Last weekend was a busy weekend for me and I am still feeling it now as I sit here and type. This trip found us in New Mexico participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March. The Death March “is more than just a marathon” it takes place at the White Sands Missile Range just outside of Los Cruses, their website sums it up best “The Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging march through the high desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range. The memorial march is conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health, and, in many cases, their very lives.”. As the greatest generation gets older it was an honor to still be in the presence of five Bataan Survivors as we crossed the start line.
The trip to the starting line was an adventure in its self, I took a couple days off of work, so I could get out and recover. I was up at three am Friday for a ride to the airport leaving out of San Diego to Albuquerque with a luck pit stop and an eleven-dollar breakfast burrito at Sky Harbor Phoenix. It was good to get into New Mexico and by good friend Alex who was also doing the hike picked me up and we were off to grab some food and a movie before he was off to work a night shift at the hospital and I got to grab some sleep, being constantly tired was kind of a theme this whole trip, ha-ha.
I didn’t sleep to well Friday and Alex didn’t sleep at all, so we were off to a great start for our four hour drive to Los Cruces. Now you might google the drive time and say wow that took longer than it should, and you would be correct. We entered a winter wonderland as we got stuck in a heavy snow storm just outside of Los Cruces, good times. As we pulled into a rainy Los Cruces we were questioning our plan to camp at the base. Speaking of one of the cool things they do is offer free camping on the base and they have RV options as well so that is pretty cool, except when you are freezing wet and tired, then a hotel is the way to go. And there are plenty of hotels around the convention center and great food options probably in part of it being a college town. So after getting our packets we secured a room and food, then tried to get some sleep.
The base is only about a half an hour from Los Cruces but we were glad we were up at three am since we had to be in our corrals by six and having a knowledge of bases and large events we decided to error on the side of caution in getting there. That was a good idea since there was a miles long line for the two lanes that go into to the base. We made it to our parking lot and I have to say the volunteers where awesome there was no question where you were going and it made for an easy movement to the start line which is nice that early in the morning.
The opening ceremony was really good, with the recognition of the Survivors and the singing of the Philippine and US National Anthems. It was a very moving experience and a very motivational start to a marathon. The topper was the Army Parachute team and the cannon to start the party, you stepped off feeling like you couldn’t fail. There were many categories like the 14-mile honorary marchers, but the real meat and potatoes is the light and heavy divisions. Both have a military and civilian category (military gets to do it in uniform). The light has no weight requirement but the heavy requires a minimum load of thirty-five pounds, I’m an idiot and didn’t pre-weigh my pack so I over achiever with a load of forty, don’t be an over achiever. One of the cool parts though is there is a cannon going off for every wave so with all of the motivation I really didn’t notice the extra weight right then and there.
The race takes place where the desert valley meets the mountains, so it is a very gradual incline and decline throughout the course. The course its self is an almost even mixture of paved and dirt road with a few very sand places in washes that kind of sucks. The weather the day of the race was great, super clear and brisk made for an easier hike. The rain really helped in keeping the dust down and moving over all was nice. Im a history nerd so another upside of this race is passing by a lot of need historical sites both militarily and wild west wise. One of them being the ranch of Pat Garrett the man who shot Billy the Kid so there was plenty of opportunity to take in the history as well. That really came in handy in taking you mind off of the first major hill that is a little daunting, kind of like one of those hills that never ends. The upside is a little after the summit (which still had snow on it by the way) you hit the half way mark.
You come around the back of the mountain and meet back up to the road to retrace for a few miles until breaking off for the final stretch. I thought it was going to be pretty neutral and I was wrong there is a very big hill instore for you after crossing the sandy arroyos, it was not fun. I hit my wall at about mile twenty and was not feeling the joy, ha-ha. While I was contemplating how to quite with honor I just kept hiking until I was at mile twenty-two. One of the nice things is the race is well supported with eleven water stations with oranges and bananas and Gatorade. My hydration plan was one cup water and on cup Gatorade at every stop plus a full canteen refill to have between water points that were like every two miles. The extra canteen was really worth it and I stayed hydrated the whole time. The aid stations where awesome with medical support and plenty of space to rest and change your socks. If you have ever been in the military you know that changing your socks, water and Motrin are the key elements in success.
I would say when I finally came down the second hill I was really feeling it but when it finally flattened out it was a welcome relief. It was a bit of a slog for me, but I was smelling the barn and got a second wind. My plan was to take it slow and listen to my body which worked well but on the final mile I realized I was making pretty good time still and ended up pushing it to get in under ten hours. Getting down the final stretch was a welcome relive and I felt like I sprinted across the finish line (in all actuality I seriously doubt it looked that fast ha-ha).
Taking my pack off was absolutely amazing when I went to weigh it for the final verification that also when I found out it was at forty pounds. One of the really cool things about the race was the option to use nonperishable food for the weight so we were able to drop it off at a table for the local food banks. I came across after five pm and the awards ceremony was at three, so it was a lot of people relaxing after the race with food and a well-deserved beer.
The Bataan Memorial Death March lives up to it’s saying of being “more than a marathon”. I really enjoyed this opportunity and can’t wait to do it again. If you ever get a chance to do it, I highly suggest it!