Guest posts: Mrs. Natalie Briffa Farrugia – Director of HILA
As promised in my last blog post, I will be here sharing my insights, thoughts and journey that I went through on Sunday 5th March, when I ran the Malta Full Marathon.
My journey started with a ‘full gear’. My preparations for it were nicely done, although initially I was aware that I could only commit a small proportion of my life to it. Yet, once at it I gave it my all, the 8-week programme accomplished the work of a 20-week one for me. I was not out for personal development and going beyond my present heart rate’s potential, so I always trained in a comfortable pace. I could not give too much of myself to it and was not willing to experience ‘pain’ to ‘gain’.
With the same frame of mind I started my journey. I protected myself with two layers of clothing as I ‘feared’ getting cold during the run and also had a third option with the logo of my fitness club. I ran for HILA, but I humbly recognized that it was my cousin coach who had given me the belief that I could run initially, so I could not omit having the troops logo on my gear.
The weather was in our favor and the sun was nicely warming the whole journey. Although I had planned to take off my jacket at the 15k (my Mother’s front garden), when I got there I found that I had achieved stability so I didn’t want to risk upsetting that.
A runner closed by ‘commended’ me for being able to retain such clothing with that hot temperature. The encouragement was welcomed with an open heart.
Once we were past the Ta’ Qali playing field, the weather started getting word, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to open up. I earmarked a security and handed over my jacket ( I had written my name on it and mobile number). He wasn’t really appreciative of my request. Later the telephone call came from a lead scouter who had found the jacket on the floor as the real scouter had made sure that it returns to me.
So far so good. I was happy because we were on a very good pace. My ambition for the total journey was that I do it at a pace of 6perK. This was no scientific calculation but just a decision based on gut instinct and my frame of mind. My mind is a very dominant feature in my running decisions and just like I really hear and do what my body says whilst running, the decision maker is always finally my ‘mind’. I just follow. Even thought the thought of this pace 6 frame of mind was attractive I knew that during my 35k training I paced at 6.13, so I had no idea how and if that could be improved. But it still remained a wish to be achieved. Very similar to a dream – you have no say on the creation of a dream since it happens while you are ‘asleep’. It’s that kind of magical spark.
Up until the 19k we were running at a pace of 5.30, faster than the original plan, which even though a bit risky, still gave me a nice personal hype and made me keep holding to the wish that I might achieve my 6 overall. From the 19k onwards I ran on my own – no further time frames. I’m an anti-clock runner and enjoy running in the free zone.
The real full marathon journey starts at 32k. Running in the Mriehel bypass was where the going gets rough. You are faced with the reality of your ‘ambition’ – you, a long road and your loneliness. Hints of what you ‘read or heard about’ come alive. This is where people ‘hit the wall’. This is your test to meet with your self, your fears, your condition, your ambitions – face to face. The bridge is steeper than it ever looked and my mind goes back to an earlier 2 years where my brother Pio’s heart rate here was 185! This time it was my turn to be ‘suffering’, same place, same zone. I’m overtaken by the only Belgium marathoner I had attempted to make pacing friends with. Aches in my body come from parts you never knew existed. The clothing feels ‘too tight’, I also considered running with my bra top – something which in real life is surely an ‘out of bounds’ for me. At that point nothing matters. I pass by a couple of other people thrown aside on the side road but now I knew that the wall will NOT hit me as I was very well hydrated throughout. My mind remembers an earlier thought where I felt like I was running with an ‘open bar’ as I had 4 options of gels and water in my running tubs. So I smile and move on. I humbly had to consider walking. Something I would not opt for in any training session given the pride and perseverance that the Natalie I grew up with has. But in severe circumstances everything counts.
I reach the orange station and stop and eat – also another humble moment where probably the pace not only went up to 8 but probably more. I ask for water but it was further down. So I complete reset of ‘frame of mind’ and pretended a new beginning. The water was very generously received – I also showered myself with it which helped me to restart afresh. The ‘giving’ up is a high feature option here especially knowing there’s only further hills to come and the Sliema front is so far away! My previous runs didn’t help at all here as in all my runs the Sliema front is always too far. My mind doesn’t tell me that I’ve done already 35k or more and I only had few more to go – it was only communicating : too far too tough.
The ‘giving up’ reality considers throwing away my bottle pack but once I took it off to throw I realized I had my ‘simple’ Garmin which I’ve always resisted to upgrade so I didn’t want to throw away. I also see the rosary beads which I surely couldn’t throw away so I repack it all around my waste and move on. That was also a reminder of my ‘belief’!
My heart leaps with joy when I spot a t-shirt from I & J fitness team and to my delight it was Sandra Debono. A lovely positive lady, joyful and supportive. She was walking as her injury was painful. I couldn’t speak – only the spark of my eyes could portray my joy. I took her hand and we ran for a while ‘hand in hand’. She was so pleased and surprised that I was there to encourage her, but she gave me much more in return. We only ran a few steps but she echoed to me ‘Kompli Natalie well done you are doing very well!’ This I repeated to myself and HILA as I ran towards the Floriana gate with Castille at the far end. Kompli Natalie Kompli you are doing very well. Will this be the mantra that will take me through? Yes I can I said to myself but caremalta’ s one is ‘I care’!
I turn to the side road which brings us to the top of the depots hill and I spot another I & J shirt. He is also walking. It’s Charlie – a gentleman who always ran every Wednesday for the last two years I’ve been at I & J. I knew he could do it. He said his ‘pressjoni baxxa hafna – he cant’. I pleasantly remembered I had a last gel in my pocket, handed it over to him, asked him to drink water once he meets another water station and left. Go Charlie go you are doing very well. I also passed this on to another gentleman who ran with I & j but didn’t know his name since I only saw him a couple of Wednesday runs. I received my mantra, shouted it out loud, passed it on and left.
From Sa Maison onwards it was only knowing that I would soon ‘see’ our people. Knowing is believing. Water helped, people helped but nothing made it shorter. If only had I told Janet to come a little bit closer but I surely will see them round the bend. By now my top is too heavy, my bar is closed. I made sure the photographer took a picture of me and my top back and front as the distance is still far.
Sandra’s ‘hand in hand ‘ was a great help. Then I knew that our HILA will surely happen. By now I know ‘quitting’ is surely NOT an OPTION. Considering other options is not being loyal to us! Our people are there, they surely need it, they are surely happy with us and for us and we are surely doing and giving our best.
I surely made the finish line and HILA proudly presents its first women running the FULL marathon. Medal 🥇 in hand.