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Waves crash against the rocks beneath us as we scramble over giant stone slabs and try to quickly navigate perilous sandy paths that hug the edge of the cliff. Clumps of gauze and shrubbery fringe the path, prickling our skin as we cautiously ease over narrow sections trying not to focus on the sea shimmering in the moonlight far below. A few lights from fishing boats seem to hover in the distance but the expected sea of head torches of our fellow Rat Racers is nowhere to be seen. ‘Christ! How much further is this damn bay?’ I wonder, torturous thoughts of failure on the Rate Race Maltese Falcon racing through my mind.
In places, the path is so eroded it looks as though it might crumble away at any moment. I am almost glad it is dark so I can’t see the treacherous fall to the sea. We shimmy around tricky sections, grabbing onto shrubbery and clambering over rocks. The adrenaline is pumping as we make our way around the headland desperate to ensure we reach our check in for the next leg of our Rat Race Maltese Falcon adventure.
Time is against us on our battle to reach the bay for sunrise. Earlier, we had navigational issues on our 9.5 mile night-time run but that’s soon forgotten as we exit the trail into a gravel car park. We pass a few seaside kiosks and spot the welcome sight of Tracey, one of the supporters who has been cheering us on. Jubilant, I breathe a sigh of relief as we see our fellow racers chomping on energy bars and chattering excitedly as a sliver of orange lights the horizon.
Rat Race Maltese Falcon Run
Our journey began a few hours earlier in a deserted car park at the northern tip of Gozo (see map above for our route). But for moonlight and the illumination of reflective strips under a sea of head torches, the parking lot is devoid of light. Despite the early hour, the sight of a fort silhouetted against the moon and glittering stars above are enchanting. As a cool night breeze tickles our skin, I follow the reflective strips of my fellow Rat Racers’ that resemble cats’ eyes. It’s a strangely serene moment, in sharp contrast to what lays ahead.
After some group poses, the countdown commences and our group lurches forward. Some gently jog, whilst others surge eager to leave the pack behind. Jason and I choose to walk briskly up the long and winding climb from the coast, intent on saving our energy for the long day ahead. This is our first multi-sport adventure and we have little idea how our bodies will cope with the heat or endurance.
Through tiny villages and the stunning capital of Victoria we run, our headlamps intent on watching the floor for hazards. We zigzag through pitch black farm tracks and a tiny cut-through affectionately named ‘cactus alley’. As we take a breath at the pit stop we pat ourselves on the back. We have made it across the entire island of Gozo on foot!!
Rat Race Maltese Falcon Kayak
After the trials of our night-time run, we barely have time to change our footwear, fill our water bottles and grab an energy bar. The elation at making it this far, navigating across Gozo in the dark, is immense. My worst fear was getting lost on Gozo but having conquered this leg of the journey, I am confident I will successfully finish the Maltese Falcon. I just need to stay injury free, which is no mean feat on a challenge that encompasses cycling 56.5km across Malta, kayaking 6km between Malta and Comino and Comino and Malta plus the Gozo run!!
We stuff our bag with supplies of blister packs, food, electrolytes, sun cream and other kit for our trip, grab a paddle and snag the last remaining kayak. Chris, our guide, briefs us on the basics and he and his team effortlessly launch our two-man kayaks into the bay’s crystal clear waters. We rock gently on the waves, waiting for our flotilla to congregate and watch entranced as the sun glows on the horizon. A perfect golden orb signals the start of our day on the Rat Race Maltese Falcon, transforming the sea from a jet-black inky mass into crystal azure waters.
We meander through the water becoming accustomed to the steering on the kayak, the only sounds the splash of paddles and murmurs from our group. All too soon, Comino looms close and we ease into a bay where yachts and boats moor for the night. I suspect they did not expect the chatter of 40 Rat Racers early on a Saturday morning as we glide into a mossy slipway and clamber out of our kayaks.
Rat Race Maltese Falcon Comino hike/run
One of our Rat Race guides, James, instructs us to stay together for the run up to the fort before we return at our own pace. Before we arrived in Malta, my plan was to walk this part and conserve energy but my legs feel good. Feeling the need to redeem our pitiful performance on Gozo, we launch into a jog. Off we trot along a sandy path that leads into a gully laden with boulders, rocks and stones. Determined not to sprain an ankle, most people hike this section as the sun starts to heat the day. Some use the opportunity to chat to other Rat Racers and in no time, we round a corner and spot the fort, the highest point on the island with great views of neighbouring islands.
