21 March 2010

2010 Bataan Memorial Death March

The Road to Bataan

Just getting to the event was an adventure. I drove down in two stages. I stopped at my father's house in Oklahoma Thursday night. Friday, I drove the rest of the way.

I was expecting to miss the winter storm rolling in by turning south a bit after Tucumcari, NM. This didn't quite work out as planned. I made the turn as expected, but I quickly found myself approaching some ugly looking clouds. There was some lightning in the clouds. This eventually turned into thunder-sleet. A little further on, this developed into some of the wettest, gloppiest, falling snow I've ever seen. It was actually able to plug my radiator to the point I had to slow down to keep the car from overheating.

Eventually, I was able to drive out of it and the lingering rain. There was some significant wind with this storm. Most of the time, it was coming from directly behind me. However, when I got to Alamogordo, I saw some wind damage including the blown-out sign for a Taco Bell. The remains were strewn through the adjacent intersection.

The final challenge was with my Car GPS. It directed me to a road parallel to the one I wanted, but in a location where I could not see my hotel. After missing a turn and getting onto the Interstate, I was able to find my hotel and settle for the night.


The next day was in-processing. This was well run by the event organizers. A local paper indicated that there were over 5700 people signed up to participate.

The road from Las Cruces to White Sands goes through San Augustin Pass. I stopped to take a few pictures.

These are the Organ Mountains. The are south of the pass and provide a backdrop for the post.

This is the mountain the marchers completing the full course will travel around tomorrow. The highway in the foreground is US 70. This gives a preview of the grade tomorrow. I was able to maintain highway speed all the way to the floor without touching the accelerator.

They had this sign just after you got off US 70:

Unit coins are a military tradition. The two in the center here represent my Wing (445th Airlift Wing) and my squadron (87 Aerial Port Squadron) of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This is just part of a very large display that was practically overflowing by the end of Saturday.

The reason we are here. There were 24 survivors of the Bataan Death March which occurred in April 1942 present this year. There were sessions where you could meet them and hear their stories Saturday afternoon. Several of them also joined us for the Pasta Dinner in the evening. One survivor I met there is a Muskogee (Creek) Indian from Oklahoma. His son, a Vietnam veteran, was also there. His son, the third generation, is currently in Iraq. He is expected home in time to welcome his son, generation 4, into the world. I expect this newest will follow in the family tradition. I hope he finds a more peaceful world.

There was a place to test weigh your pack for those in the Heavy categories. This is my pack at my first trial. It shows 45 pounds. (I removed a 5-pound bag of rice from it before I started on Sunday. My final weight would be 40 pounds when weighed at the end of the march.)

Death March

The opening ceremony was quite cool. There were 24 survivors present to see us off. The ceremony included playing "Reveille" and the "Star Spangled Banner". There was even sound effect for the "...bombs bursting in air...". They did a symbolic roll call that included the names of those survivors who have passed since last year. There was an invocation and a fly-by of a pair of F-22s in very tight formation.

There was a pause of the survivors were transported from behind the podium to just before the start of the course. The first group to start are the Wounded Warriors. Then the light individuals and teams. The final group doing the full course are the heavy individuals and teams. These are followed by those doing the short route. Each group start is announced with a cannon shot. I was one of the last Heavies to start.

We quickly leave the post behind and start out across the desert floor for the first part of the course. This section is fairly straight and leads to the lowest elevation on the course. I was 5K into the event before I stopped to apply moleskin to the known hotspot I had. This took a while, but proved to be very effective as I had no issues with that hotspot for the rest of the day.

At the end of the first long stretch, we turn around briefly head toward the post before starting the long climb. It was during this section that I caught some of the Wounded Warriors. These folks are accomplishing this course missing limbs or having some other serious injury. I filled my Camelbak well at the stop at the turn-around point. I was also on my schedule of a food bar each hour. During this section I chatted with folks as I passed them, or that passed me. I was moving at about 18:00-19:00/mile through the desert floor section.

