The Bataan Memorial Death March was extra special this year because my running buddy, Ryan returned to run it with old friends. We had a great time hanging out over the weekend and then met another friend of ours, Mike at the race. Run El Paso Club and Team RWB friends were also there so it turned out to be a great big party. Kind of like Woodstock, but without the sex, drugs and rock ’n roll.
No, Bataan is a somber event held on White Sands Missile Range, NM that remembers the lost and honors the survivors of those who suffered their fate during the original 65 mile, five day death march in the Philippine Islands during WW II. The morning always begins with a ceremony, symbolic roll call and welcoming remarks for survivors. Around 6000 people walk, march with heavy packs or run the 26.2 or 15 mile courses.
This is my fourth consecutive Bataan Death March, known as one of the most difficult marathon courses because of dirt roads, a long steep climb and the infamous sand pit at around mile 21. People travel from all over the country and world to participate in this, one of the largest military-civilian athletic events. I would recommend this marathon to anyone, no matter your ability or where you live because it has special meaning to so many. This is a place of healing for those suffering a lost loved one or overcoming a physical or mental obstacle, as well as a place to simply test your mettle.
|Thanking a Bataan Death March survivor|
I started the race with my buddies, Mike and Ryan who are much faster than me, so I had to push myself to keep up. I hadn’t really recovered from my 50K two weeks earlier, but thought I might be able to hang all the same. We spent the entire morning shivering during the ceremony while we waited for the race to start, but once the sun came up things warmed up nicely. The weather was perfect with no wind.
|Mike (front) and Ryan|
The course goes through the base and then transitions onto a dirt road. All the time you are running, you can see the beautiful organ mountains that tower above the area. Jagged pinnacles and spires jut upward from the massive that look like the pipes of an organ, hence the name. I was able to stay with my friends for the first eight miles, but then I knew I had to back off my pace. This was about the point where we began the long climb up a paved road, not my favorite surface to run on.
|This is how they looked to me for most of the morning.|
Ryan kept me company as I toiled up the hill, but I was afraid I was slowing him down. I told him to go ahead and try to catch up to Mike, but he stayed with me until after we turned onto another dirt road. When we were almost at the top of the hill, several of our other running friends caught up to us and passed. I was not feeling too good here, about the halfway point, and was slowing down even more so Ryan went ahead to run with this group.
|Typical aid station|
I love the view from the top of this mountain; another reason why I recommend this race to anyone. You can’t beat the scenery and there is plenty of time (14 hrs) to finish the race no matter how slow you are. The other plus is that, unlike many of the trail races I run, you are never alone on the course.
After taking in the scenery and snapping some photos, I took off down the hill and ran into several other friends on the way. By this point my feet were in a lot of pain and my shoulders had tensed up fiercely. I think the faster pace at the beginning and running on the sandy road is what caused my feet to suffer. I ran a seven hour 50K two weeks earlier and had less pain than I experienced at Bataan. In a way, I was glad I was in such misery though because this race is about remembering those who endured much worse conditions on Bataan with little to no food or water. They were forced to drink from mud puddles and those too weak to march were struck down with bayonets.
|What a view!|
At the end of the dirt road you reach the paved road again where you see thousands of marchers, many wearing heavy packs, just starting their trek up. I high fived a bunch of Team RWB eagles on the way down as the marchers cheered the runners. Soon I was at the junction for the shorter course where I saw a lot of walkers, some with prosthetic legs. The Wounded Warrior Project always has a large group of veterans out here and it is amazing to see what they can accomplish!
|"Billy the Kid went that way."|
My next obstacle to overcome was the sand pit, a one mile stretch of ankle deep sand and a bit of an incline. I walked most of this as some club members breezed past me like it was nothing. I ran with a few of them for a bit and then stopped at an aid station to empty sand out of my shoes. The last part of the race is run along a wall that surrounds a housing area. You realize you are close to the finish and can’t wait to get to the end. The problem is that this wall goes on and on and on. And, just when you think you are going to turn into the finish chute, the wall continues on until just this side of infinity.
|I was ready for one of these cots.|
I alternated between running and walking as my calfs cramped up and I really just couldn’t wait to get it over with. Finally I made it across the finish line having run my slowest ever time at Bataan —by 30 minutes! Mike and Ryan were waiting and started to worry because I took forever to make it in. I laid down in the dry grass and propped my feet up, another misfortune as there were sticker-like grass burrs that went through my shirt and shorts. Of course that’s better than dealing with leeches and malaria in the jungles of the Philippines. I can’t complain. No matter how bad a race goes, it’s still a day spent running. Sharing the day with so many good friends and comrades makes it that much more meaningful.
See you on the trail.