Here is Part 3 of my “Bataan…The Day After” series. In Part 1 I recounted my experiences during the actual Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 while Part 2 shared some lessons learned from the event. In this installment, I am going to air some grievances about the event and its organization.
WARNING: This post should not be taken out of context. I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 and will be registering for the 2019 event as soon as registration opens up in October. This was my experience and my observations and in no way should be taken as an end all, be all of the event.
PURPOSE OF THIS POST: I am writing this post to vent, yes, but also to help set expectations for first time marchers in years to come. It is my hope that this post will help people better prepare for the event thus improving their experience and helping them through a very difficult event to feel the exhilaration of finishing.
I have covered a lot in Part 1 and Part 2 as to what annoyed and irritated me during the event, but I wanted to vent a bit in this post for my own sanity. Going into the march I understood there were going to be a lot of people, difficult terrain, and general discomfort/pain. However, I was hoping against hope for a bit more courtesy from my fellow marchers and timeliness of execution for the event itself.
VENTING AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:
- SCHEDULE AND TIMELINESS – I spent time in Part 2 explaining the start times for civilian categories do not start at 7:00 AM as the literature implies (but does not specify) which results in a lot of standing around through a chilly desert morning. Here, I want to talk about the late start to the Opening Ceremony (only a few minutes, but that adds up quickly) and the long delay between each corral being released. Why the long delay? This is to allow each marcher the opportunity to shake the hand and say “hi” to all of the attending survivors (of the actual Bataan Death March). Obviously, it takes some time to get 8,400 marchers through the choke point where the survivors are posted up. All-in-all, it takes about 90 minutes to get the marchers through this process. When the first corral (runners) aren’t released until 7:15 AM, that’s a lot of standing around in the chilly air for the last corral (Civilian Heavy).
- Possible Solution – Start earlier. Instead of a 6:35 AM start to the opening ceremony, go for 6:00 AM. I understand the later start time is likely for the F-15 flyover to be visible, but burning daylight for the Civilian Heavy division is quite unfair (Military Heavy ends up with about 12.5 hours to finish the full course while Civilian Heavy have about 11.5 hours).
- Possible Solution – Break up the starting line into two lanes: Lane 1 meets the survivors and Lane 2 goes straight to the Starting Line and onto the course. Personally, I took the time to meet and greet the survivors at the Finish Line when I felt like I could truly understand some of their sacrifice and the pain they went through (some, not nearly all).
- MARCHER COURTESY – Just like on the highway, if you’re going slower than the people around you, move to the right and let people pass you on the left. The Husband and I got stuck behind several small groups in the first few miles that were more interested in talking about home renovations, workplace drama, and kids than taking in the experience they were actively participating in or being aware of their surroundings. In the narrower portions of the trail it takes a lot of self-control to not rudely bump people out of the way so we could continue at the pace comfortable for the both of us. I understand that everyone has their own motivation, purpose, and reasons for being on the course, but courtesy is universal and should not be dependent on whether it is a competitive event or not.
- Possible Solution – Pretty simple and almost impossible to enforce, but slower marchers stay to the right while faster marchers can pass on the left. It’s common courtesy.
- Possible Solution – Also impossible to enforce as an organizer, but maybe people should remove the earbuds/headphones, quiet down about their day-to-day life and pay attention to their surroundings. When someone is obviously moving faster than you are and attempting to get by you, move out of the way.
- Disclaimer – Wounded Veterans, the disabled (their were blind marchers on the course), and the elderly — DO WHAT YOU WANT! In these cases, it is the responsibility of the masses to find other ways around these marchers. Double standard? You are damn right, get over it!
- MARCHER COURTESY (PART 2) – Okay, lot’s of courtesy going on here, but lack of it was the most irritating part of my experience. Water and Check Points. These are not “stop in the middle of the trail and have a conversation, throw my arms out, and take a break in the middle of the trail” points. The Husband and I stopped at several of these points but we did so only after getting off the main thoroughfare to allow those who weren’t stopping to continue on without us getting in their way. It gets back to paying attention to your surroundings. The mile markers were another area in which this bottlenecking occurred because marchers wanted to take pictures with the placard. I completely understand the novelty and recording the experience with a picture, but that doesn’t mean you should impede other marchers while doing so.
- Possible Solution – Marchers should pay attention to their surroundings and, unless physically unable to do so, move off the trail before stopping.
- Possible Solution – Marchers taking pictures with the mile markers should do so by getting off the trail or, if using a second person as a photographer, the person taking the picture should hug the edge of the trail to stay out of other people’s way.
- INFORMATION FROM THE ORGANIZER – I am a veteran of the Army Infantry and I can’t recall a single time when I found myself participating in a ceremony or at an event that I didn’t know the exact sequence of events to take place. In the case of this event, I knew how the opening ceremony would unfold (and it did, to the letter), but no information was shared as to how or when the march would actually kick-off. We were cordoned off into corrals, check. The opening ceremony occurred, check. Then…well, I don’t know what happened for about 60 minutes other than motivational music from the 80’s and 90’s blasted over the loud speaker. This resulted in a handful of false starts on my part based on observing the events around me (i.e. “I think their moving, let me ruck up…oh wait, false alarm”).
- Possible Solution – Use the loud speaker to help release the corrals as well as inform the other corrals as to what’s going on. Simple: “Military Heavy, step-off; Military Light prepare to move in 15 minutes”.
- Possible Solution – Set proper expectations in the literature that it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for each corral to move through the survivor meet and greet area, prepare accordingly.
In the end, despite some annoyances and irritation, I greatly enjoyed the event and will be participating in next year’s march (the 30th to take place). I hope that people returning next year will have more courtesy than they did this year and that first-time marchers will keep some of these points in mind when on the course. We are all out there and we are all suffering to some degree or another, don’t make it more difficult by purposefully getting in the way in order to facilitate your own experience at the expense of others.
Also, understand that for 99% of marchers this is not a competitive event; it is to honor those who were forced to march 65 miles in the Philippines with quarter rations, almost no water, and substandard equipment. Though the start is slowed by meeting and greeting the attending survivors I gladly accept this delay as a point of pride to shake the hand of men who survived events I will never have to live through. I salute each and every one of them though I chose to do so at the finish line.
Overall, this was a very well executed and supported event that I will always cherish as a great memory. Nothing is perfect and there are always things that could be improved. I have also sent my feedback to the organizers so don’t think I’m not trying to contribute to improving this event and am only looking to bitch to the world.
Did you participate as a runner, marcher, or volunteer? What improvements do you see for this event in the future? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Also follow this blog and on social media!