There isn't much to tell about the climb except that it went on forever. Just before we passed under US 70 to start the main part of the climb, I met up with an ROTC cadet who was marching by herself. Since we were moving about the same pace, we decided to stick together as long as this remained the case. We climbed to long climb up the paved road to the aid station just before Mile 12. This is where we go back to dirt/loose sand path. Before leaving the pavement, we stopped for a rest. This was at about 4 hours into the event. It was here that I realized that I wasn't going to beat 20:00/mile and finish under 9 hours. Here, the cadet and I decided we would finish together however long it took. I did the planned changing of the socks and eating and drinking. I thought we were closer to the top than we really were. I also got a cramp in my left calf while I was trying to take my boot off. I could only wait for it to subside and whimper. I was very careful to not trigger a repeat on the right taking that boot off. I also discovered that I was dehydrated. I even made sure to drink plenty at the aid station before leaving the pavement and continuing on. Just passed Mile 12, I sucked my Camelbak dry. The next couple miles would be some of the toughest personally. The nature of the path only lets you see part of it at a time. This make this sandy part of the climb seem to just climb endlessly. Having committed to finishing with the cadet, I could use that to keep going. Since this was also approaching solar noon, I was deliberately going slow to keep from over-heating since I didn't have any more water until the next aid station.

The greatest feeling of relief came when I crested a rise and could see the next station. This was just passed the highest point of the course. It was also in here that I felt the most effect of the elevation. I drank plenty sport drink and water, and made sure to fill my reservoir. I also eat the energy bar I had held off eating until I could get water. This was a station providing medical treatment and they were transporting marchers from here to the finish.

During this next section, we would be passed by vans carrying participants who had stopped for various reasons. Coming around the mountain seemed to take forever. There is even a section that climbs back up a bit. The cadet had to stop inhere to treat her feet. After that, I checked and adjusted the lacing of her boots, but the damage was done and the descent was actually harder on her than the climb.

Getting back to the pavement was great, but the long descent continued. We thought it would get better once we were back to the flatter part of the course. That certainly helped, but then we encountered the Sand Pit. At this point our pace was much slower and the Sand Pit seemed to last forever. Eventually, the depth of the sand on the path reduced back to what we had been dealing with for most of the day. After the Sand Pit, it is a straight, if undulating, shot back to the post. We were stopping about every mile at this point to recover and brace for the next. We picked up an Army ROTC cadet at this point. She was on the same bus as the Air Force ROTC cadet I was with, so it made sense to expand the team. At the point we get back to the edge of the post is an aid station and there and along the next half mile are signs that have been made by school kids. This is a lift right when you need it. The course follows a stone wall around the perimeter of the post. This wall seems to last forever before you finally get to the end of them you turn and follow it along some more. Other cadets from the bus had walked back to us at this point and we were losing daylight.

Mile 26 is just outside the gate that leads through the wall and enters the chute that takes you to the finish. The three of us crossed the line together.

My net time was 11 hours, 58 minutes, and 38 seconds. There is a final weighing of the pack to validate our finish as Heavies. The entry includes the meal after you finish. They were still serving after we completed the course.

This is an event where the course and the distance deserve respect. The longest I had ever gone was 14 miles last summer. I didn't get much beyond 12 miles leading up to this. I now know why the median pace for Heavies is 20:00/mile. This is a brutal course. I was doing pretty good at the end of the paved part of the climb. Personal discomfort started shortly after that point. Coming down, I noted some discomfort in my feet, but nothing too bad. I chalked it up to the beating they were getting. ( I would discover the huge blisters on the heals of both feet back in the hotel room as they were actually preventing me from removing my boots. I did manage to remove them without breaking either blister. I also had blisters around the pinky toe of each foot and broken blisters between those toes and the next one over.) I started getting twinges in my knees during the paved part of the descent. My hip joints started to hurt during the Sand Pit. After leaving the Sand Pit, I developed a cough. Finally, for most of the final 10K, my shoulders were hard as rocks and hurt every time I removed, replaced, or shifted the pack.

This is tough to complete as part of a team. Completing it as an individual makes the mental part that much harder.

Since I did succeed, I don't have the burning need to try again. I was very happy to meet the survivors and their families. I will be back. I just don't know how or when.


The Green Girl said...

Wow. That was such an amazing race report.

Congratulations on finishing.

Traveller said...


Anonymous said...

Congratulations. It sounds like a serious adventure, and I have to say, I was pleased that you hooked up with others and completed it with them, because I think that is a great strategy.

Ocean Breeze said...

Wow, what an amazing accomplishment! I know you probably aren't thinking about participating in anything except continued recovery at this point. When you do start thinking about that next event, consider the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, if you haven't run it. I ran it in 2002 in honor of my dad. It is an amazing marathon and the finish is awesome!