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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
This is the second year the Husband and I will be participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico. We enjoyed the dehydration, exhaustion, frustration, and camaraderie so much we have come back to complete the full 26.2 mile route. Fortunately, we wised up a bit from last year and are both marching in the Civilian Light division (I tried Civilian Heavy with a 35 pound pack last year and failed).
Last year, we drove into White Sands Missile Range at about 7 in the morning for an 8 o’clock packet pickup. Accessing the base was easy enough, navigating the perfectly perpendicular Army designed roads was simple, and parking wasn’t difficult to find. The building in which the packets were being housed was too small for the less than 100 people who could be called “early-birds” let alone the 10,000+ participants who picked up their packets in the days that followed. The Husband and I went with the “in and out” strategy – no lollygagging, over engaging the volunteers, or trying to pick up on the atmosphere. It was a rush job for us since neither of us are friendly with large crowds.
This year, the organizers upgraded, big time! Packet pickup is at the Las Cruces Convention Center just off the New Mexico State University campus. Big enough to accommodate all the marchers at about the same time, it easily allows a participant to be relaxed, engaging, and in the moment. As is our custom, we arrived early enough to watch the different vendors/sponsors setting up their promotional booths. A short walk down the street to Starbucks for much needed caffeine killed the extra time and got us in line with about 15 minutes to spare before processing began. Other than some confusion as to which steel railing lined lane (or line, not sure what they classified as) participants should queue in (last year, if I’m not mistaken, the volunteers processing participants were based on the first letter of the participant’s last name), the process was very smooth.
We processed through within 15-minutes of the volunteers starting their work at 2:00 PM. Ten minutes after caching our packets in the provided light bag, we finished our souvenir/collectable shopping and were in the car heading to Alamogordo, New Mexico to check into our hotel. Last year we found we liked the small town atmosphere (and hotel accommodations) of Alamogordo much more than the slightly busier (and much larger) town of Las Cruces. Let’s see if this year goes as well as last year!
Unfortunately, much like last year, the Husband and I fell flat on any training plan. I’d like to say something along the lines of “everyday life has just been a bit hectic and blah, blah, blah, excuses…” but the truth is we just didn’t commit to the task at hand.
Now, we are doing the full marathon route this year. We will not be first, but we are unlikely to be last. We are not racing. It may take 16-hours to complete, but we will finish and we will be back next year. I am nervous about the distance, the heat, and my body’s difficulty with hydration, but if the Husband won’t quit on a bum-knee then I don’t have much of an excuse.
Are you at the Bataan Memorial Death March this year? What was your experience picking up your race packets? Do you prefer Alamogordo or Las Cruces or camping out on White Sands Missile Range?
Today is my 35th birthday. I am writing this post in the Albuquerque International Airport (Sunport for locals) waiting to board a plane to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport with a final destination of Missoula International Airport (that’s in Montana for those who had to look it up on a map like I did). This is a work trip, not a self-funded birthday vacation.
Having been through 34 birthdays before (none of which garnered much attention or celebration), I’m not sad or displeased with traveling for work on the 35th iteration of this event. However, it is a sobering sensation to know I am halfway through my life. This is not a macabre realization, it’s just a simple fact given my current bad health habits and stressful lifestyle.
In my teens and twenties, I never thought I would make it to 23 let alone still be alive and kicking 12 years after that lifespan estimate. Most people attribute my low expectations of an extended life with the army, but I have always harbored a sense of not living to old age.
As a teenager I was fully aware of my reckless, adrenaline seeking lifestyle and knew the potential consequences of those actions. Between fighting, fast driving, and generally bad decisions about my physical wellbeing I was astonished to see my 18th birthday.
Once I joined the army at 18, it was natural to think I wouldn’t make it out alive. With two active wars in progress, my young-man-pride in joining the infantry, and my willingness to ignore obvious signs of danger all contributed to a fatalist view of life. I am sure some would say I actively pursued an ultimate end while deployed to Iraq on several occasions, but I always felt it was in line with the job description.
