For the past two weeks, runners across the world took part in the first #UGM2020 Goes Virtual event. Originally scheduled for April, due to the coronavirus pandemic, United Guam Marathon took on a different tack this year in comparison to the thousands of runners, supporters, and volunteers usually seen throughout Guam’s scenic views and at the finish line at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park in Tumon Bay.

In the first-ever virtual event, born out of necessity due to Guam’s public health emergency and social distancing mandates, participants ran their races in their home cities, neighborhood parks and on treadmills.

A total of 2,715 participants from Guam, the U.S., and 15 countries had registered for the virtual event, 274 of which had signed up after the event was announced.

The global event took place from Sept. 5 to Sept. 20.

Those who registered before the original 2020 deadline were automatically deferred to the virtual event and the 2021 event, which organizers are planning for an in-the-real-world, in-person experience. 

Despite the pandemic, the response to the event was a resounding success, which helped Guam and international participants maintain their focus on their training programs and staying healthy. UGM applauds the 1,337 participants who completed their races and submitted their results, stated UGM organizers in a news release.

“Early on, we became hopeful when our UGM community of runners and supporters around the world wanted to connect to the race and continue their annual UGM tradition, even during this challenging time,” said UGM race director Ben Ferguson. “As a runner, I understand the amount of time spent strategizing and planning for your race.

“This was our chance to give our participants an outlet for positivity and to acknowledge their hard work and commitment.

“I’d like to congratulate all our participants for pushing through the challenges they may have encountered both on and off the pavement. We are so proud to be a part of this community.”

While participants didn’t officially run together or end their races with the Tumon Bay Dip, a tradition where finishers dip their toes into the inviting, beautiful coastal waters, the spirit of community remained the same.

After the race, officials reached out to participants and asked them to share their photos and stories from their first #UGM2020 virtual experience,

Sardea runs traditional half marathon course

James Sardea, the owner of Urban Fitness, one of Guam’s premier gyms, finished his half-marathon distance on the traditional UGM racecourse on Sept. 20.

“On the last day to complete the race, I gave it my all without much training," said Sardea, an elite, ultra endurance athlete. “I’m happy with my results and can’t wait to race again.”

“‘Thank you, UGM, for continuing the run during the current situation and for getting participants out to run for good health,’” he said.

“Until the next race, ‘Keep on running, Guam,’” he added.

Navarrete completes 2 half marathons

When Billy Navarrete, on April 5, the original race start-date, ran his half marathon along the UGM race route, he did not hit his target time. Instead of sulk or live with regret, in September, the premier, elite athlete ran the race again.

With schedule challenges and an off-course training regimen, Navarrete said that preparing for and running in the event served as a great stress reliever for him.

“As a competitor, for multiple disciplines, I needed an outlet in order to keep my sanity during this pandemic,” said Navarrete, echoing the sentiment of so many athletes of all levels. “All the weekend 5Ks and Obstacle Course Race events I planned to partake in for 2020 were canceled due to COVID, which I am also humbly grateful for because health and safety is a priority.

“It was very significant to participate in the UGM Virtual Half Marathon this year, because I love committing to goals that I set for myself, even with the current limitations. Although I was not able to beat my goal of sub-1 hour, 45 minutes, I still had a blast and wouldn’t mind doing another virtual UGM race if things do not go back to normal.

"I already look forward to UGM 2021, and would like to give a great big shout out to those who have been working diligently to make this beautiful annual event a possiBILLYty!," he exclaimed, adding a pun.

“Congratulations to all the runners who ran this year. Stay healthy, active, and safe, everyone,” he added.

The Macalusos continue their UGM tradition

Rhea Macaluso, an avid runner and a long-time UGM participant and race ambassador, continued her tradition of running the 10K with husband, David Macaluso, and son, Myles Macaluso.

Rhea Macaluso, who has competed in the event eight straight years, having made her first appearance in the early 2010s when the race was the Guam International Marathon, has always excelled in Guam’s largest, international, signature event. In 2019, she won the Women’s 10K Division.

“I originally signed up to run a full marathon but, with this lockdown, I couldn’t run as much as I wanted to so I settled with the half marathon," Rhea Macaluso said. “I’m happy, though, because I had the best support crew and cheerleaders, my husband, David, and son, Myles.

“This is not the ideal UGM race we are all used to, but with the pandemic going on, let’s just be glad that we can still do what we love to do.

“To all the UGM finishers, ‘Good job, and see you all next year.’”

UGM is a Palomo family tradition

Kyle Palomo, who completed his third UGM 10K alongside family members, Laurie Palomo, mother, and Cabrini Cruz, girlfriend, said it was very special “to run this event with my family, because, even if it was a virtual race, I was able to finish it with people that I love.”

The Palomos, at 5 a.m., Sept. 20, began their race and saw other runners completing their UGM races.

“It was nice to see others out exercising,” Kyle Palomo said. “A couple of my family members were also completing their UGM races on their own.

“We were able to connect before and after the run by sharing our post-run photos in our family group chat.”

Kyle Palomo said that despite the virtual experience, he still felt a sense of community.

“This is my third UGM 10K, and I am proud to be part of this community of runners. My family and I are already training for the 2021 event,” he said.

United co-workers motivate each other to go the extra mile

Ann Haun, a United Airlines employee by day and motivational coach to her running team by night, in July, started a group to encourage her co-workers to join her in a 100-mile challenge.

Immediately, 33 runners joined, eventually topping off at 42 like-minded individuals with the goal of taking 10,000 steps a day. As the group became popular, seeing the results of making health a priority, 11 of the members registered for the UGM 5K and 10K.

“With the situation we are currently in on the island, my goal was to try and get everyone together as co-workers and friends to have fun,” Haun said. “During the month of July is when everyone got excited and signed up to join the #UGM2020 Goes Virtual event.”

United, the title sponsor, traditionally manages the water station at the top of the hill above John F. Kennedy High School, but with no station to manage, the nearly half-dozen, health-minded employees took to the streets in competition. No longer were they volunteer water-wingers, they were in it to win it.

Vangie Arizala, one of the United runners, posted a video of the event that can be found on UGM’s social pages.