‘You’re going to run around Malta. On your own. Call that a holiday?!’
What is a holiday? A holiday is our time to relax; to do exactly what we want to do. For many it is sitting by a pool or on a beach, leaving only occasionally to stroll around some ancient ruins. For others it is sleeping until midday before rising to eat, drink and party the night away. I have tried both of these and at some point they suited me. Nowadays I like activity and adventure. So for my end of summer holiday I chose to run around Malta on my own.
I was warned about the heat and reminded of the perils of solo female travel. But I don’t respond well to caution. I had four nights on the island and a route plotted; let’s just see how it goes!
Day 1: Thur Sept 6th 2018 – Valletta to Bugibba
My alarm calls me from blissful sleep at 3am. Brew Dog gazes at me from his bed, perplexed. He’s not an early riser.
A surprisingly fast passage through security is frustrated by the fact my clear plastic bag is the wrong size. Who knew?! The hideously patronising security lady calls me ‘my darling’ at the end of every sentence as she insists I jam my toiletries into a bag specially designed not to fit them all. In return I deliver world class eye rolls in her direction. I’m pretty sure she was unaffected by their intensity.
In years past I always traveled dressed to the nines, wearing my highest heels. Today I fly in full running gear with my 8kg backpack containing all I need for the next five days. Everywhere I run this pack will be on my back. It needs to be as light as possible.
Instead of having the 6am beer most people are having (time doesn’t count in an airport) I go in search of a bar which will fill my water bottle and pouch for me. Once I get to Valletta I will be running straight away, so I need to be well stocked.
I always imagine that when I fly I may end up beside a deeply interesting person. We will engage in conversation, swap life stories, leave the plane friends, stay in touch and meet again in a far flung place in ten years time. Bless my romantic mind. Instead I am beside a couple whose aroma is booze and fags. She stares desperately out of the window as he complains about:
- Having a female pilot
- The plane not having taken off yet
- Being awake (we’re all wishing he weren’t)
- There not being a television (despite wanting to be asleep)
- The fact his wife wants a drink (I’m not surprised she wants one!)
- That he’s flying Jet2 and not EasyJet (what’s the difference?!)
Blissfully he falls asleep quickly (I suspect his wife slipped him something) and man-spreads himself across us for the rest of the flight.
Better get running!
The bus from the airport is cheap and straightforward, depositing me at the Triton Fountain, which just happens to be my start point. After a few pack adjustments I am good to go and off I run. Oooo, downhill, yay! Just around this corner…oh, a shipyard with a security fence. That doesn’t look good. Back up the hill then and my first route diversion. The best laid plans eh!
Back on track and it is every bit as hot as I had imagined and then some. For 6 miles I follow my route fairly easily before it is blocked again…by a shopping centre. They may not have wanted a sweaty runner passing through but I’m grateful for Debenham’s air con. Resisting their Blue Cross Sale I emerge from the underground carpark and continue.
The heat is starting to take its toll and I’m briefly revived by a lemon Fanta from a street stand. A rub has started on my back from the shorts I am wearing. Wearing a backpack creates a fun new opportunity for pain when running. Any seams on your clothing are gently ground into your skin and I had made a mistake with the shorts I was wearing today. Luckily me reserve shorts had less seams and therefore less pain. But there was no where to change now, so it was a case of out up and shut up.
I am an idiot
My way is blocked again. Signs tell me my path crosses a military zone. You can cross it but not if red flags are flying. In the distance I can see one building with a red flag fluttering. It seems odd to only have one flying and I consider crossing anyway. Then I think about how stupid I would look if I got shot or blown up. Sigh. I divert again and have to run along a busy road. The views are lovely but the close proximity to cars is not. That evening, as I tuck into beer and pizza, I spot the Maltese flag flying from a nearby building and do a huge mental face palm. That was what I had seen in the distance, not a warning flag.
Other than my stupidity the only thing slowing me down is the heat. I stop for juice and water but this causes me stomach cramps. After 12.5 miles I spot a small bay with just one couple swimming. It’s time for a dip in the crystal waters. There is nowhere to change so I just swim in my shorts and sports bra. It feels perfect.
It is just a couple more miles to my Air BnB accommodation in Qawra, near Bugibba bay. Having showered I head out for the evening. Feeling strangely un-hungry but thirsty for beer. My host for the evening has told me where to go to enjoy the sunset and I do so before the beer awakens my hunger and I inhale a pizza.
