Bataan 2019: There Were Tears

I have purposefully waited to write this “results” post for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. It has taken the past 36-hours to process the event and what ultimately happened. The mental, physical, and emotional roller coaster of the past 48-hours has been difficult to process. A rundown of my experience during the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March follows.

The pre-dawn ceremony led by a state politician, the garrison commander of White Sands Missile Range, and involving three of the remaining survivors of the original Bataan Death March started promptly at 6:30 AM. Of course, those participating in the march had been shivering in the freezing cold (literally, it was 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below up until the starting cannon went off) for several hours. However, spirits were light as the motivational speeches were capped off by a parachute demonstration from the Special Operations Force’s parachute demonstration team The Black Daggers. About the time the jumpers landed, the Husband and I kicked off our walk to the sound of a cannon firing a large blank into nothingness.

We were happy to start walking. The morning chill slowly gave way as the sign crested the horizon. I couldn’t help thinking about the beauty of it all. Over 8,600 people of all ages, races, sexuality, military status, and motivations starting a grueling course as the day officially began. We were all out there for something and, hopefully, it was enough to carry us through to the end.

For the first two miles, we were on hardball (concrete road) and bunched together with everyone else. Those with the idea to compete for real times were bouncing around from one gap between marchers to the next. Young and old alike jostled each other for more room to stretch their legs. Oddly enough, this entire dance was very polite, filled with “excuse me” and “on your left/right” and people happily stepping to the side to allow these jack rabbits to move forward.

The first checkpoint was at Mile Marker 2 with water, gatorade, oranges, bananas, and, most importantly for those too shy to go in the desert-line, porta-potties. From this point until the Mile Marker 8 we marched along a hard-packed (ish) sand trail. Fortunately, the organizers doubled the width of this trail since last year making it less claustrophobic and easier for the speedy marchers to maintain their pace while slower marchers could stay out of the way with less crowding. They also wetted the sand (or maybe that was just the weather) and compressed it so there was less knee/ankle twisting than last year. The Husband and I maintained an easy 19-minute per mile pace throughout these first 8 miles without any issues.

Mile Marker 8 was a giant checkpoint with medical facilities and the standard hydration tools found at most other checkpoints. It also acted as the split for marchers: keep walking to the left and you’re on the Honorary Route (14.2 miles) while going to the right sends you out to what I call the Lollypop portion of the route (the 12 extra miles that’ll put you at 26.2 miles at the finish line). We took an extended break here to evaluate our status, eat some food, drink some water, and decide our route.

I felt good at this point. There wasn’t the tell-tale pain of potential injury, just the standard fatigue associated with long walks through the desert. My hopes were high that we would finish the full 26.2 mile course. With just under one-third of the march completed, the day was still bright and full of optimism. We agreed that we were both in good shape and headed out to the Lollypop.

Once we went under Highway 82, a steady incline presented itself for the next 4.5 miles. Fortunately, this incline was on hardball until the Mile Marker 10 (ish) so no slipping or sliding on rocks or sand. We maintained our pace of 19-minutes per mile throughout this portion of the course. Our legs and joints started to protest near Mile Marker 10, but nothing appeared to be serious at that point.

After exiting the hardball and making it through the strategically place fundraiser setup by New Mexico State University we continued on towards the halfway point on a semi-firmly packed sand road. It was about this point I realized something was wrong. Around Mile Marker 11 (a mile into the sand road), my left hip flexor began to hurt whenever I place weight on it. The pain was more of an annoyance than a hinderance and I chalked it up to standard long-distance marching pains. I let the Husband know what was going on but specified, “this isn’t a stop and quit thing, but I want you to know…”. He asked some follow-up questions (it’s that medic inside of him) and requested I let him know if it got worse.

At Mile Marker 13 (halfway’ish point) we took an extended break to hydrate and eat. The pain in my hip flexor had become more steady and worrisome. I had yet to start walking with a noticeable limp, but I was trying to figure out if it was simply the way in which I was stepping or if the pain was universal regardless of my footfall. No solution to the pain had presented itself. I began to dwell on the problem which, I’m sure, didn’t help all that much. The optimism from earlier was quickly eroding into true concern and fear.

