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!

Bataan 2019: Packet Pickup and Butterflies

Cheesy selfie outside the hotel

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.

Bataan Memorial Death March 2019 – Packet Pickup

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?

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 4

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Eating green tea ice cream circa 2014 in Taiwan – I had already packed on 40 pounds of excess weight at this point.

Like so many veterans, I left the Army and immediately stopped doing any form of physical training (PT). I began ingesting far more calories than my newly lethargic lifestyle could ever process and, as happens, started to pack on the pounds. Over the years, my weight and fitness level have yo-yo’d from fat and cardiac-event risk to slim and fit. During the valleys of fast food and little activity, I constantly sell myself on the idea that I am as good as I was in my mid-20’s running mile after mile everyday, packing rucks with 50+ pounds and walking until my feet bled, and being “tactically cool” as I cleared houses in Iraq wearing 90 pounds worth of gear and ammo. Unfortunately, despite my success selling myself on these ideas, the truth is much more grounding:

I am overweight, out of shape, and not as good as I once was.

The truth hurts and putting it out to the world in this way is very embarrassing for me. I have always prided myself on being disciplined and ready for whatever the world throws at me. However, with my inability to complete the full course of the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 comes the realization that I have bought into my own lie, hook, line, and sinker.

Fortunately, it is not too late to turn this all around. It is possible that I will never be as good as I was as a young sergeant in Iraq, but I can be a whole lot better than I am today. My 2018 goals are geared towards my own improvement including physical fitness – not just weight loss, but physical ability to accomplish tasks that I currently struggle with or outright fail at. In line with this physical improvement is preparation for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March taking place on March 17, 2019.

Selfie - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
A horrible selfie sometime around Mile 10 or 11

As I have written about my experiences at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of “The Day After” series, my physical preparations were insufficient to complete the full route this year. I have two more physical challenges in 2018 as a part of my 2018 goals which do not include any “from the hip” entries I may have in other events that pop-up in the next 9 months. These events will help drive me to improve my physical capabilities and increase my chances of completing the 2019 Bataan memorial Death March 26.2 mile route.

My rough training plan for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March:

  1. Albuquerque “Run for the Zoo” 10k – May 6, 2018
    • I have 5 weeks to train for this event and will be detailing that adventure in future blog posts.
  2. The “Duke City Marathon” – October 21, 2018
    • I plan on finding a 3 to 4 month training plan to up my distance from 10k range to a full marathon and will be detailing this journey in future blog posts.
  3. 20-week Bataan Memorial Death March provided training plan
    • After an appropriate rest period following the Duke City Marathon, The Husband and I will follow the 20-week training plan provided by event organizers. I will be recording our experiences on this blog.
  4. Weekly Ruck Marches
    • I plan on utilizing the wonderful terrain in and around Albuquerque to ruck short to long distances with light to heavy weight at least one day a week throughout the year until I start the official Bataan training plan.
  5. Strength Training
    • Incorporated into all of my training plans for the above events will be regular strength training. This is something I have never been fond of (pick up heavy things and then put them back where I found them), but I am weaker today than I have ever been in my entire life. This is not something I am okay with and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary to correct this problem.

Since the above points are my rough plan, I am sure I will provide more refined and tested training plans for each event in the future. Keep in mind, I am not a nutritionist, certified trainer, or other certified sports exercise professional so don’t follow my plans without first checking with a healthcare professional. I am willing to use trial and error to improve myself until I am in a position to consult with professionals.

I know this is going to be a very difficult road over the next year, but I am committed to fixing the problems I have created. I am glad I chose to share my own embarrassment with everyone who happens upon this blog because it provides me a higher sense of accountability (much like I had in the Army). It’s time to prove through hard work that none of us are stuck with our present situation!

Are you a veteran or do you know a veteran who let themselves go after leaving the service? Have you (or they) come back from that bad place? How did you (or they) do it? Any advice for me or the readers of this blog? Share in the comments below! Also, remember to follow this blog and like us on social media!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 3

Sunrise Over the Start Line - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

 

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 2

Pre-Opening Ceremony - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
Final prep before the opening ceremony – Photo courtesy of Bud Cordova (The Husband)

I wanted to write a post right after finishing the march, but found myself a bit on the tired side and opted for sleep instead. This is part two of a multi-part (number to be determined) postmortem of the Bataan Memorial Death march 2018. Don’t forget to get caught up on how we did by reading Part 1

