Janji Films presents:
RUNNING THE PERIMETER
featuring Dillon Quitugua
VIDEO: Maggie Steele | PHOTOS: Jaden Guerrero | WORDS: David Gleisner
Seventy miles into his 100 mile run around Guam, tears were mixing with sweat on Dillon Quitugua’s face.
After 26 hours, he was exhausted, sleep deprived, and still had another 30 miles to the finish line. To make it worse, a racing heart rate and a bloody nose had taken out his two partners for the run, leaving him to go it alone in the heat and humidity.
“I had a mental breakdown. I was crying, I was upset, I was like, ‘I can’t believe I have to do a 50k by myself,’” Dillon says. “Everyone was watching me admit to myself that this was really, really hard.”
Dillon had started the run before sunrise the previous day, setting out from Guam’s capital city of Hagåtña with two friends, Johnny Barsano and Brandon Perez. His route would take him around the perimeter of the island, up steep hills, past ocean vistas, along coral roads. If completed, he would become the first person to ever run the ultramarathon distance around the island.
Before that could happen, though, he had to battle his exhaustion through those last 30 miles.
“It was way worse than the first day. Every aid station, someone was pouring water over my head,” Dillon says. “It was like running through a sauna.”
From left: Johnny Barsano, Dillon Quitugua, and Brandon Perez on the road during the Mariana's 100.
Dillon is Chamorro, a member of Guam’s indigenous people. Although he visited family in Guam regularly, he spent most of his childhood in Hawai’i, 3,800 miles away. Growing up in a separate culture, speaking a different language, he felt a disconnect from his heritage. That feeling of separation reached a head during a two year stint working for the Peace Corps in Nepal.
“I dedicated two years to learning a language, dedicated two years to learning a culture, dedicated so much time and so much of my mental and physical effort to learning about Nepal. And I was like, why have I not done this for my own language? Why can I speak fluently in Nepali, but I don’t know how to speak Chamorro at all?”
Dillon came back to Hawai’i after his time in the Peace Corps in early 2020, the same year he began running ultramarathons. Even in one of the most diverse states in the U.S., he found a largely homogenous ultrarunning community, without many other islanders like him.
Looking for representation and reconnection, he set his eyes on Guam, “because it’s culturally relevant, I’m passionate about it, I have a family there. And if more people from Guam — kids, adolescents, aspiring athletes, anyone aspiring — see that I can do this, then they know that they can do whatever they wanna do.”
As he began planning out the route he named the Mariana's 100, Dillon checked the internet and found that a 100 mile run had never been done on the island. So, he recruited Brandon and Johnny, started spreading the word, and hopped on a flight.
If you do something, you gotta put both feet in. You can’t be scared to fail, because failure’s a part of it.
Even though the heat was getting to him by the last section of the run, Dillon found his spirits improving. At mile 90, Roman Dela Cruz, founder of Fokai, started cutting the tops off of coconuts, nourishing himself and Dillon with the sweet water inside. Along the course, dozens of fans cheered Dillon on at any given time, most of whom heard about the effort through word-of-mouth from cousins or uncles: “So much family with my last name who I’ve never even met were there.”
Arriving back to Hagåtña, Dillon still had two miles to go. So, he circled the sports center, a half-mile loop, four times. As the mileage ticked to 100, after 32 hours, 15 minutes, and 27 seconds, he stopped his watch. With all the gallons of water, thousands of calories, and countless footsteps behind him, he now had a well-earned stage to share his values.
“At the end of it I just told everyone, you have to put your all into things,” Dillon says. “If you do something, you gotta put both feet in. You can’t be scared to fail, because failure’s a part of it. Then I went to bed for 15 hours.”
Since finishing the run, Dillon has been reflecting on his mission: “I don’t see myself any differently from any other runner. But I do want to shine light on the fact that I can empower other people who are from Hawai’i or who have these islander roots.”
This goal of empowerment doesn’t stop at mile 100, though. Dillon is currently raising funds to climb Mt. Everest, hoping to become the first Chamorro to stand at the top of the world.
In the meantime, Dillon will keep running wherever and whenever he can, not out of a desire to win or set records, but out of the love he’s cultivated. And to others looking to follow their passions, he hopes they can discover the same perspective.
“Find a way to love what you’re doing. Whatever it is. Don’t get caught up in worrying about anything else. Every time you lace up your shoes, have fun.”
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