By an abandoned stone building, that resembles a disused barracks, we pose noisily for a few snaps with the fort behind us. I’m not sure what the sole residents of the island make of this rabble of Brits running around their island at 7am in the morning but no one comes out to chastise us.
Snapshots taken care of, some of the more athletic of our group race off down the hillside whilst we opt for a slow amble and social time with new friends. As the path flattens, we break into a jog eager for the next leg of our challenge. So far, so good!
Rat Race Maltese Falcon Kayak – part II
The second leg of the kayak section is truly spectacular. Past dramatic cliffs, through archways battered by waves and into open air caverns we paddle, all the while captivated by the hues of turquoise and azure beneath us. The rugged shoreline of eastern Comino is an uninterrupted towering cliff with archways carved into the rocks by waves crashing against the sandstone.
We head towards a narrow opening and wait for the swells to ease as we paddle through. One lad manages to narrowly miss a bump on the head from rocks overhead as we emerge into an open-air chamber surrounded by towering cliffs.
We continue along the coast admiring the landscape before convening on the south side of the island by another archway. Waves race into a narrow channel and Chris tells us where to head as we pass through. Excitement surges through me as we bounce around on the waves, waiting our turn. A few pulls on the paddles and we make it through without incident. Then the final push between the islands, marvelling at the clear turquoise waters and the size of boulders hiding just beneath the surface. Around us, larger vessels ply the waters between the two islands, whilst our safety boat hovers off to the side monitoring our group.
When we make it to Malta we are salty and wet but elated and ready for the final push. We pull unscathed into another treacherous moss-covered slipway and prepare to cautiously exit. Time to get our helmets on for 56km of sweaty, hilly climbs and jaw shuddering descents through sleepy villages, cliff top roads, farmland and tiny country lanes. What a great way to see a country!
Rat Race Maltese Falcon cycle leg across Malta
When we signed up for this challenge in 2020 it never occurred to me to ask about the bikes. We trained on mountain bikes oblivious to what we were missing. Up and down the hills of Yorkshire we struggled, our rides often accompanied by cursing and in my case, sometimes tears. Thankfully I hadn’t appreciated just how hilly this climb was to be as that would have been a whole new level of stress. However, the ability of road bikes to churn up the hills far surpasses anything we experienced on our mountain bikes, so the bike leg proved to be the biggest surprise of our challenge. Instead of tears and cursing, I absolutely loved this leg as we cycled through quaint villages, farmland and dusty remote tracks.
Rat Race Maltese Falcon bike fitting
As we lined up to pick up our bikes the day before, the realisation dawned on me that the hire bikes were road bikes and I had absolutely no idea how to ride one. No idea where the brakes were or indeed the gears, the best seating position or anything else. Anxiety levels on the rise, I anxiously ask Andras ‘does a road bike have gears?’ Thank God they do because those hills would have been torturous without the magical wonders of a road bike. Whilst the descents on dusty roads potted with loose stones, cracked concrete and potholes terrified me, the ease of the climbs on a road bike enthralled me.
Andras and I find a bike that fits, and I chuckle as I discover that my bike has a name – Jake. Perhaps this is a divine sign or a reminder that Jake, my personal trainer, is going to be urging me on throughout the ride. Jason and I set about compiling a pile of tools, inner tubes, and other items that we need to carry on this leg. I confess to Rob, another of the Rat Race crew, that whilst I’m not resistant to carrying these items, they won’t be much use to me. Should an incident arise, I have no idea what to do with them. Ok, I admit I do know how to use a bike pump, however anything beyond that is a mystery. Talk of hoods and drops has me wondering if I’ve entered an alternate universe!
Trial bike ride
It is just as well therefore that we have time to carry out a test ride even if this is my rest day!! I know however that this trial will boost my confidence, so helmet in hand, we head off to trial our bikes and GPS devices. Neither trial is a resounding success. My chain comes off before I even leave the car park although I’m proud to report I do manage to put it back on myself!! Before I’ve reached the top of the first BIG hill however I’ve established two things.
