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."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

Last weekend I ran the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, NM. The weather forecast was calling for a hot day with high winds in the afternoon so that was incentive for me to run as fast as possible in hopes of beating the elements. If you don’t know Bataan, it’s one of the largest joint military-civilian athletic events in the country if not the world. Almost 8500 participants marched with heavy packs or ran/walked the 26.2 mile or half marathon route this year. In addition, 2000 volunteers helped make the event possible.

A handful of survivors from the original 60-80 mile death march during WWII were also in attendance and a 100 year old survivor, Ben Skardon, marched a portion of the course. The morning opened, as always, with a somber ceremony remembering the fallen and honoring the remaining survivors of the brutal march in the Philippines in 1942. The ceremony included the Philippine and US national anthems, a ceremonial roll call, prayer and F-16 flyover by the Air Force. 

Soon after the ceremony, the race got under way with a slight variation at the beginning and end of the course this year. Also runners were allowed to start before most of the marchers which eliminated us having to run around thousands of flag wielding warriors. I started out at a good clip running over a 10 minute pace. After about a mile everyone turned around and started back towards us and that’s when I realized something was terribly wrong. About a thousand of us missed a turn! I just laughed to myself and chalked it up to a few bonus miles. Others weren’t as happy about it though and I heard a lot of grumbling as we ran back to find the turn. Having gone about a half mile out of our way, we finally got back on course.

I’m not usually a big fan of crowded marathon races, but I run Bataan every year mostly because the spirit of the race is absolutely amazing. Runners and marchers of all ages show up to see if they have the mettle to finish this course that includes a little pavement, but mostly dirt roads, hills and the infamous sand pit at mile 21. Many carry flags of all sorts —military unit flags, ROTC, Wounded Warrior, VFW and other veteran programs like the Warrior Bonfire program. Of course there were plenty of participants proudly waving Ol’ Glory as well.

I felt great most of the morning and made good time running up the steepest part between miles 8-14. Once at the top of the hill the best part of the course comes into view. The Organ Mountains in all their splendor tower above the course. These jagged peaks known as the needles make up part of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The other prominent mountain in the area is San Augustin peak, a very pointy summit with steep slopes. Once I made it to the half way point it was time to run down. I still had a lot of energy and was hoping to make up lost time on the way down. 

There were also a lot of Team Red, White and Blue members from all over the country out there on the course. I enjoyed watching this Eagle from Ohio running with the flag. The video also gives you a sense of the beautiful scenery we run through.

In addition to thousands of volunteers, there were soldiers, cops on ATVs and Border Patrol agents on horseback watching after us. There were also plenty of water stops; several which had full service medical tents staffed with EMTs to help anyone in need. I imagine many of the marchers with heavy packs made good use of the cots and blister care specialists. The bottoms of my feet were hurting a bit on the way down, but I believe it was because of the pavement that we ran on earlier. Otherwise, I didn’t have any blisters or other serious foot problems.

After passing one water stop and making it about half way down, I heard a guy behind me shouting, WATCH OUT, WATCH OUT, WATCH OUT!” I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but this is a missile base and I saw signs while driving to the race that read, “ARTILLERY FIRING OVERHEAD. DO NOT LEAVE HIGHWAY.” Should I duck and cover? Suddenly I saw a huge mammal bolt across the course in between several groups of runners. It was an African Oryx (gemsbok), a beautiful massive gazelle type of animal with long ribbed scimitar shaped horns. The face, legs and underbelly are striped white and black and they can be as tall as an adult's shoulders. About 100 of these exotic game animals were introduced into Southern New Mexico in the 70s and the herd has since grown into the thousands. After seeing this one flash before my eyes, I can say for certain that being bucked by an oryx would really ruin a runner’s day! Unfortunately he was too fast for me to get a picture.

Towards the bottom of the big hill, we hit the paved road we ran up earlier. This is an exciting part of the course because plenty of marchers are still heading up the road that we ran earlier and they cheer wildly for those of us running down. By this time it was really hot and they had a water mister set up on the road for us to run through. It didn’t help, but I made it down and then turned back onto a dirt road which led to the sand pit. This is a mile stretch of deep sand with a enough incline to make it really miserable. I alternated between a jog and a walk and finally made it out. 

The infamous Sand Pit

In years past, the worst part of this race was a wall that marks the perimeter of the base housing area. We would run seemingly forever along this barrier thinking the finish line would be around the next corner. It wasn't! The new course however, avoided the wall and was a bit more scenic this year. I believe it did add a few more small hills, but overall the change was a big improvement. I looked at my gps watch when I reached 26.2 and I was at five hours. With one more mile to go, I put it in high gear, tried to forget about the heat and ran it in for a time of 5:11 with a total of 27 miles. 

As always Bataan was a memorable experience and I enjoyed every minute of it especially the tough parts at the end when I was hot, sore and tired. Nothing can compare to the original march that our POWs endured though. We must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who suffered years of detention and the scars of war. Everyone should experience Bataan if possible. Whether you run, march with a pack, complete the shorter route or volunteer, you will always remember this very special event. Always remember the Battling Bastards of Bataan, "No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam!"

See you on the trail.

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