The day has been eventful but little do I know how easy it will feel looking back. As I walk back in the darkness I decide to rise early and be on the road by 7am to try to beat the heat.
Day 2: Fri Sept 7th 2018 – Bugibba to Bahrija, Rabat
Despite the sweltering heat and lack of air con I slept well. Rising at 6am, breakfast is a cup of tea and slice of flapjack. I leave the apartment by 7am, into the dawning day. Malta is already hot but bearable. For the first hour I happily jog along. Attempts to run in the shade are thwarted by others trying to walk there also – selfish. By 9am the heat is oppressive once more.
As I track the undulating coastline I lose my path once again. I regain it by dropping down barely used paths through allotment type areas. I look at my bare, scratched ankles and wonder idly about snakes. Losing my path had meant losing time and I am feeling low on fuel. Wherever I can I stop to take on sugary drinks but the heat stops me from wanting to eat a thing.
I am walking all of the uphills but more and more I am walking other sections too. The path is rocky and I have a slight propensity for falling over when running. Despite the fact I am getting better at falling without injuring myself I still prefer not to do it. With the backpack on my feet are not light on the ground. If I do go down the extra weight of the pack will take me down hard.
At the times I drop down to meet the sea I stop and pour water over my head. At some point I remove my trainers and let my feet soak in the salty water. My toes are getting pretty battered and sore. It’s trainer change time. After my experiences in Iceland I have chosen to bring a second pair of trainers. Pair two are lighter and more comfortable but have less grip; something which will make for some nervous moments later on!
Finally the fall comes, not on rocky ground but a concrete step. Only my pride is bruised my my GPS takes a slam as I hit the ground. This may explain why it keeps freezing during the rest of the trip.
The heat has me feeling lightheaded now. I force down a tiny bit of homemade energy food (plumpy nut!). It is a reminder once again of how far the human body can go on a small amount of energy…and a lot of stubborness.
My holiday, my choices
It has been a while since I saw a town or village and my water is running out. Sitting under a low tree for some small amount of shade I make a deal with myself. I have covered 16 miles; if I want I can stop at 20. Once I have made this deal I am able to carry on. At the end of the day, this is my holiday. Being alone is not always great but at least I can make my own choices.
After another mile I come to a small beach area. I don’t know it at the time but I’m just above Popeye Village. A ramshackle fishing village built especially for one of my childhood favourite films. Now anyone who knows me knows I don’t sit still enough to watch films. The very fact that I watched Popeye many times (I even had the video!) means it’s a real tragedy that I didn’t know I was at this set!
I buy 2 litres of water and a coke from a stall holder and he gives me his chair to sit on in the shade. He can’t know how wonderful this felt.
Feeling much better for a drink and a rest I strike out again. As soon as I get going the punishing heat gets to me again. I am stopping every mile or two now but shade is hard to find with the sun so high in the sky. A dead lizard at the side of the road looks how I feel.
Coming to another beach area at 20 miles I push on. Suddenly there is a scarily steep climb on unstable ground. My trainers aren’t coping well but I make it up and wedge myself between two rocks for a rest in some shade.
As I prepare to move down the other side of the climb a Maltese man comes up to join me. We pass comment about the heat. He then asks if I’m alone and would I like to go swimming with him. I decline and explain I need to move on but am unerved to hear him close behind me as I move on.
Now it is perilously steep and slippery going down. At times I have to sit and slide down on my bum to get down safely. I want to get away from my companion but have to stay calm and not rush. Finally his footsteps subside and he turns back.
Spotting the next bay, Gnejna, I gratefully (not gracefully) make my way down. I have covered 22 miles on foot, it is another 4 miles to my accomodation. Enough. I have an ice cream, go for a swim and call a cab. This is a holiday after all!
Tonight I stay in a small country village, Bahrija. There are a few restaurants, all specialising in the local delicacies; rabbit and horse meat. As a vegetarian these don’t especially appeal so I stick to one of my freeze dried meals with snacks from a local shop. Strangely in four days of running I don’t see any rabbits or horses…perhaps they’ve eaten them all already?!
My fingers are hugely swollen in the heat and my toes look as if they have had a good fight amongst themselves; always prone to blisters, they are starting to bubble now. I empty a sachet of rehydration salts into my overnight water and set my alarm for 6am. As I fall asleep my legs twitch and jump over imaginary rocky paths.
Want to know how I get on with the second part of my run? I really hope so! So that you don’t miss out on my suffering pop your email address into the box below and you will be notified when Part 2 is published.
Never Miss An Adventure!