With only a day left in the Go The Distance Fitness Challenge sponsored by Urban Fitness Guam, athletes have upped their game in the final weeks of the virtual race.

The fitness challenge, which started July 1, features more than 400 athletes from Guam, Saipan, Korea, Florida and California tackling a race that encompasses 430 miles in one month – 30 miles of swimming, 300 miles of biking and 100 miles of pounding the roadways – all for a great cause.

The event raised more than $10,000 for PPEs for the island’s front line health care workers in the global battle against COVID-19.

Normally a mecca for adventure sports and racing, COVID-19 shut down a number of racing mainstays for athletes across the region. Fitness guru James Sardea of Urban Fitness pushed out the virtual challenge with the herculean feat drawing double the expected number of participants for the inaugural race.

Athletes are tracked via Garmin, Strava and various other fitness apps. The leaderboard is posted roughly every week, and the results have served as impetus for island athletes to grind it out against the best.

“The last week of the challenge has everyone rushing to finish up their miles,” Sardea said. “With the top mile leaders, they are pushing more miles every week because they don’t want their friends to beat them. It’s such a friendly competition that everyone is pushing in a good way.”

Heading into the week of July 19, Amanda Walsh (Guam) and Florence Antonio (Saipan) held the swim lead. However, in the most recent listing, Jennifer Pulmones (Guam) usurped the top position on the leaderboard. Antonio was still holding strong, adding another 16 miles to his swim total.

In the bike portion, Saipan’s Sheila Isla and Mark Isip continued to hold on to the top two spots in their respective categories.

In the run category, Lauren Mechelle held a three-week reign at the top, but Sharon Hawley slid in and bumped Mechelle down in the latest posting. Saipan’s Taro Goto still holds the top position heading into the final days of the competition, adding a blistering 630 miles to his weekly total.

With all the athletes furiously pushing on the front end, Sardea credits much of the success of the event to several people, including Jeff Rios, Marlyn Gumabon and April Yumol.

“I would have gone crazy with all the paperwork, questions from participants and this event would’ve been out of control if I kept on agreeing to everyone,” said Sardea on the work Gumabon has done to keep the event moving. “Thanks to her she kept GTD in control.”

Sardea credits Yumol, a front line emergency technician at Guam Memorial Hospital, with the idea to help the island’s health care workers.

“April – her being a frontliner gave us the reason to do something great with this challenge,” he said. “It could’ve gone to something else but seeing what she and all the frontliners have to go through … they needed the help.”

Yumol, who has participated in various racing events the past three years, said her role is to promote the event and ensure the delivery of PPE supplies to the community that needs it.

Competing in the 100-mile running challenge, Yumol said the camaraderie behind the scenes has been great.

"Having to see participants from other places of the world, … (as) a community we’re coming together to reach out virtually,” said Yumol, who is currently training to run her first marathon. “Participants are highly motivated in challenging themselves since we are still not able to gather in the usual races we normally participate.”

She’s also noticed that the more experienced athletes are able to share advice and help guide the novices who have joined in the community, making for a more positive atmosphere.

While it has been a struggle, the pandemic has opened opportunities, she said, adding “when we view this pandemic as an opportunity to take control of our health, it’s a hopeful moment.”

An avid runner and fitness instructor, Gumabon said her role is mostly behind the scenes where she helps collect and compile the data to ensure accuracy.

“The feedback has been great,” she said. “I’m so ecstatic when I see so many people are out exercising … When I do my run, I see so many people biking and running and it makes so happy that people are doing this for their health and for a good cause.”

The varying levels of the fitness challenge allow everyone to take part, she said.

“Go The Distance is not a challenge against one another, but a challenge for you – the individual – to exercise and take that step into fitness,” Gumabon said, stressing the intrinsic motivation and mental and physical benefits of the event.

There are medals and prizes for the top athletes, she said, but “what really makes me happy is that people are out there exercising.”

Currently competing in the 100-mile run, Gumabon says she’s not one who would have ever thought of herself as a runner until she picked it up as something to do with friends.

“Now, it’s like in my blood that I need to get my run in,” she said. “Beginners should never, never, never think that they cannot do this, because they can.”

Touting the benefits of physical exercise and regular doses of Vitamin D, Gumabon stresses the need for people to get fresh air and improve their immune system, especially “during this pandemic situation that we’re in.”

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