Friday, March 28, 2014

Bataan 2014

I am an avid jogger and runner, but I typically do not enter local running events. One of the main reasons I run is to be alone in the desert. I test my body, I listen to my breathing; I am out there almost as a form of meditation. The crowds of organized road races take away from what I love about running, so I really have little interest in them.

 The Bataan Memorial Death March is the one exception that I make. First and foremost, it is not a race. It is a memorial march in remembrance of the real Bataan Death March, which was a forced march of Philippine and American soldiers in 1942. Thousands were killed in the forced march. The annual march is held in New Mexico, not just as memorial of the wartime event of 1942, but a memorial to any soldier who has fallen in any conflict. That is what I love about it. Most participants were active duty soldiers, or family members of soldiers, who had lost a person they loved in some overseas conflict. I would say that over half of this year’s 6300 participants marched with heavy backpacks. Many of these packs had placards pinned on the rear as memorials of somebody who had died in Bataan, or a more recent conflict. There were plenty of ‘wounded warriors’ who marched in the desert with prosthetic limbs and modified wheelchairs.

 The 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March was held last Sunday up in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. I had trained very hard for this event for several months. I am familiar with running in the rocks and sand of desert terrain, but the marathon distance of 26 miles is a bit past my comfort zone. Since the Bataan is not technically a race, I was unconcerned about how fast I ran it. Recently, the event officials have decided to give the fastest finishers of each category some kind of prize. I am not in favor of this at all. In my mind, it ruins the spirit of the march. Almost nobody, including myself, is there to win a race. Before the event, I promised myself not to over-exert myself. I would stop at every break station, eat plenty of bananas and peanut brittle, take the time to change my socks if I needed to, and stop to take photos and chat with people. My only goal was just to be finished before the afternoon winds typically begin around 1PM. I ended up running most of the 26 miles, but took long breaks in between and even walked about 2 miles towards the end. It was challenging, emotional, and terrific. I have finally completed the Bataan Memorial Death March. With that under my belt, I am not sure I want to do it again next year. We will see.

 And with that, here are some photos:

 Rosemary brought her Philippine flag with her to early morning crowds before the event. It attracted every Philippine person who saw it, including one Philippine man we met who decided to march in period costume. All the Philippine people wanted to pose with Rosemary's flag! She must have made a dozen new friends!

This is the beginning of the march. There were 6300 participants this year. I am trying not to get trampled by the soldiers!

This is one of the original survivors of the 1942 Bataan Death March. There are not many of these old timers left. There were thirteen survivors in attendance, and I got to talk to two of them. This is at the starting gate, and the crowds were a bit hectic. Eventually, the survivors were driven out to some of the water stations where things were a little slower paced.

I could not believe the size of some of these backpacks the soldiers chose to march with. Some of them were even running with these huge things. Ack! My knees!

This guy lost his grandfather in the Bataan Death March in 1942. So many of these guys were walking memorials to a person they lost. Sometimes I asked them about the person they had pinned on their backpack or shirt. They were always willing to talk and share stories.

The camouflage kilts are all kinds of awesome!

This nut was playing loud rock music out of his parked car, dancing and banging on a cowbell. I don't get it.

After running 22 miles or so, we hit the infamous 'sand pit'. By this time, everybody is feeling stiff, and the sand can definitely make it worse. When you hit this, you must change your stride. Use it to your advantage, lift your knees a bit more, and use it to stretch out your calves with each step.

This poor lady just twisted her ankle on a steep downhill grade. I remember thinking, you know you are getting older when running downhill is tougher than running uphill!

The support for this event was outstanding. We were out in the desert, and away from any roads, but the route was constantly monitored by people on horses and ATVs. There were also 3 or 4 medic stations along the route. They did not want to leave anybody behind!

Only 3 miles to go! I was hurting by this point. My feet especially, were really starting to ache. They were swelling up for some reason, and running on swollen feet is definitely uncomfortable.

When I finished, I kissed Rosemary, and was near tears. Not pain. Tears of joy. 26 miles of jogging through the desert among all these walking memorials gave me a bit of time to reflect on myself. I am grateful for my wonderful life and all that I have and the people that I love.

 Next year? We will see...


... Zoe ~ said...

I think I could get in shape just reading your posts about running. Seems my heart rate always goes up. I can't imagine it. More history I knew nothing about. Very moving.

That guy with the rock music needs a new sweater, think that one shrunk in the heat.

Well done.

HeIsSailing said...

ZOE, if you ever come to New Mexico or west Texas, look me up. I will take you on a desert adventure you will never forget! Same goes for the rest of my blogging buddies. I know I am biased, but I think it is beautiful out here.

Ruth said...

"That guy with the rock music needs a new sweater, think that one shrunk in the heat."

I really did laugh out loud on that one! :D

Your photos are great. I didn't know anything about this March, either. A marathon? It would take me days to complete that distance. But this is awesome! Congrats on completing it.

... Zoe ~ said...

So kind of you, thank you HeIsSailing.

Blogging buddy retreat in New Mexico! ;-)