Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Bataan Death March Race Report

State number 34! Here's Holly's recap of the 2016 Bataan Death March in New Mexico.

I have been intrigued/scared of this marathon for years. My friends MaryJean and Rhonda did it a few years back and it looked awesome, but also brutally difficult. I still wanted to do it and after some reassurance by MaryJean I decided to do it this year. For those that don’t know, the Bataan Death March is done every year at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It is held to honor the soldiers who were forced to do this march in the Philippines by Japanese solders during WWII. It was a brutal march with many of the soldiers not making it to the end. Those who did survive the march were then POW’s for the next three years under horrible conditions. I read the book Hell’s Guest to learn more about what these men went through and it was a very powerful read. I knew my march would be challenging, but it would be nothing compared to what they went through so I promised myself that I would do no complaining.

We flew in to El Paso on Saturday morning and made our way north to the Missile Range. We had to go through security before we could get on base, which for us only took about 5-10 minutes. Later in the day others would wait up to an hour. The expo was easy to navigate and you picked up your bib, shirt, participation certificate and dog tag medal. I tried to talk some of my other running friends into participating in this one but they couldn’t make it work with their schedules this year. I didn’t want to wait another year, as I wanted to try and hear and see some of the survivors of the march. They unfortunately aren’t getting any younger. There were 11 survivors at the march this year. That afternoon they all were giving talks on their experiences. We got to hear Oscar Leonard speak and it was amazing to hear the detail he remembered of his service. He is 96 years old!

After the talk we headed to our hotel in Las Cruces. We hit a local brewery (Bosque - which was really a taproom extension of the Albuquerque brewer), where I had my one and only beer of the day. I was guzzling water because I was worried about dehydration since we were at altitude and I would be marching through the desert with no shade. We ended up at Olive Garden for dinner, not the best choice, but it seems like Italian west of the Mississippi is a challenge.

The next morning we would make the half-hour drive to the base and would once again have to go through security. I was worried about the line of cars and they said we should arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 am. We got there at 4:30 and had a short wait so now had a long wait in the car for the march to start at 7. I was able to sleep in the car for an hour, but Dave was not able to fall back asleep. Dave is really a saint for putting up with this craziness. In hindsight, I should have just driven myself. There was no spectating for this race, only the start and the finish. We finally left the warm car and made our way to the start area for the opening ceremonies. It was quite chilly at the start, but I knew once the sun came up it would warm up quickly. The ceremony was quite moving and I cried a few times. We had a helicopter with an American flag flying out the bay fly overhead and it was quite the sight.

There are several divisions for this march. I was marching in Civilian Light. This means that I am a civilian and I was not marching with the minimum 35 lb. pack. We were the first to start followed by the Military Light and then the Civilian Heavy and Military Heavy. The survivors were at the start line and I stopped to shake several of their hands as I passed by the start. I said goodbye to Dave and then started to do my normal run/walk routine. It was difficult since this is more of a hike, so I took my time and didn’t bother to weave around people. I wanted to be respectful and eventually space would open for me to run. There were quite a few of us running and it is allowed. The course is a combination of asphalt; semi packed sand and totally unpacked sand. The sand could be quite difficult at times but not as bad as I expected. Parts were really deep and you could not run. I was afraid of rolling an ankle. The aid stations were plentiful and all were great. They had water, Gatorade, bananas and oranges. There were medical personnel to help you with blisters as well.

I was able to run the first 8 miles or so. Then we hit a deep sand area and I was forced to walk. We then hit the asphalt road again and I was able to run until mile 9. Miles 10-14 were uphill. A HUGE hill. However I did not complain. I was hiking up the hill with soldiers with huge packs on their backs and some with prosthetics. This was extremely inspiring and I just kept on going as fast as I could. Once at the top they had an aid station where you could buy hamburgers and hot dogs. I skipped that and started the fun of going downhill. It was sandy but you could make up time by running.


I was feeling good and thankfully it was not a super warm day. We then made it back closer to base and the infamous sand pit was coming up. This is a mile long stretch of deeper sand. I met another gentleman at this point and we chatted during this section so it made it go faster. Soon I was done with that and just had a few miles to go. I was able to do my run/walk again and I finished strong. The survivors were there again at the finish and I stopped to thank them again for their service. I saw Dave and we went to get some food. They had a nice set up with burgers, brats and beer. It tasted great. This was a truly wonderful event and I’m so glad I got to do it. I had fun on what is definitely the hardest course I have ever done. I’m honored to have been able to do this along side so many inspiring people and to have met the survivors of Bataan.

Dave's Comments

While Holly was running I drove 90 minutes one-way to look at rocks. Petroglyphs to be exact at the Three Rivers National Site. Over 21,000 pieces of cave art have been found here. Beautiful area with great views of the entire valley. Lots of interesting examples of cave art. Personally I enjoyed the art in Namibia better. These petroglyphs were Picassoesque, and the ones at Twyfelfontein were a little more straight-forward depictions and better preserved.


After visiting the park I made a quick stop for ice cream at McGinn's Pistachio Ranch where they have the largest statue of a pistachio in the world. Yeah, not that thrilling but the ice cream was good. I also made a very fast stop at the White Sands National Monument. Timing was tight so I only went to the first viewing area to look at white sand. Based on websites I missed the good stuff. But on a plus side, I got to see my first live road runner.


Lunch was at The Game Sports Bar where they had a decent craft beer menu. Afterwards we visited Spotted Dog, a great brewery in Nearby Mesilla.


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