We continued on, maintaining that 19-minute per mile pace as we pushed through the halfway checkpoint and trudged our way around a small mountain back to the hardball. Each step became more painful and less manageable. I found going uphill was easier than downhill and the softer sandy areas of the road hurt less than the hard packed areas. No adjustments to my footfall seemed to help consistently ease the pain. By Mile Marker 15 I knew I was in real trouble. Of course, I let the Husband know what was going on and his crinkled brow told me he was going to be keeping a very close eye on me.

At Mile Marker 18, we found ourselves back on the hardball we had walked up on our start around the mountain. It was here that I had to do a gut-check and decide whether I could make it through the full course. I had a noticeable limp and was in a pretty constant state of pain, not just when I put weight on my left leg. My hip flexor was throbbing and a grimace had plastered itself across my face. I was in real trouble.

We stopped for a bit just past the checkpoint to hydrate and rest. I tried stretching my hip flexor. With my left leg straight, I tried leaning to my left and found myself nearly collapsing due to the pain this movement caused. Interestingly, squatting wasn’t a problem nor was doing the same action on my right leg. I was now scared. We were two-thirds of the way through the course, we were well past the point of being on our way home. It was was only 8 more miles. There was no way I wouldn’t be able to finish the course. It was just two and a half hours of walking left. Surely I could handle that, right? After about 15 minutes, we got up and resumed the march.

Within 100 meters of starting again, I had to stop. A couple of seconds of relieving the pressure on my left leg allowed me to go another 100 meters. This pattern continued for the next half mile. After the sixth or seventh painful pause, it dawned on me like a ton of bricks smacking me upside the head: I wasn’t going to be able finish.

I barely processed this realization before telling the Husband I was done. He asked if I was sure and I confirmed my statement. I couldn’t make it. Internally, I realized I had failed. I tried choking back the tears that forced their way up to the surface. I was only partially successful.

In my life, I have rarely outright failed at anything I have pursued. In the Army I failed Air Assault school due to an unforeseen fear of heights when attached to objects grounded in the earth (read: I don’t like really tall ladders or the edge of buildings). As a contractor, I failed to be promoted to a supervisory position (twice). As a civilian, I have failed to complete a 4-year college degree, because I have never completely bought into the reason for obtaining such a degree.

On Sunday, March 17, 2019 I voluntarily withdrew myself from the Bataan Memorial Death March due to being too weak to complete the course.

A big shout out to the White Sands Police, Border Patrol, and volunteers for getting me safely off the course. Their professionalism and understanding of the situation is without comparison.

Until Monday afternoon, I wanted to crawl into a deep, dark hole curled up in a little ball ignoring the world. I guess you could describe it as sulking. Processing this entire experience and all the things that went right and wrong has been just shy of overwhelming. I know I will be back next year to finish this damned course.

What was your experience at the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March? Any pointers for training up? Did you finish? If not, what went wrong? Drop into the comments and share!

Bataan 2019: Killing Time and Having Some Fun

Driving the 3-hours from Albuquerque to Las Cruces for the opportunity to be among the first to pick up our race packets is a chore of joy. It cements the fact that we will be participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March and begins the mental preparation of 26.2 miles through the deserts of White Sands Missile Range with thousands of other marchers. However, since the march is on Sunday and initial packet pickup is on Thursday it leaves a couple of days to kill.

We discovered last year, there is plenty to do in southern New Mexico – particularly in and around Alamogordo. There is the Space Museum, Missile Museum, White Sands National Monument, Toy Train Museum, and several other sites we visited to fill the time between packet pick-up and the march. It was a year of discovery in 2018 while this year was the year of debate – which of the activities we did last year would we do this year and what new things could we find to pass the time?

On Friday, we woke up early (but still later than a normal day) to drive out to Salado Canyon Trail just northeast of Alamogordo for an out-and-back hike to Bridal Veil Falls. If you’re in the area and want a truly “beginners” level hike, I highly recommend the 30-minute drive from Alamogordo to the trailhead and this hike. The trail was built out by the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association along the path of the Alamogordo Sacramento Mountain Railway so it is a fairly flat path with gentle slopes to climb or descend. The views are spectacular! There is a lot of history in this area and everyone should take a moment to contemplate the trials and tribulations of those men and women who came before us.

