Like many people, I have spent time reflecting on the year as it comes to a close. Many questions have been rattling around my head trying to gauge my success this year. As usual, my answers to these questions inevitably result in an evaluation rated as “average”. Those close to me will say I am being too hard on myself or that my analysis isn’t accurate, but I feel the results are as impartial as can be expected.
To start, I only achieved 2 of the 10 goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Marching in the 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March and writing on this blog were my measurable accomplishments (i.e. documented goals at the start of the year). I failed to lose the weight, pay off as much debt as I projected, or quit smoking. Losses across the board.
However, I did manage to accomplish a lot this year that wasn’t contained within the limits of those goals which is why I don’t feel like a total failure. This is not a silver-lining moment to minimize my shortcomings of 2018, it is simply the truth. So, what did come out of 2018?
I was on the road for work or personal reasons 15% of the year
According to the airlines I spent nearly 60 hours on planes
I visited 8 states and 2 dozen cities (many were new to me)
I flew 25,000 miles on one airline (enough to circumnavigate the earth one time)
I was promoted at work
I purposefully made time for other people
I learned new skills
I took time off from work (a shocker even to me)
I paid off some debt
I read a dozen books that weren’t related to work
I celebrated 10 years of being out of the Army
I celebrated 7 years with the man I love most in this world
I planted a garden with my husband
Today, I am a better person than I was a year ago, this is a fact beyond dispute. Personally, professionally, financially – I made gains in all these categories throughout the year. My one regret is that these gains are not measurable, at best they are anecdotal. Fortunately, since I have identified these shortcomings I can take strides to improve next year.
I am ending this year with a smile on my face and plenty of hope for the future. Of course, to support that hope, I have already established a solid plan for the coming year and am laying the foundation for continued success beyond 2019.
How did your year end? Were you successful in your pursuits or happily enlightened to new priorities? Do you have 2019 planned out or are you flying by the seat of your pants?
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!
Well, the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 has come and gone. I can now officially say that I have participated in one of these outstanding events and I couldn’t be more proud of that fact.
Unfortunately, my husband and I were unable to complete the entire 26.2 mile route as we had planned. Instead, due to reasons made clear through the rest of this post, we completed the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. I am disappointed we were not in a condition to finish the full route, but I am also very proud of my husband for digging deep and making it through the shorter Honorary Route. I am also proud of myself for not giving up when it was made clear that we wouldn’t be doing the full course.
So, what happened?
We arrived at White Sands Missile Range around 3:20 AM in order to avoid the long lines of traffic in the hours ahead of the opening ceremonies at 6:35 AM. This was a good idea. Starting around 4:15 AM the line of cars could be seen from the parking area we were comfortably situated in. The husband tried to take a nap while I walked around to calm my nerves. I don’t like large groups of people and I knew I would be on the course with over 8,400 of them so I needed the calm, quiet hours of early morning to keep the anxiety levels down. It was a successful exercise.
By 5:15 AM, the husband had abandoned all hope of any restful slumber and we began our final preparations for the march. Popping the trunk of the car, we slathered ourselves with SPF 50 sunscreen in an attempt to stave off heat injuries and weeks of painful peeling. We even shared with the older gentleman parked next to us as he related how sunscreen was the one thing he had forgotten. A short, light conversation later, he departed and we put our racing bibs on. Since we both wore button down hiking shirts, this was more of a task than we assumed it would be. Getting flimsy pieces of wax/plastic coated paper to remain taught and straight with four safety pins is challenging in the dark at 5:30 in the morning. However, this was success #2 for the day.
By 6:00 AM we had found ourselves in our respective corrals (me in Civilian Heavy and him in Civilian Light) per the warnings of the literature we had been given (anyone not in their corral by 6:00 AM would not be let on the course). Unfortunately, this guidance proved wrong. About 50% of the marchers wee still at their cars or, more likely, waiting in line for one of 3 dozen porta-potties that lined the west side of the field the corrals were located in. It did not appear as if the organizers were about to bar 50% of the field from participating so those who followed the instructions simply got to shiver through the chilly desert morning.
