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Darren Vandit calls for concerted effort to revamp distance running schedule

Says route changes for 2024 La Valette Marathon very positive

Long-distance running has completely changed the life of Darren Vandit.

Football was initially Vandit’s favourite sport but that all changed when his workmates challenged him to register for a race.

He only discovered the size of his challenge when he presented himself at the starting line of the Mdina Spinola race when he discovered that he had to cover 17km before reaching the finish line.

“It was a painful experience as I struggled a lot physically to complete the distance but when I reached the final metres of the race I was overwhelmed by the emotions as I had really enjoyed the experience,” Vandit told the Times of Malta.

“And from that moment, football was my past and I dedicated fully to long-distance running, a decision I have no regrets about. It was not a huge challenge for me as I had always conducted a sporting life.

“But athletics is a sport that you need to focus on certain important elements 100 per cent, such as sleeping hours and nutrition. You have a set of rules you have to follow and if you cheat on them, you cannot produce your best performance, unlike other sport.”

Vandit admits that as a runner he was obsessed by his career.

“I believe that if you are going to run a race seriously you need to be at your 100 per cent to produce your peak performance,” he said.

“If you want to compete seriously, you have a strict schedule that you need to follow. If you fail to do that you arrive not at your 100 per cent and all that you have worked for in the past weeks and months would have been not enough as you are unable to achieve your maximum potential.”

Vandit says that as every athlete he experienced some highs and lows in his career.

“The most memorable memories for me was reaching the qualifying standard to compete at the Paralympic Games in London and Rio in 2012 and 2016,” he said.

“For the London Games, I didn’t train as much as I wanted to for the marathon. At that time, my father was battling cancer so I was not fully focused on training. The MQS was at 3:09.59 and I managed to clock 3:01.54 which was quite an impressive feat.

“Unfortunately, despite achieving the MQS I was not chosen to take part in the Games and someone else from a different sport (who didn’t even qualify for their discipline) took my place. “Four years later, I targeted a place in the Rio Games in the 1,500m. The qualifying standard was at  4:29 and I managed 4.16. I was in great shaped and honestly I believe I had a great chance of winning a medal for my country.

“Sadly, a few days later I suffered a long-term injury, Achilles tendonitis, which kept me unable to train properly for several months and was forced to miss out. We tried our best in terms if treatment – but ultimately there was nothing I could do more.”

Thanks to his methodological ‘long-term athlete development’ coaching philosophies that he implements with his athletes, Vandit has managed to become one of the top, established long-distance coaches on the island, where joggers turn into runners and runners transform themselves into strong contending athletes.

The end result of a smart, consistent training build-up approach, his runners not only enjoy the process and group camaraderie within his Raptorz Athletics club but more importantly avoid any unnecessary physical burnout, fend off any mental exhaustion or stress-related anxiety and last but not least, remain injury free throughout their journey within the sport.

He is also the founder and race director of ‘The Fastest Events’, a new exciting sporting concept created back in 2017, with Fastest5 being the first race of the lot.

As an athlete himself, he understands that every hardworking runner wants to run faster times and deserve to be rewarded with the best possible conditions to set new personal records and hence the thought behind the creation of ‘The Fastest Events’ emerged.

The intent is to give the opportunity to runners of all abilities to enjoy very flat and fast road races with the opportunity to achieve new personal bests.

His events are becoming very popular amongst the locals as Vandit is very closely connected with the local running community.

Asked what advice he would give to those who would like to start practising the sport, he said:

“Long distance running has a lot of benefits,” he said.

“From a health point of view, the level of fitness of a person will take a very positive change as there will be no diabetes problems, it lowers the heart rate and will lower dramatically the chances of having heart-related problems.

“Added to that, it may be an individual sport but it has given me the opportunity to make a lot of new friends and form part of a growing running community. Added to that it provides a lot of mental well being and the adrenaline rush you experience when you compete in races is unmatchable.

Next year, Vandit will be designing a new race in collaboration with CORSA that will form part of The Fastest Events Road Running League 2024.

“When Matthew Pace approached me with the idea of organising together a new race next year, I immediately accepted,” he said.

“I always had an idea in mind that has never been organised yet and I am looking forward to make it happen next year. It’s going to be a 5K race on a flat course on April 21 which will form part of the Fastest Event Road Running League.

“Everyone is invited to take part in this event which will also have AIMS certification.”

In the last two years, Vandit had several athletes who took part in the La Valette Marathon. This year the race will have a new race course and the experienced runner said the changes made by organisers CORSA were a good move.

“The La Valette Marathon is a unique race that is focused on increasing the profile of Malta’s history,” Vandit said.

“The changes in the route for next year were very eye-catching as it will take the runners from St Paul’s Bay towards Senglea. No doubt, foreign runners will enjoy taking part in this race as it has eliminated some areas in the southern area that had created a logistical inconvenience.

“I had several athletes running this event and I always had great feedback. I am really looking forward to take part in it next year as it is very well organised.”

Asked what he thinks need to change to attract more runners to the sport, Vandit had a clear idea.

“In my opinion, there are far too many events on the athletics calendar,” he said.

“In a year we have 120 races, which means you have two competitions every weekend. It’s impossible that if there are 2,000 participants to take part in all these races. Added to that, there is also the track and field schedule, where middle and long-distance runners who need to clock qualifying times cannot compete in events that are usually scheduled every Saturdays, that is, a day before Sunday’s road racing events.

“Added to that, the expenses to organise these races increase every year. To take a small example, to have a traffic officer in the past we used to pay 20 or 30 euros, today it costs 170 euros to have a LESA officer for three hours on a motorbike.

“For organisers to make some profit you need at least 300 participants, if you fail to reach that number you will finish in the red.

“On the other hand, Vandit wholeheartedly understands the running community’s side as participation fees have also increased, and if one had to compete in a race every week, one will end up forking out €80 per month in race registration fees.

“The only solution I see that all race organisers come together all races are put in one racing calendar, like it happens for track events. It may seem wishful thinking given the current situation but that is the only way forward to put the sport on more solid foundations and from which all runners can benefit from all aspects.”

The La Valette Marathon will be held on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

One can register at https://endurancecui.active.com/event-reg/select-race?e=84518034&i=893d606d-cc49-4ac8-8ef8-18967df49c65

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