Spotlight on…Mark Micallef
If you are reading this then like me you probably work in the financial services sector in some way or form, and like me your work is probably quite stressful. To me, sport has always been a means to relieve stress, both when studying and more so now in my working career. Although it takes up much of my free time, I feel it actually contributes to my work as it gives me the opportunity to disconnect from the ‘real world’ for a few hours a week, each time to return with a fresh mind. My sport is cycling, and a few times a week I make it a point to get on my bike before or after work, and ride for a few hours. Although this often means riding in the dark, heat or cold, and missing out on some more conventional social events, the benefits make any foregone choices worthwhile.
Cycling enables me to meet some dear friends, travel to beautiful places, contribute to charitable events, maintain fitness, and take part in competitions. In this article I will share with you some of the highlights of my cycling experience so far.
The Lifecycle challenge
So far I have participated in 4 Lifecycle challenges. This challenge is an exceptional event. It takes place annually and once you participate it becomes part of you, you will need to do it again and again to feel the thrill which only the lifecycle challenge can give.
Lifecycle is great firstly because its cause, that of helping patients with renal failure is truly genuine. Renal disease lacks the awareness it deserves, and donations made by Lifecycle to the renal unit at Mater Dei is put to excellent use. Lifecycle however also helps the participants to better themselves. The challenge humbles both the cyclists and backup team by pushing them to their limits, both physically and mentally. It is surprising how much you learn about yourself when you are pushed to your limit, you learn enough to know what you need to do to improve yourself in general. As a participant Lifecycle will also allow you to experience a country in a completely different way- on a bike. The pace you travel on a bike is such that it allows you to cover long distances while being able to take in the scenery around you… and by long distances I mean long distances! They don’t call it a challenge for nothing, the longest lifecycle day for me was 274 km, and an average day would be 200km, or around 9 hours. Couple that with the jet lag from your flight and you will have your friends showering you with water to avoid you falling asleep on your bike… literally!
Showing off injuries and strapping at the finish of Lifecycle 2011 in Sarajevo
2011 Lifecycle in Croatia; after 100km of riding, the last thing you want to see is a 153km to go sign
There are also usually a few mountains to get over, more often than not they prove to be the toughest part of the event but they are also the most rewarding; and the descents are the most fun. My advice to anyone looking for a physical and mental challenge, which will help you relieve some office stress and help a charity in the process is to participate in Lifecycle; whether as a cyclist or as part of the backup team. If you are going to cycle just make sure to set aside 90% of your free time between May and August, warn your family and better half that you will be skipping the holidays next summer, and be prepared to give it your all, it will require no less… but in the end it will be worthwhile. This year the lifecycle challenge is going to Iceland and applications are already being accepted. The last thing I cannot fail to mention while on the subject of Lifecycle is to thank my colleagues at Deloitte who always support me in my training, and also through their donations.
Road bike racing
To me, the most exciting, and hardest part of cycling is road racing. Some say bike racing is the most physically demanding sport that exists, I would not be surprised. But I would not change it for the world. There is something about being in a bike race which becomes almost like an addiction. And of course the best races are those which take place overseas. Being so close to Sicily we often take part in some of the road races there. Stage races are also good fun, every year in April in Malta we have the ‘Tour ta’ Malta’, a 4 day stage race which attracts quite a few amateur cyclists from around Europe, sometimes even professional riders- but to them it is just a 4 day training camp of course. I have also done the amateur version of the Giro D’Italia, and the Granfondo Sportful Dolomiti race last year. The Sportful is epic. It is a marathon style race- 4000 participants, 205km, and around 5,000 vertical metres of total climbing. Last year my GPS logged a top speed of 106km/hr during the Sportful, so I am sure you will understand when I say it is one which I will be doing again this year. How else could I determine whether 106 was actually my top speed or just a ‘spike’ in the GPS?
Choice of mountain passes when training in the Dolomites (left). Mountain biking at Mizieb (right)
Mountain biking in Malta
Mountain biking is an excellent way to explore Malta’s country side, and believe it or not there is actually quite a lot to see. By and large Malta and Gozo are probably better for mountain biking than road biking due to the many off road trails in the west and north of the island, not to mention those all around Gozo. In fact one will find that there are significantly more mountain bikers than road bikers locally. Exploring Malta’s country side on a mountain bike is great. You will come across old and abandoned temples, roman remains, freshwater crabs and beautiful scenery. Of course one cannot fail to mention the adrenaline rush you get when riding single track trails.