The husband and I around 4:00 AM – Amazing he has a smile on his face 🙂
The husband shortly after I told him I had a poncho liner in my pack – sad panda
A beautiful sunrise and about 15% of the total participants
At 6:38 AM the opening ceremony began. Fairly standard content: welcome message, posting of colors, national anthems (Filipino and American), invocation, motivational speech, F-15 flyover, symbolic roll call – you know, standard stuff for anyone who has every been to a military ceremony of any kind. Other than starting a couple of minutes late (sacrilege for any commander), this also went off without a hitch.
The husband continued to shiver through the wee-morning hours (he really doesn’t like any temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit) as we waited for the other corrals to empty and our respective starts. Seeing a lack of organization and accountability, he moved into my corral so we could start together and not have to try to find each other in the sea of people that were the marchers. Since we ended up near the back of the pack, I don’t think this had a negative impact on anybody’s march.
An hour and a half after the opening ceremonies, we set foot on the course at 8:10 AM. Admittedly, we skipped meeting the survivors of the Bataan Death March (you know, the event that this memorial march is named after) and opted to see them at the end of the long walk. The husband didn’t want to be last and I was a bit antsy from the 3 hours of pointless standing I had just put myself through so I upped the pace to a respectable 14 minutes a mile. We soon found ourselves coasting by people who had been released in the corral ahead of us (Civilian Light). All was good in the first mile because it was a wide, 4-lane road and the marchers were spread out (left-to-right) with plenty of room for individuals or teams to maneuver around those going slower.
At the start of the second mile, things got a bit more cramped. We went off road to circumvent a large grass field and the foot pounded trail was only 2-3 people wide and showing signs of 7,000+ pairs of feet having already pounded over it that morning. A few more passes of slower movers and we hit Water Point 1 and mile marker 2. Both of us were doing good as we grabbed some cups of water from the volunteers (great people!) and bobbed and weaved through the mass of stopped or barely moving marchers gathering in the middle of the course (a theme that repeated itself many times over in the miles to come).
Miles 2 thru 5 were ultimately uneventful. We maintained a good pace (about 4 miles per hour) and were doing quite well navigating the masses of people without getting pushy. Remember, we weren’t looking to complete for a medal, but we also didn’t want to get stuck at a pace that put us on the hardest part of the course during the hottest part of the day. So we pushed on.
Miles 6 and 7 got interesting really quickly. At around mile marker 6, the terrain begins to slope upward. It is a slight incline. It isn’t a mountain nor is it steep enough to really notice at first, but it is there. Then you realize, “oh crap! I’m on a frickin’ hill!” Next thing you realize is that you’re slogging through 6-inch deep sand with enough give in it to require additional energy for each step. Coupled with the maneuvering around people who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings or placement on the trail and your energy starts to drain quickly.
At some point in Mile 7, the husband twisted his knee pretty hard which resulted in a grimacing look of concentrated effort. Underneath that concentrated effort was an internal monologue of cursing, berating, and hate towards me for pushing the pace on a hill in deep sand. Fortunately (for me), buried underneath the pain and momentary dislike for my presence was his undying love and affection for me (otherwise I may not have come down from that hill). Finally, around 10:30 AM we passed mile marker 8 and rolled into Checkpoint 3/9.
This was the moment for a decision to be made.
I turned to the husband and asked the very serious question, “if we continue on the course, will you be able to complete it without a high possibility of a serious injury?” As he contemplated, I asked myself the same question and came to a very abrupt conclusion: I wasn’t going to make it even if he could. At some point after mile marker 6, I had stopped sweating as profusely as I had been and my hands looked like over-stuffed sausages. I tried to make a fist and couldn’t get my fingertips to touch my palms (something I can usually do without thinking about it). The pack I was wearing was cutting off circulation to my arms and dehydration was beginning to set in with 18.2 miles to go. I wasn’t going to make it the full length of the course.
