Bataan 2019: After Action Report

I have been dwelling on my performance at the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March for the past week. I failed to complete the course, dropping out at Mile Marker 19 due to an injury to my left hip flexor. A lot of questions have been swirling about my brain since I made the decision to drop out.

A great view from the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March course.

How did this happen? Why couldn’t I suck up the pain for another few miles? When did my body become so weak it couldn’t walk 26.2 miles? What happened to my mental and intestinal fortitude that this kind of pain couldn’t be overcome? Why did I fail?

Well, there are a lot of answers to each of those questions, but my failure boils down to a single reason: a complete lack of preparation. I did not follow a training program nor did I increase my activity in the months leading up to Bataan 2019. I continued my sedentary, office oriented lifestyle without a second thought to my lack of activity contributing to failing at completing a life goal (bucket list item, if you will).

Selfie 2-Days Before the March

When I was 20 years old and in the Army, I could pick up a rucksack weighing 50 pounds or more and walk for hours without anything more than sore legs to show for it. When I was 27 years old and a security contractor in Kosovo, I finished an 8-hour shift at work only to sprint to my room to grab a 40 pound pack to join the 2011 commemorative Bataan Memorial Death March being held on Camp Bondsteel. I was late to the start line and still didn’t finish the 12-mile course last. Since returning to the United States in 2012, my physical activity (and ability) has steadily declined.

My day-to-day lifestyle contributed to my failure on March 17, 2019 in the deserts of southern New Mexico. A lack of strength, flexibility, and endurance resulted in an epic failure. How do I fix this with my office job, heavy travel schedule, and general laziness when sitting on my couch?

  1. Purpose and Motivation: My purpose and motivation is to complete the Bataan Memorial Death March course in order to check it off my life goals (bucket) list. Thus adding my name to the short list of people who have completed the event while honoring the original veterans forced to march more than 50-miles in the Philippines to their prison camp. Pride plays a part in all of this as well. I can’t forget these things as I work to improve myself enough to complete the Bataan Memorial Death March.
  2. Planning: Walking into the Bataan Memorial Death March without a plan has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Having a training plan oriented towards the challenges of the event, incorporating targeted activities into my daily life to build strength and endurance, and understanding what I need to do to improve my flexibility all fall within the grand plan. As a project manager, this should have been my default stance for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March – epic fail.
  3. Mental and Physical Strength: As mentioned in #2 I have to spend the sweat equity to improve my physical state. I don’t improve as quickly as I used to and I don’t recover as quickly as in my 20’s either. With this in mind, my planning needs to incorporate the time to build and recover properly. This is a no-brainer improvement but needs to be stated nonetheless.
  4. Patience: I have never been a fan of delayed gratification. I simply don’t like waiting (#millennial, I guess) for benefits or improvement and I become discouraged when I don’t see these things quickly. Transforming my mid-30s body into something better is going to take time and the sooner I accept this fact, the better off I will be overall.
  5. Positive Mental State: I cannot waiver from an “I will finish the course” state of mind. I’ve always been a pessimist/negative oriented realist which drags down my motivation and negatively impacts those people around me. Going into next year, I need to work on improving my mental state before, during, and after the event. If I can’t convince my mind that I will finish the course then how is my body going to push through the pain and barriers?

I have moved past kicking myself for not finishing the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March and into my preparations for the 2020 event. I will continue to reflect on this years march as a source of information and motivation, but I will focus on transforming this negative result into a positive learning experience. Next year, I will succeed.

What did you learn from the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March? How will you do better next year? Any lessons to share with the world?