Over A Coffee With Gerald Grech

Reading Time: 6 minutes

by James Vella Clark

GERALD GRECH is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta’s Junior College where he has been lecturing Marketing for the past 22 years. But Gerald also happens to be an accomplished Maltese runner having represented Malta at the Youth Olympics, the University Games, Small Nations Games, and the European Team Championships. Today he is also President of Libertas Malta Athletics Club.

After achieving a series of prestigious results, Gerald underwent an Achilles tendon surgery in 2017 followed by nine months of intensive rehab before starting to run again. “I believe that my stoic approach to life and my self-disciplined character helped get through this negative patch,” he confesses in this interview. 

“In fact, I value discipline a lot and am determined in all that I set out to do, be it at work, in sport and life in general.”

When Gerald is not lecturing or training, you will most probably find him travelling, hiking, learning more about psychology, philosophy, languages, and gastronomy.

You are a protagonist in Malta’s athletic scene. How did it all start?

At age 10, I recall attending Sports Day at St. Aloysius College where I attended my secondary school and 6th form years to watch my cousin compete. That was when I just fell in love with running. I kept practising athletics at school, but it was only when I was 15 that I decided to take it more seriously. I joined Libertas and started competing whilst being coached by my uncle Emy Azzopardi thanks to whom I won a number of national junior and senior titles in the long sprint events namely the 200 metres and 400 metres.

What made you shift to longer distance running?

In 1995, I met Ivan Rozhnov at the Small Nations Games in Luxembourg who became and still is my coach. Under his direction we first shifted to the middle-distance events, namely the 800m and 1500m in which I registered some of the fastest all-time Maltese performances. After 2004 I started road running with 5km races and half marathons and longer distances on the track. Eventually in 2013, I also debuted in the mountain and trail running scene taking part in major World Mountain Running Championships. Today I am back to my middle-distance track and road races. 

What would you list amongst your most important personal achievements?

1995-1998 National Junior and Senior Champion titles in 200m and 400m; 1998 – 2004 Running my best times ever on the track clocking 1’54”76 in the 800m in year 2000), clocking 4’01”02 in the 1500m in 2004); the 3000m in 8:42’43 in 2004. The latter results are still ranked in the top 10 all-time Maltese performances on the respective distances. Between 2004 and 2005 I was Road Running League Champion and national track champion on 3000m and 5000m. In 2011 I was the first Maltese runner and 2nd overall in the Malta International Half Marathon, in 2019 and 2020 I came 2nd overall in the Malta Trail League and Xterra Gozo 21k and in 2021 I achieved a national record for M45 category on 1500m with a time of 4’31’15.

Describe your typical training week ?

For many years, my 100km a week schedule consisted of daily runs and two main high-intensity workouts and double sessions four days a week. But following the Achilles tendon surgery and after intensive rehab, I switched to a cross-training regime of 5 weekly runs, bike sessions on the road, gym workouts and recovery sea swims.

What inspires you most?

Mountain scenery, open green spaces, turquoise blue seas, and resilient, critical thinking humans are the things that inspire me the most.

How do you tackle your training from a mental perspective? What are the things that you think of when you are running?

In sport, mindset is everything and so it is in running. Competitive training requires a lot of mental self-discipline to keep up the hours of regular training. When I run, I focus on the running itself to reach an optimal experience of flow where running becomes a meditative experience.

A few years back you started promoting mountain running and today you are also hosting your annual event. Tell us more about this?

Mountain running is an established worldwide sport and a discipline of athletics with events of varying distances and altitudes from short to medium uphill and downhill mountain races to long-distance trail running across distances that range from 40km to 100km and more at over 2000m elevations. 

In 2013 the first National Mountain Running Championships were held – an event which this year saw its 10th edition – a countryside route from Mġarr up through Binġemma and ending in Kunċizzjoni on the outskirts of Rabat covering a distance of 5.6km with an elevation climb of 150 metres. Team Malta has since then been regularly participating in major World and European Mountain running championships.

What are your future projects?

One of my near future projects involves Libertas Malta Athletics Club which together with a newly elected committee, we want to strengthen and establish as one of the top running clubs on the island. This year I was also elected on the council of Athletics Malta where I have committed to contribute my experience for the future development of athletics in Malta. However I am also determined to try and set some new national records on middle-distance events in the Masters categories. 

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite food: Thai Curry

Favourite drink: Green Tea 

Favourite spot in Malta: Għajn Tuffieħa Beach

Summer or Winter? Summer

Most memorable race: The 2014 World Mountain Running Championship in Massa Carrara, Italy running 11km uphill in a white marble quarry!

A disappointing moment/main running career Regret: My main regret in my competitive running career was not breaking 4 mins on 1500m, especially when I knew I was prepared on several occasions to run at least 3’55. It was probably more of a mental barrier.

Your favourite trait about yourself: Perseverance

What would you like to be remembered for most: Longevity in competitive sport!

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