"Charlie! Charlie!". The distressed, anguished screams of Charlie's wife,Bernadette sounded out loud and harshly throughout the foyer of the SLIEMA cinema. His daughter gripped tightly her mother's hand. Tears poured down her face. She was equally distressed by the sight of her father who had been carried from the finishing line and now lay on his back on the tiled floor.
He has finished 3rd in 2:32.50 in this inaugural MALTA MARATHON and would later say he was "very pleased" but few looking anxiously on knew the real story of what had led to his post race predicament!
Just 140 runners had set off from Santa Lucia, many of them from England, on a bright, sunny February morning, slightly apprehensive of the strong winds which would inevitably create problems and make the 26.2 mile journey and even greater challenge for us all.
I had led very early on but Charlie Portelli, the local champion, had edged by and pushed on; maintaining a lead towards the Ta' Quai national stadium. But Longwood's PAUL PICKUP and GB international, Commonwealth and European marathon champion caught him and went by. I was now adrift ,running solo, in 4th position. But was suddenly aware of a lot of chattering coming up from behind.
I looked around to see a very large group of pro cyclists rapidly catching me up. Possibly 20 in total. They quickly caught me, passed me and rode on towards the stadium......and the local Maltese hero.
I ran on but could see them catch him before reaching the stadium. From this high point we would turn down towards the coast and the wind would hamper our progress most.
Except rather than pass the 3rd placed runner, the group of cyclists seemed to form a circle around him. They seemed intent on creating a barrier against the wind. Mile after after, it appeared they shielded him and encouraged him to maintain his position.
I think driven on by annoyance at what I was witnessing, I gradually closed the gap and as we reached the flat Strand in Sliema I thought I might just catch him. The gap was getting maller and smaller. But I failed as i simply ran out of road.
I crossed the line and jogged back down the course for a few minutes, envious of spectators sat drinking lunchtime pints in the promenade cafes. When I returned to the finish line Charlie P. was being carried away indoors. His wife and child followed, fearing the worse. It would appear the cyclists had forced him to run himself "into the ground"
I followed inside. But I said nothing of what had gone on. What was the point. I had had a Fastrax vest especially made in Malta colours of red and white which I took off and gave to him, saying well done.
The records show that PAUL PICKUP went on to win in 2:27.48 followed by IAN THOMPSON in 2:29.46 CHARLES PORTELLI (MALTA) 3RD in 2:32.50 and TERRY LONERGAN 4TH IN 2: 33.52.
A big gap then to GERALD MARRINAN (Stockport) 2:39.40 with a disppointed RON HILL 6th in 2:43.09.
But you'll find nothing in the reports of what happened in the second half of the race as we battled against those strong winds.
I stayed for the race presentation. There were prizes for the first 3. Mr Portelli took away 3rd place prize and first Malta runner. A large trophy and a holiday in England. Perhaps he deserved it for what he had had to endure but I always be left with the feeling that thanks to those cyclists I had been robbed of the "thrill of the chase" and the chance of a "podium" place in that inaugural MALA MARATHON. 1986.