After waking up at zero dark thirty the morning of the Bataan Memorial Death March, I opened my back door to let the dogs out. Well, I was hit by a blast of wind that took my breath away. Spring in the Desert Southwest can bring wicked wind storms and this is the only place I’ve ever lived where “blowing dust” is an actual weather forecast. The strange thing is that the forecast for this morning wasn’t calling for high winds. Nevertheless, our mountains create their own weather at times bringing the worst conditions to run in.
The great plant hunter and explorer of Tibet, F. Kingdon Ward said it best, “It is this wind which makes life on the plateau…so unbearable. It has a cumulative nervous effect; possibly its action is electrical, due to the constant friction of dry air. I do not know. I only know that it is slow torture; you are waging a losing fight all the time, up against something which gradually, but no less surely and ruthlessly beats you. It makes no terms; it is war à l’outrance.”
My only hope was that the wind was localized and the weather was better up the road at White Sands Missile Range, NM where the event was being held. Even so, one can’t complain about the weather when you are running to honor the survivors and to remember those who didn’t return from the Bataan Death March of WWII.
When I arrived at the missile base, the morning was quite chilly, but the wind on the East side of the mountain wasn’t bad. This was my 5th consecutive time running the event, but the somber ceremony was as emotional as the first time I experienced it. Survivors were in attendance and a roll call was taken for those present and some that had passed away since the last march. The poem, Battling Bastards of Bataan by Frank Hewlett was also read. "No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam..." He wrote the piece in 1942, because the prisoners really thought they were forgotten. Another reason why 6500 marchers show up year after year to show support for the former POWs..
|Thanking Bataan survivors before the race start|
When the race got underway, survivors were lined up at the starting line to see us off. I passed a bunch of marchers as we ran through the main base area and then finally made it to the dirt road where the pack had thinned out enough for me to settle into a steady pace. I saw a lot of Team RWB members, many carrying the American flag.
The Organ Mountains in the distance were very inspirational as well as the soldiers carrying 35-50 pound packs dressed in military uniforms and boots. I felt like I was running a good pace and caught up to a group of ladies competing as an ROTC team from Wyoming. Every year I run into them on the course and can gauge how well (or poorly) I’m running depending on where I meet them. This year it was early in the race as I was heading up the big climb on the paved road around mile 9-10.
Last year I went out too fast trying to keep up with a few of my friends and I completely died on this hill, but this time I was able to slowly run most of it. I felt great so far and was hoping I’d be able to maintain a good pace throughout the race. At the top of the climb the mountain slopes were colored by a carpet of blooming Mexican Gold Poppies. Most of the blooms were still closed as they open during the day closing up at night and they only bloom in years when there has been plenty of rainfall.
At the top of the hill, we transitioned back onto dirt where there was a large medical tent and Army ambulances. Since most of the participants in this race march and carry heavy packs there are many medical stations and emergency personnel positioned along the course to help with blistered feet and heat related emergencies. In addition, this year I saw a much higher presence of security teams including Border Patrol on ATVs and horseback, military police and state and local law enforcement agencies. Working dogs were even sniffing cars along Hwy 70 lest any would-be bombers attempted to put a damper on our parade.
Anyway, once you crest the top of the big climb, the most amazing perspective of the Organ Mountains comes into view. You can see for miles here and you are over half way finished. After taking some pictures, I took off running down the dirt road keeping up a good pace for quite some time. This entire area was a huge cattle ranch before it became the military base it is today. Throughout the race you pass many interesting ranch houses and other remnants of days gone by including the home of Pat Garrett, the sheriff who is known for killing Billy the Kid.
At mile 18 I returned to the paved road where thousands of marchers were making their way up the big climb. I high fived a lot of my fellow Team RWB members on the way down and then got a big smile on my face when I saw a group of jogglers. I had just seen them the day before when I took Maddie to KidsPalooza downtown. Odd-Lab entertainment shows “…range from a backyard fire show for birthdays to all out pyromania for music and dance festivals.” Unfortunately they weren't juggling fire on this day.
I passed a large group of wounded warriors and then found myself in the infamous “sand pit” around mile 20. I usually walk this stretch, but wanted to try to run it this year. The sand was about ankle deep, but that wasn’t the entire problem. A slight incline and the fact that I’d been running for over three hours added to the difficulty. Even so, I ran more of it than I walked which was a lot more than I did last year.
Usually I stop to empty sand out of my shoes after completing this sandy section, but my Altra Lone Peak shoes with Dirty Girl Gaiters did the trick of keeping the sand out. Alta trail running shoes come with a "Gaiter Trap", a pull down strip of velcro, on the heel for ease of fastening the gaiters. They also sell their own brand of gaiters if you don't want the wild blingy colors of Dirty Girl gaiters.
The last part of the course takes you along a rock wall, the base housing perimeter. Just when you think you are back to the finish area the wall takes a turn and keeps going for what seems to be an eternity. I was still able to run though, and passed many walkers who were doing the short course. My shins were burning by this time and my muscles were cramping, but I kept pushing trying to beat last year’s time.
Finally I crossed the finish line and waited in queue to shake the hands of the survivor’s. This is always the most emotional part of this event and the reason we participate. Bataan really is one of the best marathons in the country for so many reasons, but the most important being to thank the brave men who lived through the death march and to also thank their families who sacrificed so much.
After this highlight, I was greeted by our cousins who recently moved to WSMR and walked over from their home to experience the Bataan finish. They were thoroughly impressed by the spirit of the event and talked about participating next year. As for me I was beat after a long morning, but happy that I finished in 4:48, 15 minutes faster than last year.
My Team RWB friends Javier and family
See you on the trail.