From a few to hundreds

Running on Guam has evolved over the years from a handful of hardcore, dedicated runners who would meet several times a year for races, to the large crowds of today that show up for races just about every weekend of the year.

Today running on Guam is not a spectator sport: it’s a sport for everybody. While there are still top runners in every race, and those who train for international competitions, most runners are those who do it for fun, for the competitive aspects of it, and for health reasons.

While the races of the early years of running, in the 1960s, might have had ten or twenty runners, the largest races today can draw upwards of 1,000 runners. And while the races of yesteryear were usually ten miles or longer, today the most common race is the 5-kilometer (or “5K”) race, equal to 3.1 miles.

Founding of Guam Running Club

Prior to the founding of the Guam Running Club, at about 1970, the only real organized running on Guam was track and field competitions, but there weren’t many road races. There were a few runners jogging the island’s roads, solo or in pairs. There were occasional one-mile races held at a few of the village fiestas, such as the Inarajan fiesta, but they were fun races with no real dedicated competitors.

In 1970, the first organized race was held – the Turkey Trot, held after Thanksgiving, and with it was born the Guam Running Club. Another of the first races was the Perimeter Relay, and while it has changed forms many times over the years, it is still run today.

Several runners on Guam put together eight teams for that first Perimeter Relay race – Mick Flynn, for example, found other interested runners and had a team. Bob Hartsock, a cross country coach at George Washington High School, put together a team that included Bob Wade, who would go on to become one of GRC’s most dedicated members. Scott Hamilton, who was working for the Navy, also had a team that included Navy runners and others.

Other charter members included Marvin Villines and his Agat Junior High student Richard Taitague, Joe Lawton, Ben Luzano, Mike Hammond, high school runner Mel Borja.

With this race, a very informal Guam Running Club gradually came into existence. According to Wade, it was basically a number of runners coming together several times a year to put on races, and those races did not have a lot of participants. It wasn’t until lawyer Robert Klitzkie became involved with the GRC a few years later that a charter and by-laws were put into place.

Early years

After the Perimeter Relay, the GRC held a 1.5-mile fitness test at Paseo Stadium, and soon after came the 10-mile Cross Island Road race, a challenging and popular race that still exists today. GRC continued to add races and slowly gain numbers until there were races about every month or two in the first few years.

In 1972, Joe Lawton, who was teaching at the University of Guam, organized the first Guam Marathon. He was one of the only marathon runners on Guam, with twelve marathons under his belt, but he taught other avid runners about marathon training – especially the long run – and soon a small group of runners were training for the first marathon.

The race course for this first was laid out with the help of Dick Bothmer, a former Department of Education Physical Education consultant. Bothmer was a college sprinter who at one time had tied the world record for the 100 yard dash.

The first marathon went well, and was sponsored in the early years by San Miguel beer. Lee Stewart, a 26-year-old teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, won the first marathon in three hours, twenty-four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Bob Wade and Marvin Villines trained together and ran the marathon together (which they did for the two following years) and tied for second at 3:32:13. Lawton, who organized the event, didn’t finish the first race due to cramps. Only eight runners finished that year.

The Guam Marathon would become the backbone of the GRC schedule for years, and to some extent it still is today. The annual schedule would start with shorter races in April, after the marathon, and build up through the year in distance to the Hafa Marathon (13.1 miles) in February, peaking in the marathon in March.

Only a handful of runners ran the race in the early years, but by the late 1970s that was growing to at least two dozen.

Running was a very different sport in the early years. Only a small group of people were running, most of them statesiders on Guam with the military or teachers. They were dedicated runners who rarely ran anything less than a 10-kilometer run – in those days, there were none of the 5Ks that are popular today.

Women runners were also scarce on Guam in the early and mid-1970s. Lou Klitzkie started running in 1974, and said she used to run at night in Dededo, by herself. She didn’t know of any other women running at the time except Betty Bopart, another die-hard runner.

In the late 1970s, running seemed to start to take off. While fewer than eight runners finished the marathon in 1977, several dozen finished in 1978. In 1979, there were close to ninety participants in the marathon, and by the early 1980s that number climbed well over 200.

1980’s growth spurt

The early 1980s was a running boom. The locals started to get involved in running, led by Joe and Christine Taitano, Lou Klitzkie and Richard Taitague in the late 1970s. Joe Taitano would go on to be one of Guam’s best runners in the 1980s, setting a record in the Guam Marathon in 1983. He was challenged by Fred Schumann, a Japanese-American who came to Guam in the late 1970s and who was just as fierce a competitor as Taitano.

