Guam's Ko’ko’ races return
By Frank Whitman
After a hiatus of several years, the Guam Visitors Bureau is hosting the return of the Guam Ko’ko’ Road Race and the Guam Ko’ko’ Kids Fun Run. Dubbed Ko’ko’ Weekend, the Kids Fun Run, open to children 4 – 12 years old, will be held on Saturday, April 15, and the 10-kilometer Road Race will be the following day, April 16.
“We’re positioning this as a weekend of activities for the family,” said Kraig Camacho, destination specialist for sports and events, for GVB. “So, you could take your kids on Saturday and then the parents run on Sunday.”
Children will compete in three age categories: participants 10-12 years old will run 3.3 km; those 7-9 will run 1.6 km; and those 4-6 will run .6 km. The children’s courses will be inside Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park at Ypao with a beach run behind Pacific Islands Club for the older age groups.
The 10K Road Race will begin and end at Ypao, and pass through Tamuning with a turnaround at the East Agana Mobil station.
The entry fees are $10 for children and $35 for adults. With assistance from the Guam Running Club, the race includes chip timing, which is expected at high-level races.
Race organizers will accept no more than 100 entries per children’s age category and no more than 1,500 adult entries.
As of March 17, about a third of the adult slots and half of the kids’ slots had been filled which, based on his past experience, Camacho said is “amazing.”
“We’re seeing the interest from the local community,” he said. “They want to get out and get their kids involved in activities.”
Race participants will be given a swag bag with a T-shirt, towel, finishers medal and other goodies. A breakfast is also included in the entry fee.
“We’re always looking to see how we can give more value,” Camacho said.
One goal of the race organizers is to raise awareness about the ko’ko’ bird, after which the race is named. The bird is endemic to Guam and is flightless, making it vulnerable to such introduced predators as the brown tree snake and feral cats. That vulnerability has taken the ko’ko’ to the brink of extinction.
The Guam Department of Agriculture Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources and other scientists are running a captive breeding program for the birds with some success.
DAWR representatives will be at the race with a live ko’ko’ on display.
GVB staffers will also be on hand wearing costumes of the ko’ko’ mascots Kiko and Kika. The costumes were developed primarily for use at overseas visitor industry trade shows.
The Ko’ko’ event was first held in 2006 and then every year until 2017, when GVB management chose to focus on the Ko’ko’ Kids Fun Run and on the United Guam Marathon. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic precluded virtually all such activity.
The Ko’ko’ Weekend is being reintroduced as Guam tourism is recovering from the economic effects of the global pandemic. In particular, the unfavorable yen exchange rate is negatively affecting the number of entries from Japan, or whom such running events are traditionally quite popular – including the Ko’ko’ race.
Organizers are treating 2023 as a transition year and have scaled back some aspects of the event. The cap on the number of entries is lower than in the past. And, in prior races, the Ko’ko’ Road Race offered a half marathon (about 21 km) and a 10K Ekiden relay. In 2017, the last time the Ko’ko’ Road Race was held, a 5k and a 10K were added. Organizers anticipate offering a half marathon again next year. More than 2,000 runners took part in the 2017 Ko’ko’ event.
GVB entered into sister-race agreements with two Japanese events. In 2011, it signed a sisterhood race agreement with the Hokkaido Track and Field Association, organizer of the Toyohiragawa River Marathon.
In 2013, it signed a sister-race agreement with the Sado-Shima Island Marathon in Niigata. The agreements include commitments by the parties to participate in each other’s events. The sister organizations will not take part in this year’s Ko’ko race since it is offering only a 10K race as opposed to the more prestigious half marathon distance. Ko’ko’ organizers plan to offer the half marathon distance in 2024.
“We’re really using this year to pivot,” Camacho said. As GVB looks to build race participation and attract visitors, it is considering ways to incentivize overseas travelers to take part, possibly by offering race entry at no cost to those who fly to Guam.
He noted that such events help boost arrivals during slow travel periods.
While, in the past, most road race participants were from Japan, that is changing.
“Right now Korea is our bread and butter,” Camacho said. “We have the most airline services out of Korea, but typically Japan was our running community.”
The average visitor spends, at a conservative estimate, $300 - $400 on their trip to Guam. “But when they buy into local events and packages we see an increase in average stay,” Camacho said After taking part in the event, they’re more likely to stay another couple of days to enjoy Guam - on the beach, shopping or taking part in similar recreational activities.
“Interaction (with locals) is most important to visitors,” Camacho said. “Our visitors want to touch and see the culture. Our Ko’ko’ is a great way to do that.”
For online registration and further information about the Ko’ko’ Road Race or the Ko’Ko’ Fun Run go to visitguam.com/koko