About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Bataan Memorial Death March 2017

If the Bataan Memorial Death March wasn’t painful, it wouldn’t be as meaningful. No matter how miserable the experience though, it can’t even come close to the misery the original marchers had to endure. To honor and thank the heroes of Bataan, we all want a glimpse, no matter how insignificant, of what they went through during WWII. This year’s event at White Sands Missile Range, NM did not disappoint. With temperatures pushing 90 degrees, 7000 marchers and runners showed up to remember the fallen and shake the hands of survivors on this 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March.

I was there along with many of my fellow Team RWB Eagles to try to tackle the 26.2 mile mostly dirt and sand course. This was my sixth year running and I was on the field when the ceremony started before sunup. Several survivors were in attendance as well as many wounded warriors, active duty and veterans of all ages. The highlight was when several Army Black Daggers parachuted in with red smoke trailing from their feet as they spiraled down and landed on the field. The Black Daggers are trained to jump behind enemy lines with special parachutes with ram-air airfoils to help them control speed and direction. 

Following the ceremony we were herded like cattle to the starting line where several survivors were shaking hands of the marchers. The race finally started and I took off with my buddy Tommy where we zig-zagged around thousands of marchers, many wearing heavy packs and some carrying flags. Soon we were through the main base area and transitioned onto a very sandy road where we continued running around thousands of troops. The sand was deep in a few spots, but we were able to keep running through it. 

In no time the temperature had risen and we were sweating profusely. After passing through several aid stations we got around most of the marchers and were able to pick up our pace, but soon we hit a slight hill where I slowed quite a bit so Tommy went ahead. I could really feel the heat by this point and knew it was going to be a slow race for me. The course took us across Hwy 70 where we started up a long steep paved road.  

Mexican gold poppies blanketed the land turning the usually brown and lifeless looking 
desert into a vibrant field of bright yellow. In the backdrop was the pointy prominence of San Augustin Peak creating a most picturesque vista. Some years there are very few or no poppies  at all depending on rainfall so marchers were very lucky to see such a colorful scene this year.

I ran into several other running friends of mine and we helped each other up the hill. “Let’s run to that cactus up there and then we can take a short walking break,” Mark would say, so I started walking when I reached the cactus. “Not that one, the one way up there.” Well that kept us running more than I really wanted to, but it was a big help getting up that hill on such a hot day. We turned onto another dirt road and continued the same strategy. “To that yucca up there.” “Walk to that gnarled dead bush then run.” 

Well, sometime around forever, we made it to a sign that said “Mile 13”, our half way point. Having run this race so many times (more than any other race), I knew that we were just about to the top. When you crest this hill, the most amazing scenery pops into view —the Organ Mountains in all their glory. This towering wall of granite is capped by needles, jagged spires jutting upwards of over 8000 feet. 

After reaching the top and snapping a few pictures, I started running down where two Border Patrol cowboys were sitting on their horses making sure runners were safe. When I started running again, my shins felt very tight and crampy so I took a few salt capsules. I was drinking plenty, but thought I might be low on electrolytes. After a while my legs loosened up and I was able to pick up my pace. The heat was definitely taking it’s toll though. 

One of my favorite sections of this race is when you reach the paved road again and get to see all the marchers plodding up the hill. They are very encouraging to those of us running down and I got a lot of high fives from my Team RWB members. I cheered for them as well to help them up that monster of a hill. I was able to run strong downhill, but once at the bottom things got tough.

I crossed the highway again and reached the point where the half marathon marchers converge with the full. There were a lot of walkers here, many who looked to be in rough shape; some limping. I ran on the road, passing a good deal of them and then turned onto a dirt road where I reached the infamous sand pit, a mile long arroyo with ankle deep sand and a slight incline to boot.

Watch video of the "Sand Pit":

It was so hot and exposed in there that people were seeking out any little piece of shade they could find to sit down and take a break. I mostly walked, but ran a little bit just so I could get it over with sooner. I passed some soldiers and wounded warriors; one blind marcher being guided by another. The determination to finish an event is nowhere stronger than at Bataan. People of all walks come out to test their mettle and everyone has their own reason to march whether it’s to honor a loved one, remember a fallen soldier or to just find out if they have enough grit to survive the course.

Well, I finally made it through the sand and continued on by running with short walking breaks. My legs were cramping so I took more electrolytes and kept plodding along. I walked with my friend Mark who was also cramping quite a bit. The last part of the course takes you around the base housing area along a rock wall where you get the sense that you are almost finished.

Unfortunately, the wall goes on forever unless you are hot and salty with sore feet; then it goes on for an eternity. Really, this thing never seems to end until you turn a corner and pass a water tower creating two seconds of shade. You think, this must be the end. But it isn’t; the wall goes on for several more eternities and just when you think you are going to die you begin to hear people cheering for you. Don’t worry it’s still one more eternity, but finally, finally you enter the finish area. I ran the rest of the way in finishing in 5:22, my slowest time to date, but was just glad to have one more Bataan finish under my belt. 

I thanked the survivors who were waiting for us at the finish line which is always very emotional. I grabbed an ice cold bottle of tea and found a chair under a huge tent where I sat and cooled off for 20 minutes. I ate lunch with some friends and then watched an awards ceremony that was attended by the survivors, including Ben Skarden who is 99 years old and walks about eight miles of the course every year. Wow!

We had a lot of Team RWB finishers this year in various race categories that included military and civilian divisions as well as light (no rucksack) and heavy which means you carry a 35 pound pack with food that is donated to a food pantry at the end of the event. 

Congratulations to all the runners and marchers especially those who made this event their very first full marathon. And thanks to the heroes who endured a horrible march through the jungles of the Philippine Islands in 1942!

See you on the trail.

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