Chang Wan Jang took part in his first Christmas Island Relay more than 30 years ago and was not about to stop come hell or highwater—or in this case COVID-19.
The 70-year-old was one of two official entries who forgot the “relay” part of the race and ran the 13.7 mile-long race solo.
The physical education teacher at Hopwood Middle School ran—again barefoot as his signature—with one of his friends and completed the route from the Pacific Islands Club Saipan in San Antonio to the Last Command Post in Marpi in 2:43:13.
To take advantage of the water stations and catch the cheering crowd at the finish line, Jang and his friend started the Christmas Island Relay more than an hour early at 5:10am.
Upon reaching the Last Command Post, Jang and his friend were greeted by well-wishers including Northern Marianas Athletics officials and volunteers that continue to marvel at Saipan’s “Barefoot runner.”
In an interview with the media, Jang said he took part in the inaugural Christmas Island Relay 35 or so years ago and he’s been taking part in the tradition “all the way until now.”
As always, he espoused the benefits of running barefoot, adding that he runs every day to stay in shape and prepares himself for long-distance events like the Christmas Island Relay and the island’s half marathon and marathons.
The other solo runner that tackled NMA’s year-ending race is Jess Gariguez and the 45-year-old former senior IT specialist completed the 13.7-mile race in 3:26:15.
Gariguez said he ran the Christmas Island Relay solo as a way of thanking God.
“It was very challenging. From the very start I already asked myself if I should continue because I started my run late and I only had a few hours of sleep the night before. I told myself if after my first mile I’m OK then I will push through and finish it,” he said in Filipino.
Gariguez, who was nursing an elbow injury, faced long odds in completing his second solo Christmas Island Relay as he only had a 12-ounce bottle of water to hydrate himself. Since he started late, there were no more aid stations along the way.
“I really rationed my water in the more than 3 hours I took to finish the race. When I crossed the finish line I was surprised my bottle was only half empty,” he said, adding that upon reaching the Last Command Post he went down on all fours because of exhaustion.
The Mindoro, Philippines native was then thrilled to find out that he broke his personal half marathon record he set in the virtual Guam Half Marathon.
“It’s all by the grace of God that I was able to finish this race solo,” he said.