Many marathon runners, such as Bob and Lou Klitzkie, also trained for the Honolulu Marathon, which to this day remains popular with Guam runners. Running groups were organized for weekend long runs.

This was also the start of a two-decade-long running partnership between Lou Klitzkie and Joanne Bonine, two long-distance runners who became Guam’s ultradistance champs.

Ultradistance run

The first ultradistance run was held in 1979, a 50-miler with only four finishers: Bob Klitzkie, Gabe Lombard, Al Pickens and Mick Flynn. In the early to mid-1980s this Ironman race, as it was called, became an ultimate challenge for Guam’s committed distance runners. Runners such as Bobo Bryant, Dianne Strong, Heidi Ballendorf, Lou Klitzkie and Joanne Bonine would dedicate their training to the Ironman.

Lou Klitzkie did her first ultramarathon in 1983, and was the only one out of four runners to finish. Joanne Bonine started running it a year later, and going into the 1990s, they became just about the only runners who still ran the race. Many times several runners training for the marathon would do part of the ultramarathon race as a training run and then drop out, while Klitzkie and Bonine would be the only finishers. In 2003, the race was canceled because no other runners were doing it.

Klitzkie and Bonine also competed five times as a two-woman team in the Perimeter Relay, completing the 48-mile race by themselves.

The Klitzkies were also among Guam’s most dedicated marathon runners. In 1979, Bob Klitzkie became the first Guam runner to compete in the elite Boston Marathon, which is by invitation only to those who meet tough qualifying times. In 1983, Lou Klitzkie became the first female to run the Boston Marathon.

Larry Kasperbauer started running in 1979 and in 1981 became the GRC president. He was dean of the College of Education at UOG at the time, and was also a senator for many years. He said during those years a number of races were added until the GRC had at least one run a month, and sometimes two.

Rise of the 5K

The biggest change to hit running on Guam came in the early 1990s, when the 5K began to gain popularity. That single race changed the face of running on Guam, as it did nationwide.

While in the previous two decades, running on Guam was a small but growing group of dedicated long-distance runners, in the 1990s running became a pastime for the masses. The 5K became a popular fundraising vehicle for many organizations, from charities to sports teams trying to raise money to go off-island, and by the end of the decade there were 5Ks almost every weekend. It remains so to this day.

As 5Ks grew in number and popularity, many more runners emerged who previously had never considered the sport. Many people were encouraged to participate in the 5K, for health and fundraising purposes, and the popularity of the races attracted a large number of sponsors and a large number of raffle prizes that are given away after the race is completed. People were encouraged to even walk the 5K, or jog it for fun – something that wasn’t reflected in the tougher and longer races of the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the 5Ks are held at the crack of dawn while it is still cool out, and end with fresh fruit and water. T-shirts are often given away.

Today many of the longer races, from 10-kilometer races to the marathon, still remain popular among the more dedicated long-distance runners. But the 5K is by far the most dominant form of racing on Guam, with numbers that range from several hundred runners to well over a thousand.

It’s a change that has made running more popular on Guam. Even the old-timers in the sport applaud, because of the number of people who are becoming healthier through a more active lifestyle and because many runners start with the 5Ks and move on to the more difficult races.

International events

The earliest international events that Guam runners competed in were the South Pacific Games. While the details are sketchy, Bob Hartsock recalls Benny San Nicolas of Inarajan doing well in the 1500-meter event in the 1967 South Pacific Games.

In the 1971 SPG, Hartsock was the coach of Guam’s track team. Terry Brooks ran the 400-meter dash and Renetta Harrington ran the 100-meter sprint. Bill Buchanan, a contract teacher at Dededo Junior High, got was the only track and field athlete from Guam to medal, with a silver medal in the shot put and a bronze in discus. Mel Borja competed in the marathon.

Lou Klitzkie became Guam’s first runner to run the Olympics in 1988, in Seoul, Korea. She was also featured in publications around the world after she was interviewed for being the oldest female marathon runner in the Seoul Olympics – and a grandmother as well. She set her personal record in the marathon at that Olympics at 3:25:28.

In the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Marie Benito was the only runner to represent Guam. She ran the women’s marathon, coming in 65th place with a 3:27:28 finish.

Philam Garcia ran the men’s 100-meter and Ronda Davidson-Alley ran the women’s marathon (3:13:58, good for 44th place) in the 2000 Summer Olympics for Guam. In the 2004 Summer Olympics, Neith Weare and Sloan Siegrist ran the 1,500-meter race for Guam.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

SportingPulse “Guam National Olympic Committee.” (accessed August 4, 2010).

Guam Running Club “About the Club.” (accessed August 4, 2010).