Regrettably, the husband and I were unable to complete the full 26.2 mile march. At mile marker 8 (Checkpoint 3/9), we each performed a medical self-assessment which resulted in the very difficult decision to merely complete the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. The husband twisted his already tender knee coming up the 2-mile sand pit that started at mile marker 6 and was fairly certain the much steeper (and sandier) march up the hill between mile markers 12 and 15 would result in serious injury. Meanwhile, my own review resulted with mild dehydration setting in and light bruising on my feet. Since it was only 10 AM and I was already showing signs of dehydration (despite regular water intake interspersed with electrolyte-rich drinks) it was unlikely I was going to make it around the hill and to the finish line without suffering from heat stroke. Together, we concluded our lack of preparation in similar conditions as the route and our general unwillingness to severely or permanently injure ourselves meant we wouldn’t finish the full route.

But not all was lost!

Each of us came out of this experience with some hefty lessons learned that we plan on applying to next year’s event. Hopefully, some of these lessons will help any of you readers planning on participating properly prepare for this arduous event.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. PREPARATION IS KEY – If you are a serious competitor and are not simply doing this march for the fun of it all, this lesson goes without saying. For those of you simply completing the march to check it off your bucket list, pay homage to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, or because you have nothing better to do in mid to late March, pay attention! The organizers have provided a fairly detailed 20-week training plan (especially important for those entering a Heavy Division) which looks very promising and will be used next year to properly prepare for this event.
  2. TRAIN IN COMPARABLE ENVIRONMENTS – We don’t all live in a desert environment (I mean, I do, but not all of you) and don’t have regular access to 6 inch deep coarse sand with tiny pieces of gravel throughout it. Not everyone is in an environment of high-70’s to low-80’s dry heat with direct sun exposure for miles on end. Some of you don’t have 5-20 mph wind gusts at the ready to pelt you with small rocks and cloud your vision with dust. However, if you want to make it through this march, it would behoove you to find these conditions, ruck up, and start walking. The husband and I have already found several areas around Albuquerque that match this description and we will be burning holes in our boots over the next year so we can finish the full route.
  3. DON’T COUNT ON YOUR OWN PACE – 8,400+ people walked, marched, or ran the course this year. Each category (Military Heavy, Military Light, Civilian Light, Runner, etc.) was released onto the course one right after the other. The civilian categories were let loose last. The husband and I had 8,000 people ahead of us, all going at a different pace with different goals and motivations. The first two miles weren’t bad because we were on a four-lane road with plenty of room from side to side. However, Starting mile 3 you find yourself in sand (get used to that word) on a barely improved (more like used) dirt road that is only 10 feet wide at its widest. Many of the people are not paying attention to their surroundings so slower walkers/marchers in the center of the path can force you to slow down until there are a few inches on the side to pass them. Getting stuck behind a larger gaggle of people may force you to slow to an uncomfortably slow pace until you break through. This can cause pain! be ready for the varying pace and inattention of your fellow marchers.
  4. THE (CIVILIAN) START TIME IS NOT 7:00 AM – Based on all of the published schedules, it looked like the start time was going to be 7:00 AM with the Runners starting it off followed by Military Heavy and all the other categories. However, the Civilian Heavy category did not get released from its respective corral until 8:10 AM (leaving one hour less than planned for to complete the course). What does this mean? Well, if you followed the instructions and were in the corrals by 6:00 AM then it means you have been standing, sitting, or laying in chilly conditions for at least 2 hours before you take your first step towards the start line. This leads to tense muscles, potentially sore feet, and a bit of frustration. Now, I get it, all 8,000 marchers can’t be released at the same moment due to traffic build up on the route and by doing staged releases you allow the field to spread out more. Unfortunately, this timing was never communicated which led to a lot of uncertainty the day of the march which isn’t the best way to start 14.2 or 26.2 miles.
  5. IT’S UNUSUALLY COLD WHILE YOU WAIT TO START – This one hurt the husband more than me (I like to think of myself as more of a polar bear than a lizard), but it was still more uncomfortable than I expected. This lesson ties back to Lesson #4, but more specifically points to wearing a sweater, jacket, or bringing a blanket to stave off the chill of the desert morning. The husband was shivering and leaning against me for hours in an attempt to stay warm (not comfortable, just not freezing) which did not help his mood at the start of the march. This is something the organizers communicate to the participants and should be listened to in all seriousness.

I hope that some of this information helps fill in the knowledge gaps for anyone who hasn’t participated in this event in the past. I know we will be remembering these facts as we prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March 2019. Check out Part 1 to learn more about the course and event execution!

Have you participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March and have a lesson learned not included above? Share with everyone in the comments below!