The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Mark Tabone: Malta's Marathon Man

Sunday, 24 March 2024, 08:48 Last update: about 4 months ago

Domenic Aquilina

Mark Tabone recently became the only active Maltese athlete to have competed and finished in 6 major marathons around the globe, landing his name as a 6-Star finisher in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series.  Son of former football player turned football administrator Franz Tabone, Mark talked to TMIS over all his huge achievement.

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1.  Mark, can you please tell us a bit yourself.  How did all this commence?

Let's start with my background. I've practiced a sport practically my entire life. It all began when I started playing tennis at the age of 7. Sport runs deep in my family; my grandfather, the famous Frank Tabone of Floriana Ajax football fame, instilled a love for it early on. My dad, Franz, played football and has remained involved in the sport for many years to date.

Following my competitive junior tennis years, I made a transition to football at the relatively late age of 17. I competed at the first division level with Luxol St. Andrews. However, in 2008, at the age of 28, I sustained a knee injury that required surgery. Despite recovering from the injury, I didn't feel as confident as before to continue playing football at the same level.

That's when I discovered running. After completing the Malta Half Marathon in 2011, I knew I wanted to pursue it further. Running provided me with a unique sense of personal satisfaction that differed from any other sport I had previously practiced. It's hard to articulate the distinction, but the feeling of completing a long-distance running race is deeply personal, thrilling, and often emotional.

2.  6 major world marathons is a huge achievement to say the least.  Was all this an objective you had in mind?

Certainly, I'm not the only one pursuing this endeavour, although the number is not huge, currently around 13,000 or so. However, it is increasing every year as more runners set their sights on this goal. It's a fantastic event for all involved. Incidentally, I am only the second Maltese to complete this 6-Star challenge. I am aware that there are a few others currently striving for the same achievement, and I wish them the best of luck.

In terms of my objectives, I'd say it became increasingly important to me over time. By nature, while I've always participated in various running races since my school days, I never considered myself to possess the typical physical attributes of a runner. At the core of my objective to achieve the 6-Stars is a deep process of training, preparation, and self-learning aimed at slowly and incrementally transforming myself into a runner, initially, and then a runner capable of handling and completing a marathon decently over the years. However, it's the mental aspect of the discipline that continues to fascinate me to this day.

Additionally, something I'd like to highlight is that these World Major Marathons (and other similar large-scale races) are the only occasions where amateur runners like myself actually line up alongside the world's best athletes. Of course, the distance that separates us is vast, but on occasions such as in Tokyo, when you cross paths with the likes of the great Eliud Kipchoge running in the opposite direction (albeit many kilometres ahead) in the same race, it feels truly special.

3. Can you tell us a bit all your 6 marathons?  Which one maybe was the toughest of them all?

To be fair, running six marathons in some of the greatest cities has been quite an experience. Each marathon has its own story, both in terms of the history of the race and personally, the impact and experience they've had on me.

In terms of the toughest of all, I'd say my first one in London in 2012 was surely the most challenging. It was my first marathon, and I hit the wall physically at 30 kilometres. That day, I discovered that the concept of mind over body is not a myth. It took my legs three weeks to recover afterward. I learned a lot of lessons there and certainly wasn't adequately prepared to tackle a marathon. Actually, after that experience, I never imagined I would attempt another marathon.

On the other hand, Berlin in 2015 was my peak marathon. I managed to clock my personal best time and, in the process, achieved the Boston Qualifying time for my age category. This is the only way one can gain entry to Boston, where I completed the race in 2017. The Boston Marathon is known as the world's oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events.

Finally, I can't not mention New York for its literal American-style celebration along every kilometre of the course. From bands playing and gospel singers to people cheering on the streets of the five boroughs of New York City, it's a unique street party of sorts. 

4.  You have put your name in the Abbott World Marathon Majors 6-star-finisher.  What does this mean to you?

This journey means a lot to me personally and on a sporting level. In short, it signifies that no matter what obstacles we face, if we set our minds to something, we should never give up until perhaps one day we're in a position to strive for and achieve it.

What began as a mere idea to participate in the London Marathon 2012 as a charity entry evolved into a dream goal spanning 12 years for me. Initially, I wasn't thinking about attaining the 6-Stars. It was only after completing the New York Marathon in 2014, earning my second star, that I decided to pursue completing all of them. A decade has passed since then, and as you can imagine, many things have happened and changed since. The Covid-19 pandemic also struck just as I was preparing for Tokyo in 2020 – in fact, I deferred my entry until this year, when I could finally make plans to participate.

Maintaining consistency over the years and staying physically and mentally "in shape" to train for and complete marathons can be quite challenging amidst the fast-paced demands of daily family, work, and social life. Because, despite the fact that one can train for any race with the intention of simply finishing it, the reality is that you aim to achieve your best time on the day. However, to do so, you must be in peak physical and mental condition.

Furthermore, if there's one thing a marathon has taught me, and this was certainly evident in London, it's the profound respect one must have for the 42-kilometre distance. If you underestimate it, you simply won't finish – at least not without facing significant challenges in the latter stages.

5.  Any future objectives you have in mind?

My primary objective is to maintain good overall physical condition to continue running and participating in mid to long-distance races ranging from 5 kilometres to half marathon distances for as long as possible. The La Valette Malta Half Marathon on March 24th is next, planned as a follow-up race, three weeks after Tokyo.

Before completing the 6-Stars, I had declared that I would be done with marathons. However, now that I've achieved it, I find myself reconsidering. Tokyo was such an incredible personal experience that it's got me thinking about more marathons in the future.

So, I'll take my time to see what’s to come. Interestingly, at the end of the Tokyo Marathon, between the finish line and when we collected our 6-Star medals (which was quite a long walk!), I randomly met an English guy, and we struck up a conversation. He had just completed his second 6-Star!

While I have a few different possibilities in mind, with the potential inclusion of Sydney as a World Major Marathon later this year, who knows, we might find ourselves heading Down Under at some point in the coming years!

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