3rd World Deaf Athletics Championships, Stara Zagora Bulgaria

George Vella represents Malta in the 42.2km race and places seventh.

George Vella
George Vella

By George Vella

Held in beautiful Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, this was the 3rd World Deaf Athletics Championships; a memorable event which has now established itself in the calendar of Deaf athletes. I represented Malta in the full marathon consisting of the usual 42.2km distance. Not so usual, were definitely the conditions in which we participated in. We were eighteen deaf athletes in all together with several others non-deaf athletes. An eventful marathon, definitely one I shall never forget!

The route consisted of 4 loops, of 10.5km each. The terrain was rather a flat one with 16 uphills over flyovers. Due to unforeseen circumstances the race started at 9am instead of 8am as it was planned earlier, hindering our plans and making us run in hotter conditions. At this stage I did not expect to run at the predicted race time but I had to re-adjust my race strategy for different conditions.

In view of the strenuous conditions I had to run in, including the extreme hot weather and an unfamiliar tarmac surface, I started off with a cautious, comfortable pace as strongly recommended by my coach. Given these harsh conditions, I knew I had to give up my usual race pace but had to take no risk and follow my pace as according to the heart rate monitor. I followed the heart beat and remained with a constant race pace up to the 22nd kilometre, pacing and drafting other similar and hearing runners who applied for 10km, half marathon and marathon. By this time, I was ranking between 6th to 9th place in the Deaf category.

By the 22nd and the23rd kilometres, I experienced a strange feeling of extreme tiredness in my legs requiring me to increase my efforts. By this time, my heart rate rose up to a worrying 10-15 beats per minute which made me think about the risks of a heat stroke. I knew that if my body loses its ability to regulate temperature when exposed to such hot conditions, I had to watch out for any warning signs such as dizziness and disorientation but at this stage this was not my case.

However it was a reality for some athletes who started slowing down, some others stopped and others sadly collapsed too. In my case, my legs started feeling stiffer and heavier and fatigued and felt I could not keep up with the current pace. To air on the side of caution, I slowed down and chose an easier pace to ensure to finish the race intact. While hitting the wall, to make things worse, few water stations were available and these consisted of warm water in small glasses. The last 10km, were terribly tough making them the hardest which required considerable mental and physical efforts to make it till the finish line. I knew I had to be cautious to to ensure that my body remains healthy although my legs were already sore. The few remaining stations were not enough to keep cool and hydrated. With the little water available I tried to keep wetting my head and my neck’s

back. Then I conquered the last 2 hills and ran towards the finish line with difficulty. After the finish I required a good 20 minutes of recovery and to literally gain back my senses.

My time was slow with 3h 23 minutes, compared to that of downhill marathon of Malta in cooler and more favourable conditions. I remained conscious of the signs of heat risks even though this required that I settle for a fair 7th place. Nonethless, proudly this was my best position ever in a worldwide race organized by ICDS (Deaflympics) apart from last year’s 2nd place in European Deaf Marathon Championships. In fact the first three runners of this last year European Marathon including myself, ended up with the same problems and finished from 6th to 8th place respectively. The marathon was an arduous exhausting challenge; a constant battle between the mind and the body but so proud to have represented Malta and ranked 7th place! This is not the end for my athletic career. I am already planning my next challenge with my coach , this time in Turkey Deaflymics marathon to be held in 2017.

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