Bataan 2019: After Action Report

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

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

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

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

Selfie 2-Days Before the March

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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 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!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 1

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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.

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).

IMG_2715Miles 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.

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The Husband somewhere around Mile 12

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!

2018 Goals – Status Check

It has been nearly a month since 2018 started and I have worked the past 4 weeks to make meaningful gains towards my goals for the year. I won’t lie, this hasn’t been the easiest thing to do. Yesterday, I had a couple of wrenches thrown in the machine that is my progress by work. I spent most of last night sorting through different ways to handle the stress introduced throughout the week as well as the bombshells of Friday the 26th of January.

Morning RunDespite unforeseen (yet expected, break that down) circumstances resulting in some financial strain, increased stress in life, and the temptation to slip into my old ways, I still got the house cleaned and laundry started. Win for me. This morning, I woke up and had my cup of coffee, furthered the weekly laundry parade, and headed to the gym. In one hour and six minutes, I ran/walked 5.34 miles on the treadmill with a variable incline. Another win for me. Of course, that euphoric feeling after running did nothing but help me decide that I am going to make it through this first hurdle of the year and, most likely, will come out the other side better off than I am today.

Remember, when life throws a roadblock in front of you, the best thing to do is accept the situation and its circumstances, determine the path forward, and drive on!

In that spirit, I have decided to give everyone a status update on my progress towards accomplishing my 2018 goals. Here we go:

  1. Lose 25 Pounds

    Weight Tracking
    Down 6 pounds!

    • STATUS: As of this morning I weigh 197.4 lbs!
    • I started the year at 203.2 pounds and have been weighing myself everyday, but only paying attention to the Saturday weigh-ins (for progress tracking).
    • I am very happy with my progress on this goal!
  2. Maintain a personal blog with no fewer than 52 posts in 2018
    • STATUS: This is my 7th post this year, definitely ahead of schedule!
    • Writing these blog posts has been thoroughly therapeutic and fun – each week I am looking forward to sitting down and publishing.
    • I recommend that anyone who can, should start a personal blog and commit to posting on a regular basis!
  3. Log at least 180 personal journal entries
    • STATUS: As of this morning, I am at 15 entries!
    • I am write on track (get it?) with this goal though sometimes I feel I’m still not writing enough.
  4. Complete the 10k “Run for the Zoo”
    • STATUS: Training is in full swing!
    • This race isn’t until May so I can’t complete it quite yet.
    • However, I have been running 1-2 times a week (4+ miles) along with high intensity interval training twice a week in order to prepare myself.
    • In the coming weeks, I will be switching from “get my body used to moving again” into an actual 10k training plan – more to come on this front later.
  5. Finish the half-marathon OR marathon in the Duke City Marathon
    • STATUS: Training is in full swing!
    • This race isn’t until October so I can’t complete it quite yet.
    • Once I start a complete the “Run for the Zoo” 10k, I am going to 16 week marathon training program – more to come on this front later.
  6. QUIT SMOKING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
    • STATUS: No change since the beginning of the year 😔
    • This is the most difficult goal for me to accomplish this year. I’ll write a separate post about my smoking problem in the future.
  7. Pay OFF 85% of existing debt
    • STATUS: 5% of my existing debt was paid off in January!
    • I am right on track with this goal and, barring an emergency or sudden change in my life, will be accomplished with plenty of time to spare
  8. Save $15,000 in cash and investments
    • STATUS: I have saved 3% of the total.
    • At this rate, I will only reach 36% of my total goal by the end of the year. I need to step it up and find additional sources of income as well as tighten the belt a bit.
  9. Hike to the top of the Crest (Sandia Mountain)
    • STATUS: Training is in full swing!
    • As a part of my training for the Bataan Memorial Death March, I make a point to be off-road or on trails as much as possible to help me with this goal as well.
    • Planned ascent is November so I still have plenty of time to make this happen.
  10. Read 20 books (of any subject)
    • STATUS: Halfway through two books at the moment
    • I haven’t been focusing on this goal as much as I should – plenty of excuses but no good reasons.

So, there it is, a lengthy post about my progress towards my 2018 goals. There is plenty of work left to do and I remain optimistic that I will be able to accomplish everything on this list this year. There may be some blood, sweat, and tears in the process, but it is all worth it in the end.

Until next time, take a moment to breath for 5 minutes – it really can help!

How are you doing with your 2018 goals? Have you run into any barriers causing you to stutter-step on your path to accomplishing your goals? How do you deal with stress from work? Share your thoughts in the comments below!