Ramona Engerer discovered her passion for running only recently, but she’s now on top of the world having completed the gruelling New York Marathon in November. She tells Jo Caruana her story.
Ramona Engerer, a mum of two, never thought she’d be a marathon runner. In fact, she didn’t think she’d be a runner at all. But, like most changes in life, her introduction to the running world was brought on by necessity. In this case, it was the necessity to lose the final few kilos of her ‘baby’ weight after the birth of her daughter, Carla, now 13.
“I’d had a caesarean and still had 15 kilos to lose a year after giving birth,” smiles Ramona. “I started off walking and jogging from Surfside to Torri in Sliema and kept that up for around five years. I didn’t take it very seriously, but enjoyed the fact that it gave me some time to myself and I would schedule it into my early mornings.
“When I was pregnant with my son, Jake, now 8, I really missed running, and would wake up at 5am all the same so that I could go for a morning walk. Within three weeks of giving birth, I was back running again – even though I wasn’t supposed to be. By then, I was evidently hooked.”
Shortly afterwards, Ramona was introduced to the Ladies’ Running Club by her friend Cecilia Degaetano, at which point she started to take the sport more seriously.
“I dreamt of taking part of the local halfmarathon, but never thought I’d manage it,” she says. “The race leaves Mdina and finishes by the Sliema Ferries, covering 13.1 miles. As I was still only running along the Front at the time, it felt like an incredible distance for me to try. However, I received plenty of encouragement and eventually gave it a go in February 2003. It felt great to be pushing myself to a personal limit and to watch myself improve.”
To aid her training, Ramona also joined Cynergi Gym three years ago, which has helped to build her muscle strength and reduce her number of injuries. As the years passed, with Ramona taking part in the half-marathon every year, another of her friends, Claire Felice, suggested the London Marathon.
“It had long been a dream of mine, and Claire recommended associating myself with Running for Preeclampsia, a charity that would help to get me into the race while raising funds. I didn’t have much time to think about it but I went ahead. I was pretty nervous as I was used to running 13.1 miles and was suddenly going to be running 26.2 miles. But I did it and it was brilliant. Of course there were challenges, and I recall suffering a lot in the 19th mile, which is a notorious sticking point in every race, but I pushed myself through it. For me, it’s all about the enjoyment of the race. Finishing is the very best part.”
Ramona’s next challenge came in the form of the full Malta Marathon, which she had yet to tackle:
“I was nervous because I knew there wasn’t the same support system that you get with the foreign races, where you are cheered on throughout. It may sound trivial but that really does lift your spirits and encourage you to keep going. “Nevertheless, in 2009, having completed the London full marathon, I decided to give it a go. As always, I trained by doing what I thought my body needed as opposed to training by the book. Similarly, I have always been careful never to let my running affect my family’s life, and I always keep that in perspective.”
Having gone on to complete the Malta full marathon twice, Ramona once again set her sights overseas, this time on New York.
“I decided that I wanted to run the New York marathon by the time I was 40,” she says. “I gave myself a five-year window because it is very hard to get into and could have taken four years. Nevertheless, just a month after I’d applied, I received an email to say that I had been accepted. I was so surprised as I hadn’t even begun to prepare myself!
“I discussed it with my husband Edward who left it up to me to decide whether we should go. And after wondering about it for a while, I decided to go for it, knowing that it would be a complete dream come true.
“Having said that, the training was pretty hard-going, especially as it took place during the summer months. I would run with Monica, a friend of mine. She would join me for the first couple of hours and I would then keep going on my own for the final hour-and-a-half.
It was incredible training, but every time I’d reach the end I’d get the same satisfaction of a race. Before I left, my daughter even told me how proud she was, which meant a lot.”
Ramon and Edward headed to New York just a few days before the marathon.
“We’d experienced New York before, on our honeymoon,” she explains. “And we hadn’t really enjoyed it. But, nevertheless, we wanted to make the most of it, so we spent the first couple of days sightseeing.
“The city was very much alive in anticipation of the race. Over 45,500 people take part, which is more than double the London version, so the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. It was great to know that I was among professionals and top athletes, as for me that was all part of the excitement.
“The day itself was very challenging. I had to be up at 4am to make it there by 5am. It was absolutely freezing and we had a long way to walk. Thankfully it was a beautiful day, and by the time we made it to the starting point on Staten Island, the sun was out. We had to wait in our positions for an hour, but in all the excitement, the time went by went pretty quickly. Before I knew it we were off, running through some of Manhattan’s most beautiful spots and with thousands of people cheering us on as we went.”
Ramona finished in 12,477th place with a time of three hours and fifty-five minutes.
“That wasn’t bad for me!” she grins.
“Arriving at the finish line on 1st Avenue was an incredible and emotional experience. I couldn’t believe that I’d done it. I was so happy to reach the end and I felt overwhelmed that I’d managed it.”
Back in Malta, Ramona is still making time for her passion.
“I truly believe that, if more people tried it, they would soon realise how hooked on running you can get,” she says. “The sport means a lot to me. It helps me deal with worry and stress, as well as to relax.
“A lot of people think I’m mad – and I do feel mad sometimes – but I remind myself that I do it because I absolutely love it.”