Coming back from our short hike, we stopped in at Plateau Espresso outside of the satellite New Mexico State University campus for a little caffeine pick-us-up and a warm sandwich. Talk about a friendly group of people and awesome atmosphere! If you’re ever in the area you should definitely stop in and grab an Americano and panini (or gelato which looked sooo good!).

Wrapping up the morning, we stopped in to visit “a couple of nuts” at McGinn’s Pistachioland where we had some pistachios and the Husband sampled some wine. The two women attending the store were lovely and very helpful in selecting wines that met the Husband’s high standards. Such a quirky place, but definitely worth dropping in to see.

Next was the 30-minute drive to White Sands National Monument. One of those places you can visit a hundred times and still have a good time the next time you stop in. Okay, let’s be honest, it’s a bunch of gypsum sand all piled up in the middle of a flat, brown desert. HOWEVER, walking barefoot on the cool sand during a hot day and enjoying the quiet company of someone you love is always a good time! Another high recommendation if you find yourself in the area!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, watching a movie, and reading. Quiet time – this is a vacation after all – is such a rare commodity in day-to-day life that we find ourselves taking advantage of our broken routine time to just sit and relax.

Saturday was a purposefully planned quiet day. In the morning we made the trek up to the International Space Museum to peruse mankind’s efforts to understand space. For me, this is also a nostalgic trip reminding me of the summer’s I spent in Space Camp in Alamogordo. I was one of dozens of kids who would invade this place during the summer and gawk at the rockets, missiles, planes, and shuttles. Imagining what it would be like to be in the now glass protected space suits and blast off into the unknown on missions of discovery and exploration. Now, the Husband and I read the plaques and take in the information about the exhibits more than dreaming of being an astronaut, but it is still a good time. This year we also took in a Planetarium show (which I highly recommend).

The rest of the day is for March preparation – making sure the Camelbaks and filled, poncho-liners are where they should be, and post-event recovery drinks/foods find themselves into the car.

How do you pass the time leading up to the Bataan Memorial Death March? Any favorite local places to visit in the days before or after the march? Share in the comments!

Week 7: January Challenge Success!

I am a few weeks late with this post, but I am proud to say I successfully completed my January challenge of closing all the Activity Rings on my Apple Watch everyday throughout the month. It is also a point of pride that I completed the Apple January Challenge of accumulating 300 exercise minutes! So, one personal challenge and one Apple Challenge completed in the same month to start the year. It’s a great feeling to have achieved success so early in 2019.

Since the close of January, I have continued on at the same level (750 calories per day) without missing a day. This puts me on track for a second perfect month in a row. In addition to this potential challenge success, I have already achieved the Heart Month Challenge which consisted of closing my exercise ring for 7-days in a row from February 7th to February 14th. Also, I am on track to achieve the February Challenge of 113.9 miles in movement throughout the month.

Success appears to stack as quickly as you can set realistic goals.

My continuing goal (measured on a monthly basis) is to close all my Activity Rings at their current levels (750 calories) through July 15th. This will result in my longest streak for closing my Move Ring – my previous record was 191 days. Barring illness or crazy travel schedules, I should be able to accomplish this ambitious challenge.

Things aren’t looking so good for my February Challenge of completing the CAPM certification from PMI by the end of the month. More to come on that in my next post.

How are you doing on your 2019 challenges? Any hurdles to share with the world? Leave your experience in the comments!

Week 3, 2019: Staying on target

Week 3, 2019 and I'm staying on target!
Week 3, 2019 and I’m staying on target!

It’s the end of yet another week and I am happy to report that I am still fulfilling my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings on my Apple Watch! I’ve accomplished this through lunchtime walks, weekend excursions with the dog, and treadmill runs (because it’s flipping cold outside). That’s the good news.