In my mid-20s I started in government security contracting which, low and behold, could be a very dangerous job. I sought it out to fill the void the army left after my premature expulsion from the organization under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). I needed something to make up for what appeared to be a dull day-to-day grind as a civilian. I never made it on to one of those truly high-risk contracts which may have been a better outcome for me in the long run.
The past 6-years have been filled with the stressful life of the startup world. Whether it’s traveling with little notice, or devising a means of accomplishing an initiative without money or personnel, or simply working the forever long days, stress builds up in short order. However, there is an adrenaline/endorphin kick to this kind of work and the risk of failure appeals to my still rebellious inner teenager.
My hair is speckled with grey; the lines under my eyes are getting deeper; I can’t run as fast; I can’t pull all-nighters without consequences anymore; I find myself more contemplative than ever before. It’s not all bad, having reached middle age I am astonished by the experiences I have had in my life. I see the future as a true prospect now and am living in the present while allowing myself to secure a better future for myself and my husband.
Getting older isn’t all bad – I laugh more, I know how to smile now, and I have learned a lot along the way. We are all marching towards the same grim end, but we should all take a moment to acknowledge that our lives are unique, each experience is our own. Go out and take a risk, it’s usually worth it!
Believe it or not, I am you in 20 years. Congratulations! You made it to 35! It hasn’t been the easiest road to travel, but I am happy with how things have turned out so far. If time is set to occur (let’s ignore the infinite universe theory for the moment) then you will make the same decisions I made and end up right here as me.
However, life doesn’t need to be as hard as your decisions will likely make it out to be. I don’t want to cheat the system here, but I do want to improve your chances of improving yourself a bit more ahead of the curve than I did. Sorry to say, this letter isn’t about how to make a billion dollars or to make you famous – it is about being a better version of yourself.
First, your life is going to change within the next year. At the moment, you’re starting to hang out with a particular group of people from Sonic that you shouldn’t be around. Trust me when I say, they are not the cool people and you don’t want to follow in their footsteps. The actions you are invited to participate in with them are not worth the consequences. Turn to the exceptional kids your own age for inspiration and motivation – you’ll be thankful for it later.
Second, give your parents a break. Your mother is doing the best she can (as she always has) and will continue to do so for as long as you live. As for your stepfather, take a moment to calm your adolescent hormones whenever you think you are getting mad or frustrated with him. He is a good man and you can learn a lot from him if you allow yourself to do so. Without going into details, this is another situation wherein rash decisions made in the heat of the moment are not worth the consequences.
Third, despite your current mental state, the future does matter. There is no guarantee you will live to be 100 years old, or even 35 for that matter, but don’t waste your future by throwing everything you earn away in the present. Yes, you will always find a way to earn money and, yes, you will find ways of living comfortably at times, but you don’t have to make it so difficult for yourself. Save your money, avoid using credit cards, and start investing early. I’d be in a much better place in life if I had slowed down and taken the time to use my money to better my position rather than spending it on impulsive decisions.
Fourth, learn something new everyday. Learn about people; learn about money and how it can generate more money without any actions on your part; learn to be a better friend; learn to trust; learn to love. If you ever feel like you don’t need to learn anything new then you need to reevaluate yourself. I did a pretty good job on this front, but a bit more effort would have helped me out exponentially.
Finally, make a point to find yourself in Albuquerque sometime in 2008 – specifically the Home Depot on Renaissance Boulevard. You’ll meet a young man there named Bud (yup, that’s his actual name, no nickname), it would behoove you to make his acquaintance and see what develops. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
I know, you’re probably disappointed that I didn’t tell you the stocks to buy or the sports team to bet on to make you rich overnight. Too bad. Those are things you will figure out on your own.
Your a good kid, stop beating yourself up so much and trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations. You’ll make it through the hard times and should try to enjoy the good times a bit more. Take care of yourself, our lives depend on it!