As the sun slowly set in the impending evening sky, 13 of Guam’s physical fitness warriors tested their limits in the Urban Fitness Ultra Mother’s Day Marathon Virtual Run. With competitors starting around 6 p.m., Saturday, the über, ultra athletes’ 55-kilometer or 66K around-the-island journeys were underway.

Starting at Urban Fitness in Maite, both distances had athletes running through Hagåtña, powering through Tamuning, trudging through Barrigada, on through Mangilao, up through Chalan Pago and Yona, down through Santa Rita and Agat, then through Sumay, Piti, Asan and, finally back in Maite.

James Sardea, the owner of Urban Fitness and event coordinator, was pleasantly surprised that all the racers finished. Because of a lack of training during and competitive outlets through the pandemic, he thought that finishing would be an uphill battle.

"I wasn’t sure if everyone would finish because of the lack of racing, but they were all determined to finish it," he said. "Rain helped, but the hills were a killer. I choose this route because it’s a combination of all the race routes that didn’t happen during COVID."

Jeff Rios, 50, competing in his second-ever ultramarathon, who opted for the 55K Division, described the run as brutal. Feeling every ache in his body, muscles screaming to stop, he pleaded with himself not to give up.

Ultramarathon runner Jeff Rios refuses to say the Q-word

HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT: Jeff Rios, 50, appears in Yona during the Urban Fitness Ultra Mother’s Day Marathon Virtual Run on Saturday. Rios completed the 55K Division in 8 hours, 37 minutes. This video screen grab courtesy of James Sardea

“The run is long, so there is a lot time to think or to muster up a great excuse to quit,” he said. “I had lunch the other day with my friend, Phil, and he stopped using the word quit. It’s a powerful word, I think. It easily wins us over."

Plans and punches

At the height of Mike Tyson’s boxing career, in a preflight interview, a reporter asked him if he had a plan for an upcoming bout against Evander Holyfield. Tyson responded, “‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.’”

Rios, like Tyson, had a plan. But at the halfway point, with 17 miles already conquered and another 17 more to go, the plan, literally, went south. With the menacing uphill track through Chalan Pago and Yona getting the best of him, the race - proverbially - tattooed Rios square on the chin.

“I wasn’t as ready as I wanted to be, and I knew that," Rios said. "On the second hill climb, reality set in. I had a plan with my speed, but those hills down south changed everything.

"I’m calculating how much time I can take in my head, while running and really planning for those breaks, but then the elevation gets steeper and the strides get shorter.”

As Rios began the Route 4 climb, his mind began playing tricks, more than once, the Q-word filling him with self-doubt.

“At around 17 miles, I was doubting myself mentally,” he said. “I told my super supportive wife ‘I was not mentally ready,' while she was doing the usual thing for me - prepping water bottles, giving me a rinse down to drop body temperature, passing my energy blocks and, the most important of all, offering words of encouragement.”

“‘You are almost there. You can do it. Hold your head up,’” Rios recalled his wife telling him. “The hills were tough. I would not have finished this without my support crew, my wife and son. They have always been there for me.”

Eight hours and 37 minutes after his journey began, Rios entered the Urban Fitness parking lot.

“We all have a little competitive blood in us, I think,” Rios said. “Having fun and doing something good for your health is a win-win situation. Urban Fitness has definitely brought me to a better place in my physical state.”