Monday, March 28, 2011
Tales from the Sandpit: Photos from the 2011 Bataan Memorial Death March
When we got to The White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico at 4:30 am, the first thing we noticed was the wind. The intense blasts made our car sway. Andy was the first to mention it. I was half-asleep in the backseat. Partly delirious from the constant pain of an upset stomach (I accidentally ingested Teflon after cooking my food the night before in an old pot, the lining of which was rubbing off). Andy and his brother Patrick lamented over the fact that we would have to run in such conditions. This was their first ever marathon, and they were nervous. I assured them the winds would probably die down and then resumed nursing my aches.
The walk to the start line was long and treacherous as we fought the wind and huddled from the cold. Every year, the organizers of the Bataan Memorial Death March hold a simple and touching ceremony before the start of the run in which the colors are presented and an introductory speech is read aloud by the General on base. Then, they have the roll call, where they call out the names of the veterans who marched in the actual Death March in the Philippines in 1942. The old men loudly proclaim "HERE!" We are reminded of those hundreds of men who never made it, who aren't here to answer the call.
When the race commenced, I quickly made my way through the crowd to find a clear running path. There were over 6,000 marchers in this year's event - the largest showing ever. Eventually I found my pace and was able to converse with several runners along the way. I made friends with a woman (whose name escapes me) who did Badwater in 2008. We talked about ultrarunning and dream races. She told me about her life and how she got into running. Turns out, she has been running for over eleven years!
Eventually, we parted ways and I was on my own again. By mile eight, I was heading up the mountain that is on the course and battling what we eventually found out were 50 mph headwinds. This was not fun. The loose sand that covers parts of the course was difficult to trudge through. Thankfully, I came across another fellow ultrarunner. We talked about everything - her shoes (Hokas), ultras, school, work, family, etc. The Bataan Memorial Death March, although it is a marathon, feels more like an ultra - a very big ultra. The people are all very friendly and talkative. It doesn't feel as corporate as a lot of the big city marathons. I saw a lot of 100-miler shirts out there (Javelina Jundred, Oil Creek 100, and a few others).
The last few miles were difficult (mostly because of the sand and my stomach) but tolerable. I was glad to cross the finish line. I waited at the finish line to watch for Andy and his brother. When they came through, I gave them each a high five. They finished their first marathon! We went out to the lawn area and relaxed our legs for a bit and soaked in the beauty of the surrounding mountain range. Here are some pictures from the event: