Niki Micallef @Etna Trail

OUT 2024 #Runnersstories Niki Micallef - Malta

After Malta became small for his adventures and runs, Niki transferred to Salzburg, closer to the big mountains and trails, and this year he chose to run the 100K on OUT after meeting us in Istria. Check out his inspirative answers and advice about our sport, how he became the Backyard Ultra representative of Malta and what is his major motive for doing ultras.

OUT: Please introduce yourself to our followers.

Hi everyone! I am Niki Micallef (@niki.runs), originally from Malta but now living in Salzburg Austria. My professional background is in software development but I spend the majority of my free time running trails in nature and mountains here in Salzburg.

OUT: How long have you been running/trail running? (why do you run)

I started running at the end of 2017 with the goal of being fitter and healthier however, that quickly turned into something much bigger. I started running short distances on the roads but I quickly transitioned to running long distances on trails. Eventually, Malta became a bit too small for the distances and the adventures I wanted to do so I moved to Salzburg in order to have greater access to trails and mountains.

I’m not sure why I run…sometimes I say “because I can” but I am not sure that that description quite covers why I run. My friends say that I am quite a competitive person and when I do something I really want to push myself and go as far as I can in that discipline, so I guess trail and ultra running really match with that character trait.However, I feel that the goal of my running journey is to provide inspiration and serve as an example to other people and help them excel in their own journey, whatever that journey is. All of us can do much more than we think we can and sometimes all we need is someone we relate to which will help us unlock our potential, and I hope that I can be that person to the people around me.

OUT: What do you enjoy most about trail running?

Trail running allows me to distance myself from the chaos and stress of everyday life. Being in the trails, surrounded by trees, sun and animals, allows me to relax and let my mind wander. The calm environment helps me think through problems in a rational manner and come up with solutions which I would have not been able to think of while being surrounded by the constant disruptions. It is my method of mediation, only that I meditate while moving.

OUT: Do you have a memorable running experience/story to share with us? (or your biggest achievement)

My biggest personal achievement is representing Malta in the 2023 Backyard Ultra Individual World Championships in Tennessee, the home of the notorious Lazarus Lake. I would have never thought that I would be representing my country at any level, let alone at a World Championship event, so I am very pleased to have been able to have this opportunity. Additionally, running alongside some of the very best in our sport like Harvey Lewis and Claire Bannwarth, along with other runners from every corner of the world, is an experience that I will always cherish.

However, the thing which I am proudest of is serving as an example to other people in their fitness journey. In the very first Maltese Backyard Ultra event, I spoke to many runners who were completing their first half marathon, full marathon etc. and over the years these people have taken inspiration from what I was able to do to push their boundaries and run further than they ever thought they could. While it is nice for me to see how far I can push my body, seeing everyone around me also push themselves beyond what they thought was possible and succeed gives me far greater pleasure than any personal achievement.

OUT: How do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?

I am a very goal-oriented person so whenever I go through a tough period I remember that not reaching my goal will hurt me more than whatever is annoying me at the moment.

In order to prepare for the eventual tough times, I spend some time purposefully training in conditions which suck; be it because of bad weather, a monotonous route, or even by simply running far when I am unmotivated to do so. When the going gets tough I can then draw on these experiences knowing that I went through equally bad patches during training which gives me the confidence to know that I can get through this low point too.

OUT: What are your top three "little things" that you do to prevent injury? 

I’m a firm believer of focusing on the basics so that means having proper sleep and eating well. I am well known amongst my family and friends for having 9 hour long sleeps and eating a lot of food which are the basis for keeping myself injury free. Finally, my last tip is that since I write my own training, I ensure that I structure my training in a way that I have adequate time to rest and recover and not burn myself out.

OUT: If you could give a single piece of advice to less experienced trail runners what would it be?

The key to improvement is consistency, not singular big long runs which are followed by days or weeks of time off. This means that while hard training and long runs are good, the focus should be to remain healthy and injury free in order to be able to go out and exercise again. I would suggest that you take a step back and look at your training over the course of months and years rather than days and weeks since a few days of recovery might actually be the best choice for long term improvement and longevity in the sport.


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