He answered my question with a negative, an apology, and some tears welling in his eyes. I wrapped my arm around him and smiled, letting him know what my answer was going to be even if he was good to finish the course. We sat on the side of the road for a while longer before picking up our packs and turning left towards the Honorary Route instead of right for the full course. Our day was over (except for the 6.2 miles to the finish line in order to get off the course) and we were disqualified marchers.
I swear to anyone that reads this, Miles 9-14.2 were each longer than any of the miles before them. In the first 8 miles, the mile marker signs were frequent and motivating. Mile 9 felt more like Mile 11 and Mile 13, I swear to you, was actually Mile 17. They were so far apart and took so long to get to I became very frustrated with the world.
Admittedly, my mind had already moved from Mile 8 to the Finish Line by the time we stepped out of Checkpoint 3/9 so the thought of 6.2 miles of walking (somehow uphill a majority of the way) in the same sandy conditions we had just come out of was not putting my in the best of moods. Somewhere around Mile 11 I was pissed at the world and ready for it all to be over. The husband wasn’t doing much better and together in our collective misery we made it to the Finish Line. Crowds of people cheered and encouraged us through the last mile and we gracefully shook the hands of the survivors as we crossed.
In the end, I didn’t even weigh my pack because we were already disqualified by not completing the full route. We were both disappointed, in pain, and ready to be rid of any clothing/equipment we didn’t need without being arrested for indecency. Unfortunately, the Finish Line was about 3/4 of a mile from the Start Line which is where our car was located. Such a rough end to a rough day.
Check out Part 2 in “The Day After” series of posts to read about some lessons learned from this experience!
Did you march in this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March? Did you complete the course you signed up for or did you make the difficult decision to cut it short? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
In preparation for tomorrow’s 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March, the husband and I are in serious preparation mode. We like to call it: relaxing. We are as prepared as we are going to be, our plans are finalized, and any changes now will be pointless if not damaging towards our successful completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March. Thus, we decided that today would be the day to relax, hydrate, and get some sleep.
We dropped by White Sands Missile Range so I could double check my pack’s weight which turned out to be a good idea since I was half a pound under the 35 pound minimum for the Heavy Division. Turns out I had some power/endurance gels in two small pockets on the outside of the pack which put me over the minimum weight requirement yesterday but would have disqualified me tomorrow since they could have been picked up somewhere on the course. A quick trip to the on-post commissary and a pound of rice later, my pack was back above the 35 pound mark. Unfortunately, that means with water and power gels, I will be at 40 pounds of marching weight.
Checking on the weather we will be walking in high 70’s to low 80’s heat with little cloud cover after 10:00 AM. It doesn’t sound hot and most people will assume this is actually a comfortable temperature; unfortunately, for me, this is already in the higher end of the heat spectrum. I have suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion several times over the past decade and a half which makes me more susceptible to falling prey to it again. With the wind blowing 15-20 MPH throughout the day, the human body’s natural evaporative cooler will be put to the test as my sweat dries too quickly to effectively cool.
With the weight of my pack and non-confidence inducing weather report, the best plan of action for the day was relaxation, hydration, and purposefully calming myself ahead of the walk tomorrow. The husband agreed with me very quickly. So, what does a person do at White Sands Missile Range and/or Alamogordo to pass the time on a Saturday? To be honest, there isn’t much to be done.
On post, a number of events and activities were taking place (meals, some entertainment, seminars, etc.), but none of them were overly appealing to either one of us. The most interesting thing to me was a historical presentation being put on by the NMSU ROTC at the base theater. However, we didn’t feel the desire to “hang around” post until this took place so we headed over to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to gawk at the impressive devices of testing and destruction. If you nerd out over military history, rocketry, and everything that goes into developing implements of destruction, you should find time to stop in at this museum. I’m the first to admit that it is probably a very boring experience for a majority of people, but the full-size inert munitions they have on the grounds should impress just about anyone.