- One is that hills are so much easier on a road bike and I’m probably going to end up buying one. Damn this trip gets more expensive by the minute!
- The second is that only one of my big gear cogs works. I ask Mark, a fellow racer, to work some magic on it after our ride and he solves the problem. It turns out later however, that it was functional and that I did not engage the gear fiercely enough. In that moment however, I was grateful for my knight in shining armour (or should I say shiny Lycra!)
Maltese Falcon Malta Cycle
So back to Malta for the final herculean task of climbing every conceivable hill on the island (at least that is how it feels!). After the most sloth like transition known to man, Jason and I finally leave the safety of pit stop two and head up an incline away from the sea. After passing Mellieha beach, with its throngs of bronzing tourists, it is not long before we leave the bustle behind and divert onto gravel farm tracks where workers toil in the heat. Our first steep ascent is met with a few choice words about strong smells, gravity and road conditions as we attempt to cycle before realising our foolishness. If any Maltese Falcon Rat Racers read this, please let me know in the comments if you made it up this section on your bike as I am convinced the law of physics makes this an impossibility!!
The ride then bobs and weaves across Malta captivating us with sandstone villages resplendent with elegant balconies and Italian style villas. The architecture blends Renaissance finesse with simple Moorish design and is gorgeous. Bright flowers splash colour onto honey hued townhouses and apartments crammed together in a hotpotch of styles yet many villages resemble ghost towns. Windows remain shuttered and barely a hint of life greets us in many villages along the route.
Maltese Falcon Mdina pit stop
We lose signal on the GPS again as we climb towards Mdina and Rabat but miraculously come to a halt adjacent to the second pit stop. Against the backdrop of the walls of Mdina, the pit stop is a welcome reprieve from the rising heat. We chat to other cyclists and have a stroll around the walls before we decide to hit the road again. But before our climb out to the coast, we stop to feast on one of the incredible Rat Race flapjacks!! Yummy!!!!
Maltese Falcon Birzebbuga last pit stop
We follow tiny gravel lanes through remote communities where withered old men chat by the roadside, past stunning churches and other historical buildings before we emerge onto the cliffs of Dingle. Beautiful azure seas shimmer below as we skirt the coastline through tiny backwaters, past giant golf balls and into an industrial area where we stop briefly for more refreshments.
The last section is around 8km through an industrial area which descends to a colourful fishing village. En route, we encounter bemused locals, tourists on sightseeing buses and the occasional hard-core cyclist before we start another climb past a small fortress, energized by the prospect of a cool dip in the sea and a beer. A right turn leads us to yet another climb to St Peter’s Pool and I am awash with emotion as we whizz down the final hill to cheers and claps from other Rat Racers. Crossing the finish line of the Rat Race Maltese Falcon is bitter-sweet. Such incredible relief that we managed to complete our first multi-sport adventure but sadness that it’s over.
Kudos to whoever came up with the idea for this challenge because the combination of bike, run and kayak is pure genius. We trundle across the finish line to find Rob waiting with Maltese Falcon medals and beers. Beer in hand, we join our fellow racers, weary but jubilant, and clamber down a rocky hillside to jump into the azure waters of St Peter’s Pool. What an end to an incredible day!
I guess the company name should hint at what you sign up for, but never had I realised just what an adventure the Rat Race Maltese Falcon would be. From scrambling across rocky cliff tops in the dark to getting lost in Gozo’s sleepy capital, to the climbs of Malta and breath-taking vistas, it is truly a spectacular event. I can think of no better way to traverse an entire country. This may be my first Rat Race Adventure but I doubt very much that it will be my last!
I have no idea how Rat Race manage the logistics on the day, as staff seem to magically appear at pit stops around the island always laden with snacks and other temptations. Note, the Rat Race flapjacks are utterly incredible if you have yet to try one! If you want to take part in an event that is achievable with a reasonable amount of training, meet lots of fascinating people from all walks of life, sign up now to the Rat Race Maltese Falcon. Hope to see you on a new challenge soon!!
One final small request
We decided to raise money for the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity that aims to prevent suicide in young men. Astonishingly suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, many of whom find it difficult to seek or find support. If you’d like to help them prevent another avoidable death please donate on our Just Giving page. Every little helps.