Another mind-opening experience, fitness training is contagious.

The Malta Marathon was approaching and with it came a lot of drama. I was not interested in participating, just wanted to reach my personal goals and have fun. Together with it, the 7-month milestone of running was approaching. I had to miss two practice runs due to slight injury and other events, yet was determined to attempt a 21 km route on Monday the 28th of February 2022. Practised 10 km two days before, had chicken for two days, prepared my running setup, took 2 supplements to take at the 9 km and 18 km milestones, planned and memorized the route well, and most of all prepared mentally. I had to let go of negative events and thoughts that were weighing me down and focus on my goals.

The day came, 4:30 am, woke up and prepared, was out just before 5:00 am. 2 km in, started feeling some soreness and at 3 km started feeling a stitch, “You are stronger than the stitch”, “running pain just hurts”, “you have been here, you are going to make it”. This is a mental challenge as much as it is a physical challenge. The route is mixed with uphills and downhills, remembering what Matt had told me, use the downhills and flatland to rest, control your breathing, maintain a steady pace. At 11 km was near the Radar Dome at Dingli, past halfway, at the highest point, time to take a supplement. Wow, these fruit mix puree really pack an energy boost. At 16 km was exiting Mdina and going downhill. For the first time let out a “Woohoo” aloud like my friend Luke does, that feels good. The last 2 km were painful due to blisters, knee soreness, fatigue, but was feeling really good.

I reached my goal of completing 21 km at 2 hours 10 minutes, painful but really rewarding with a feel-good factor. I learnt a lot during this 7-month process and now my greatest goal yet, keeping a balanced routine of 1-2 hrs for six days a week for as long as I can. I started a new habit for my personal health and well being and got so much more, it also came with the support of many. Thanks to my best friend Matt for your support, guidance and motivation. Thanks to my Podiatrist Clinton for your excellent guidance and service. Thanks to my friend Luke for being a running buddy, for your support and for motivating each other. Most of all to my wife Sephora for all your patience, support and love.