CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 5, 2020) – When the Camp Zama Virtual 5K Challenge kicked off at the Yano Fitness Center here at midnight April 27, the scene was extraordinary: No one was there.
Instead, runners appeared at various times over the course of the next five days, taking selfies at the starting and finishing lines and posting them on the Camp Zama Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Facebook page with their completion times. They had five days to complete the challenge and organizers relied on the honor system for posting times.
Greg Zaboski, a sports specialist for Camp Zama’s FMWR, said organizers designed the race to comply with social distancing rules amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Camp Zama’s stay-at-home measures, it is important for people to get out and exercise, Zaboski said.
“It’s very stressful, so [you must] maintain your physical activity, social distancing lines and your peace of mind,” Zaboski said. “Especially as a military community, we all need to work together to help keep people resilient and fit for the fight.”
Jess Kotleski, who has participated in several community races at Camp Zama, ran the race April 30 with her husband John and their children Jasmine, 10, and Jackson, 8.
Before the race, Jackson asked if there would be balloons and people cheering, Kotleski said.
“‘No, not this time,’” Kotleski told him. “‘There’s no one at the end, no one cheering, but that’s where the drive comes from within to have that motivation.’”
The Camp Zama Virtual 5K Challenge was her first race that did not include crowds of people at the beginning, Kotleski said, but she enjoyed it.
“It’s definitely different, but I like both,” Kotleski said.
Dustin Perry, also a veteran of several Camp Zama community races, said that ironically, COVID-19 restrictions on Camp Zama ended up improving his performance during his run April 30.
Before the Yano Fitness Center closed, Perry worked out there every day at lunchtime, and he wanted to find an alternative.
“I’ve always been a semi-avid runner, so I decided to start running a route that started and finished at the building where I work,” Perry said.
Eventually, Perry said he built up his endurance so he was completing a 5K every weekday.
“I even began running on the weekend, doing a 10K each this previous Saturday and Sunday,” Perry said. “So when it came time to do the Virtual Run, I feel like I was pretty well acclimated and ready to run a steady pace.”
Like Kotleski, Perry said he likes races with or without crowds of people.
“There is definitely something enjoyable about group runs, when you can push yourself competitively and see crowds of people who are cheering for you,” Perry said. “But when I was running alone today, I have to admit it was very peaceful and there was no pressure to push myself too hard or try to catch up to anyone who was outrunning me!”
Perry said he could envision a future, even without COVID-19 restrictions, where virtual races became a popular way to keep people motivated and active.
Perry encourages runners who might be hesitant to participate in races to take advantage of opportunities such as the Virtual Run.
“If you’ve ever been hesitant about competing in a running event, whether you don’t think you’re fast enough or if you think you’d come in last place, events like the Virtual Run are perfect,” Perry said. “You’re on your own, you can go your own pace, and you can’t come in last because it’s just you who is running.”
Just don’t expect the fanfare of a regular race.
When the Camp Zama Virtual 5K Challenge ended May 1, it ended the same way it began: With no runners present.
And instead of an award ceremony immediately after the race, participants gathered online May 5 to watch organizers spin a virtual wheel on the Camp Zama MWR Facebook page so they could draw eight prize winners from the 41 participants. The prizes included three FMWR gift bags; an American Red Cross emergency preparedness kit; an ARC oversized umbrella; an ARC plus kit; and two official Super Bowl footballs.
“Woohoo, congratulations!” commented Marali Rodriguez, a race participant, to the winners.
In terms of times, Mike Rothenberger finished first with a time of 20 minutes, 36 seconds, and John Kotleski finished second with a time of 22:17. For the women, Cassandra Snell came in first with a time of 27:39, and Veronica Johnson came in second with a time of 27:48.
Jon Lee, Camp Zama’s FMWR marketing coordinator, thanked everyone for participating.
“What an amazing turnout, and we look forward to providing you some more great events,” Lee said, encouraging people to message Camp Zama’s FMWR page with ideas.