After an hour of touring the museum and its paraphernalia, we headed into Alamogordo to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Again, this is a place to nerd out over rocketry (seeing a theme for the area yet?) and the amount of knowledge, work, and discovery that has gone into putting man in space. I visited this museum a handful of times as a kid (during two summers of Space Camp, yeah, I was that nerd) so this was just as much a walk down memory lane as it was a new experience. The husband enjoyed it about as much as possible when you’re looking at slightly dated (but still cool!) displays and large chunks of old-school technology. I still highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area. There is also a small, but fully equipped planetarium down the hill from the museum which is worth watching.
To wrap up the out-of-hotel relaxation tour, we stopped in at the Toy Train Depot to learn a little about the history of the railroad in this part of New Mexico and see some pretty extravagant toy train setups. There is a lot to see in this small building, the attendant was very friendly and chatty, and the running model train was very impressive. Also, you can take a small train ride around the park attached to the building.
Now, I fully understand that we are likely missing out on some sense of camaraderie associated with participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March by touring Alamogordo instead of hanging out at White Sands Missile Range. However, this is our first year doing the event and our first vacation in quite some time so the time together is as important as the event itself. Next year, I hope my best friend will be able to join me (or us) for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. Maybe then we will take part in more of the community and bonding events.
What do you do the day before a big endurance event? Share your experiences in the comments and look for my post march post tomorrow (or the day after)!
At 3:00 o’clock this morning, the husband and I packed up the car with the large North Face duffel bag, my large Blackhawk Assault pack, and some miscellaneous hydration sized bags. By 3:30 we were off…well, I was off while the husband snoozed/listened to an audio book through his earbuds. After four hours of driving through a pitch black, no moon, overcast night we arrived at White Sands Missile Range for the Bataan Memorial Death March in-processing shenanigans. However, I was a little disappointed when we stood in line for ten minutes before the doors opened only to be out of the building (packets in hand and smiles on our faces) 5 minutes after we were let in. So sad.
There was positive energy among the eclectic gathering of people in line. A woman in her 50’s will be running the marathon; a pair of veterans with their wives laughed about old times in the Army; a veteran behind us met up with an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. For the most part, the husband and I stood quietly, taking it all in and enjoying the atmosphere.
Young ROTC cadets from NMSU standing by the door in slacks and button downs looked cautiously over the people, probably wondering if they would ever measure up to some of the veterans looking back at them. If I could share a morsel of wisdom with them it would be simple: don’t try to be those who came before you, push the limits and set new standards. I look forward to seeing some of these cadets on the route come Sunday.
The base is very clean (as almost all military installations are) with clean rock landscaping in lieu of grass in most places. Civilian contractors roamed in packs of 4 with wee-eaters and hoes making slight improvements to an already exceptional post. The personnel we encountered were polite and courteous, filled with a positive energy that helps up the motivation levels for Sunday.
Now, for the bad news (or at the very least, cautionary news). I registered for the heavy division (35 pound pack minus water or other consumables) with the expectation of a 4 month train-up to this event. However, I fell pray to stress at work, general laziness, and an overall lack of motivation. These are not new things and I believed I had appropriately taken them into account when planning this whole endeavor – unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.
Since the beginning, I have had no intentions of competing in my age group for 1st or 2nd place (the only two positions who receive a medal per age group); I merely wanted to complete the event without crippling myself. When I factor in the lack of training/preparation, I am merely cautiously optimistic that I will 1. finish and 2. not be injured in some way. My plan is to keep a reasonable, steady pace despite 1,100 feet of elevation gain from mile 8 to 15 and deep sand sections. Fortunately, I have the husband beside me in the Light (no pack) Division to help keep pace and feed me protein bars.
Alright, I am going to wrap up this post but intend on writing more about course conditions and weather tomorrow – come back and see! I will leave you with this beautiful picture of White Sands National Park (we stopped in on our way to the hotel after in-processing).
Have you completed the Bataan Memorial Death March? What training tips do you have for the uninitiated? Were you Heavy or Light Division, Military or Civilian? Share your experience in the comments!