The bad news is I have found myself slipping into some of my familiar bad habits this week. Including an abundance of television watching (boo!), an increase in my nicotine intake (yup, still a smoker in 2019), and less activity between the events in the paragraph above. I feel the worst part is I haven’t been writing as much this week as I have in the past month.

Of all the therapeutic activities I have participated in throughout my life (admittedly, it hasn’t been as much as it should be), writing has always been my saving grace. It’s the ability to take an errant thought, bad decision, or fantastically wild idea and bring it into the physical world that amazes me about writing.

Holding on to negative emotions? Cool, write it down and I’ll bet you money you will feel better instantly.

Got a crazy idea for a new business? Outstanding, put it on paper, type it into Evernote, or drop it in an email to yourself, make it real!

Having a hard time figuring out a solution to a problem? Write it out on a dry erase board or draw pictures of it on a blank piece of paper and a solution will come to you.

Throughout my life, when I have gone long periods of time without writing down my thoughts (privately or publicly) my emotional stability deteriorates, my concentration suffers, and the grey hairs on my head multiply like rabbits in a box. Plucking the best, mundane, and worst out of my head brings stability and calm to an otherwise rocky ride. Surely, I am not the only one who experiences this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, there is always an excuse:

  • I have no time!
  • I’m too busy!
  • I have too much going on!
  • I don’t feel like it!
  • I don’t want to!
  • I’m tired!

Any of those sound familiar? I tell myself at least one of those everyday. The fact is, we all have more time than we admit to having. How many hours a day/week do you watch non-educational/non-developmental TV? How many hours do you spend drinking alcohol (and recovering from it)? How many hours do you spend commuting (don’t write a journal while driving, but you could do a stream-of-consciousness voice memo)? How many hours do you waste not helping yourself?

I am an advocate for taking time off, lounging about for short bursts of time, and (every now and then) just shutting down for a few days. However, it can’t be every weekend or everyday when you get home from work. There is a point when relaxation becomes sedation and that doesn’t help anyone.

Take 15-minutes, set a timer, and start writing about your day – the events that happened, your feelings about those events, your plans for the future, what you want to accomplish tomorrow, and so on. Fifteen minutes. That’s all it takes to start something.

Week 2, 2019: Still On Target

Two weeks complete in Apple Activity.

I am happy to report that I am still on target for accomplishing my January Challenge. Thirteen days in a row my Activity Rings on my Apple Watch have been fully closed. I’d be lying if I said it has been easy – yesterday, I had to do a semi-intense 45-minute workout throughout my house at 10:45 at night to close them all. Lazy days lounging around the house don’t contribute to success in this Challenge.

My energy levels continue to be higher than what I have become accustomed to over the years. I still don’t know if this is attributable to the increased activity related to the Challenge or the increase in water consumption or decrease in fast food/restaurant food or a combination of all three. On the one hand, I am a bit disappointed that I have made so many changes at the same time that it is impossible to narrow down which of the changes have had the greatest impact. On the other hand, I am happy that I have made the changes because I haven’t felt this good in years.

With nearly half the month in the past, I am keeping my focus on finishing this Challenge but not losing sight of what’s coming up next month. In preparation for a 28-day sprint to becoming a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), I ordered the hardcopy Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) today. I already have the kindle version, but for this Challenge, I think a physical copy will be much better for me. I have always retained information and generally learned better in the real world.

Becoming a CAPM is important for my professional development but will also have positive effects on my personal life. Learning new ways to look at, evaluate, and solve problems will always be a universally applicable skill. I wish more people would take different approaches to the same old problems, but that is a post for another time.

As a disclaimer, I have read most of the PMBOK already, but not in a way designed to set me up for success to take the CAPM exam. My focus on the first read through was immediate application of certain principles and process into my day-to-day work. February’s Challenge is to end the month with a passing score on the CAPM exam. This will not be easy, some people study for months in order to pass the CAPM exam – I will be relying on in-depth study sessions on my own as well as with my husband to achieve success in the shortest month of the year.

I look forward to completing my January Challenge successfully and determining how I will maintain my gains throughout the year. Check back regularly to see how it’s going!

How are you doing with your Challenges? Any unexpected benefits? Use the comments to share your own experience in 2019 so far!