Bataan Memorial Marathon has been on the list ever since I took up running…and after Palo Duro 50 miler last year, I needed a goal. In December 2009, I decided now was the time to run Bataan….and with fewer and fewer Bataan POW survivors…delaying this race was not an option. My Marine ideals told me that the only way to run this race was to run it heavy…which means….with a 35lb pack. Thus, it was etched in granite...training began….and on March 21….MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! That’s the short version, but you want details…right?
The race was held on Sunday, March 21, allowing me to fly in on Saturday Morning. This gave me plenty of time to get to the White Sands Missile Range Military Base to sign in and partake in some of the events. It was also a time to catch up to TEAM RELENTLESS from Austin….a team of Melissa, her husband, and 5 other women that would be marching Long – 26.2 miles. (at some point there will be a cross blog about the experiences.) Additionally, there was a time set up to listen to some of the Bataan P.O.W. Survivors stories. Unfortunately, they had each Survivor, simultaneously set up in different rooms, causing you to choose one to listen to instead of staggering them to hear multiple tales of the historic account in Bataan. I jumped around a bit to the different rooms and regret that decision. I got fragmented stories of each instead of a one really good account. Most rewarding to me though was shaking hands with the survivors and saying thanks. They seemed so appreciative of the Bataan Memorial Weekend…A celebration of these Men.
Bataan Survivor Paul Kerchaun
Bataan Survivor Tony Reyna
Bataan Survivor John Leroy Mimms and his wife
On to Sunday to find me up at 0300 to get ready and to the base by 0430…security checkpoints can be time consuming but it was a very smooth operation. On to the staging area to prep….both mentally and physical…and the physical mainly meant staying warm as the temps were below the 30’s and to get the pack weight just right. If at the end, your pack weighs less than 35 lbs. you are DQ’ed. The very thought of that made me want to be a bit conservative. I took all my gel packs out…my hydration bladder out…and weighed to 38 lbs. Perfect…3 lbs over for good measure. Sonia Burdett, my NTTR buddy did the same and soon it was time to roll. The opening ceremonies were a moving part as they posted the colors, introduced all the survivors, had a roll call for those that had died the previous year….and of course an awesome F-22 fly over…Thank God I am a redblooded America.! The bagpipe corps lead the survivors to the start line and I heard the faint notes of my beloved Marine Corps Hymn….”If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heavens scenes…they will find the streets are guarded my United States Marines.”
Calm Before the Storm
Shaking hands...a spirit of gratitude!
The race started….and the survivors lined both sides just prior to the starting line…allowing runners to shake their hands. I was moved….5500 runners representing all 50 states and many foreign countries. I saw military from both Germany and Great Britain participating in the event. Many of the runners/marchers were U.S. Military, either marching or running it to win….most Heavy.
About 70% of the course is on dirt, sandy roads…causing one to always look for the most solid dirt to run on…the ankle deep, beach sand I will get to later. The course could be described as undulating but at mile 10 you start climbing till about mile 13.5…from 4500 ft to 5500 ft. You start a descent at 13.5 only to go back up another hill for about mile before you begin the final descent into base and finish line….don’t forget the sand pit…we’ll get that, I promise!
I start out of the gate doing my 4 minute run/ 1 minute walk routine….and I am averaging 13 to 13:15 miles. At this point I should point out that my goal was to run a sub 7 hours race. My plan was to average 15 minute miles as long as possible….and then hold on, letting the mile pace decrease as needed and hopefully…it would be enough to run sub 7 hours….my training taught me as such. So here I am….feeling good doing 13 minute freaking miles at mile 5 and thinking...”What AM I DOING TO MYSELF?!” But the body felt fine…the heart rate was fine…so just keep doing what I am doing…at mile 10 I am 15 minutes ahead of a “15 minute per mile pace”…and then the hill….the long 3.5 mile hill. I told myself, don’t loose to much time on the hill, watch the heart rate…and time I give up here…I will get back on the descent…just don’t fry yourself. And when I was done with that Godforsaken hill…I had only lost 6 minutes….and on the descent for the next 3 miles…got most of it back. The body felt good…the mind was strong….the back….well was as tight as a banjo string. I remember a miles 12 or so I was falling into rhythm with 5 Air Force Para Rescue guys….of course racing heavy…and they were actually racing…for the Pride of the Air Force. We joked around…I thanked them for their service and after finding one of them was a prior service Marine the ribbing started. At mile 15 or so they picked up their pace and when it was all said and done, came in 2nd place at 5:45.
Things proceeded as normal…as far as running a marathon goes…the legs tend to start aching…and the back muscles really started to ache. MILE 21…the “Sand Pit”….@!%$&…when I talked to my buddy Clive Miskin who has run Bataan a few times…he warned me of the this….and when I asked how long…he replied, “TOO DAMN LONG!” Ankle deep sand….loose….like running on a beach…..at mile 21…..for nearly 1 ½ miles. I walked it. My calves were cramping at this time….and I started to give back time….by the time I got to mile 24, I started to calculate the rest of the mile splits. A 7 hour sub was out of the question….NO WAY….I’ve got a chance to run a 6:30 here….At the mile 24 aid station they were handing out small American Flags to run with the rest of the marathon….I took one…and started to think, “a sub 6:30 would be tough….I would have to pick up the pace and my back and legs just voted…that poll came back to slow down…you have suffered enough…you’ve made sub 7 hour easy.”
I graduated high school with Carolyn. Through Facebook, I learned she has been diagnosed with breast cancer…my age with kids about my kids age. She is currently going through chemo…and she is quite candid about what it is doing to her body. Before the race I asked her if I could write her name on my hand for inspiration and told her she’s going to whip this cancer…she’s in my prayers. On my left hand was inscribed, with a Sharpie marker, Carolyn...I had seen it every time I peeked at the Garmin 405…but hadn’t really focused on the name. At mile 24 I looked down to review pacing from the Garmin…and the name was all I saw. Dave you hurt…but it’s not Chemo…the heart was already near redline. Dave, It’s not cancer….so gut it up…and finish this thing strong….not settling. The mile 26 marker came and went as I turned the corner to the finish…I had picked up the pace sufficiently to leave the group I had been running with…I was by myself and when I entered the last 400 yards or so to the finish, each side of the street was lined with screaming and cheering people. I had my American Flag…I heard one voice loud and clear…Keep it up HEAVY…KEEP IT UP…running at nearly a 9 minute pace….crossing the finish line nearly on the dot….6 hours 30 minutes. Finished! (unofficial for 26.2 - heavy -civilian 39th overall, 9th for my age group)
The volunteered asked if I was alright…”sit down, he said.” I responded, “No, weigh this damn pack so I can get rid of this stuff.” Weigh in….44 Pounds…I think I uttered another, “Damn!”…I don’t know. I then went on to shake a few more of the POW’s hands…thanking them…and thankful for their sacrifices...thankful I was a red blooded American…my tank was empty…my cup was full!
This race is not a PR race….It’s an experience…If you are a runner…RUN THIS RACE…SOONER…not later as fewer and fewer POW survivors are with us with each passing year.
I recovered a bit. Hung around talking with many who ran the race…and then got in line to get something to eat. The kind lady said that they had beef burgers or veggie burgers. I replied, “I am a red blooded America…make that beef burger.”
I took so many pictures that I plan on putting together a virtual slide show to be posted here. Thanks for your support and interest.