For hundreds of Maltese runners, the Malta Marathon has now become an annual appointment with a sport they love. For most of them, it has also been the inspiration to pick up the running shoes and go out running.
Only one man, however, can claim to have been there from the start... Charles Darmanin.
As a record entry lines up at the Rabat starting point on Sunday, Darmanin will be there for the 27th time and if he crosses the finishing line in Sliema he will become the only one to have successfully completed all editions of the Malta Marathon so far.
Others were there with him 27 years ago and have continued running but he is the only one still doing the full marathon.
The longest-serving active runner at St Patrick’s Athletics Club, Darmanin’s first race for the Saints was way back in 1964 as a nine-year-old.
Some feat, considering that the club itself – the oldest in Malta – will be celebrating its 50th anni-versary from its foundation by Fr Michael O’Meara in 1962.
Darmanin remembers the first editions of the Malta marathon quite well.
At the time, running such long distances was a novelty here and it was not easy to prepare ade-quately.
“I was in London a few weeks before and got a pair of Dunlop branded shoes for that first marathon in 1986,” he recalls.
“I thought ‘if the name was a good brand for tyres then it must be good for running as well’. I was utterly wrong... my feet ached for weeks after that marathon.”
In 1990, Darmanin took part in the first Malta International Challenge Marathon, another event that he has completed every year since, and a year later he and his wife Antoinette became the first Maltese couple to complete the marathon in Malta.
After seven self-coached marathons, Darmanin clocked his best time of 2hrs 58mins and the following year he improved to 2hrs 56mins.
Then, at the age of 40 in 1995, he did his best time ever over the 42km distance – 2hrs 51mins.
That year he also became a qualified coach and started mentoring some runners over long distances.
He now had to sacrifice personal ambitions to run with and encourage athletes he was coaching.
“Seeing them all at the finish ranks among the best experiences I’ve ever had in the race,” he said.
“On the other hand, my worst time in the marathon was three years ago when a knee injury almost stopped me from reaching the finish line. But marathon racing is no easy task. Of course, if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it!
“You need inspiration and a phrase I read once made a lasting impression on me. It goes ‘when you’re feeling anxious on that starting line, thinking with doubts in your mind about seeing the finish line, just keep in mind the nine in 10 people who never run at all, the nine in 10 runners who never enter races, and the nine in 10 racers who never enter marathons’.
“This phrase I repeat to my athletes and I also add a quote by the late Dr George Sheehan... ‘winning is never having to say I quit’.”
Nowhere is that truer than in running a marathon, where you win simply by not giving up on yourself, Darmanin adds. As someone who has been there every year, he’s the living example of that philosophy.