Have you ever been so tired that you just wanted to cry?
That was me on March 22. I had just finished the Bataan Memorial Death March, and the thought of walking to my car was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I could not take any more steps.
The Bataan Memorial Death March is an annual race that commemorates the Bataan Death March that took place during WWII. The race takes place in White Sands, New Mexico about an hour from El Paso. So really, it is a once in a lifetime thing for me. When am I ever going to be in this area again?
My Wear Blue friends had decided they wanted to walk this race. I stalled and stalled, but they eventually talked me into it. Even though the longest run I have done lately is 6 miles, I signed up. Leading up to the race, my lack of preparation made me extremely nervous. I tried to remind myself that I would be walking with friends and there was no time goal, but I was still worried that my body wouldn’t be up for the challenge.
Race day came way too quickly. I left my house at 4am and I arrived at White Sands at 5:15. Perfect timing. I found Amy and sat in their truck eating my Quest bar while we waited for things to get started. I wasn’t nervous, but I was also actively avoiding thinking about the day ahead.
Soon enough, it was time to meet the rest of our Wear Blue friends (there were 7 of us doing this together). We found our friends, held the Wear Blue Remembrance Circle, took some group photos, and headed to the corrals for the Opening Ceremonies. It was SO COLD! I shivered through the entire ceremony. I tried so hard to pay attention, but all I could think about how cold I was. If you ever attempt this race, wear sweatpants you can throw away later. Seriously.
One of my only complaints about the race was that I couldn’t see the opening ceremonies at all. They set it up to have military right in front of the stage (which I fully understand) and civilians in the back, but it would have been nice to see the stage on a big screen or monitor of some sort. Regardless, it was still very moving to hear about the real Bataan Death March, the roll call, from the Commanding General of White Sands, and from the Ambassador to the Philippines.
After the opening ceremonies, we were off! There were survivors on both sides of the road shaking hands with the marchers as they crossed the starting line. Very cool. I was in good spirits as we started (despite being frozen) because I was glad to finally get moving. Also the sun had come out, so that was nice.
Not even a mile in, we passed a guy in a wig banging on a cow bell. It was awesome. He had a sign in his trunk that said “Doubters Can Suck It” I loved his energy and enthusiasm. A lot of people were stopping to take his picture (myself included!). He seemed to put a smile on everyones face. It was a good way to start things off!
The road stayed paved for a mile or so then we started walking on the sand. It wasn’t too bad, but then again, I had fresh legs and no blisters. One of the fun things about doing this with so many people, it that we took turns walking with each other paired up in smaller groups (not necessarily on purpose, it just worked out that way). I don’t remember who I walked with during this stretch, but I remember smiling excitedly at a race photographer and being entertained by whoever I was talking to.
We passed the first aid station, but no one needed a bathroom break yet so we kept walking. One of the nicest things about walking a race is that it is really easy to grab water from a volunteer (the volunteers were amazing the whole day!) and drink it without dropping or spilling it. I would like to point out here, that I packed a handled water bottle in my drawstring bag, but I wasn’t using it. I was still really cold and not very thirsty. [Foreshadowing: This will come back to bite me later.]
At around 7 miles (I think) we got off the sand and got back on the pavement. You would think that is a nice thing, but we starting walking uphill at that point. For like FIVE MILES. It is an uphill stretch that just never seems to end. Highlights from this part of the race: we came across the first aid station with oranges and bananas. It was the BEST ORANGE I’VE EVER EATEN. Yes, all caps was necessary. It was that good. Also, one of the girls was entertaining us with riddles. Want an example? Jack and Jill were found in a puddle of water dead, what happened? We were only allowed to ask yes/no questions to find the answer. A fellow marcher joined in on these and he even had one of his own! For me, this part of the march went the quickest.
The pavement eventually ended and we were on dirt trails that were rolling hills. I walked most of this part with a team member having IT Band issues. We passed the time talking about things she could do to help alleviate that pain. I love athletic trainer things. She is a dentist, and she wanted to reciprocate professional advice. Did you know that the bacteria that causes cavities is different than the bacteria that causes gum disease? I didn’t know that. I must say, I enjoyed learning a random fact!
At the halfway mark, the aid station sells hamburgers and hot dogs. It was the perfect time to sit, get some food, tend to our feet, and wait for the whole team before we started off again. I hadn’t noticed any blisters while I was walking, but I changed my socks anyway. I hadn’t invested in gaiters, so my shoes had some sand in them. The new socks felt great! After quite a lengthy break, we started again. I finally decided it might be a good idea to carry my handheld water bottle.
We marched on through some more rolling hills. The view is incredible during this entire race! Finally, we made it back to the paved hill. Except this time, we were going down it. I think going downhill was harder than going up! By this point, my quads were tired and my toes were hitting the ends of my shoes with every step. I could tell I was getting blisters, but I was too stubborn to stop at a medical tent to let someone fix them.
It was getting later and later in the day and we were slowing down. I was starting to feel the effects of dehydration. My brain felt kind of fuzzy, and I was having a hard time focusing on the riddles (yes, we started that up again).
The infamous sand pit stretches across miles 21-24 (ish). While it was unwelcome, it wasn’t as hard as people made it out to be. My mental toughness took a hit. It was late in the day and I was generally just over the whole damn thing. I kept going, but I was becoming grumpy due to fatigue, dehydration, and foot pain.
My feet were killing me!! I could tell I had blisters, but I refused to take my shoes off to do anything about it. I kept claiming that if I took my shoes off, I wasn’t going to put them back on. I stand by that, but it wasn’t smart or rational.
Mile 24 had the most amazing aid station. They had cookies and sugar cereal trail mix in addition to the gatorade and oranges. My stomach wasn’t feeling good, so I just took an orange, but damn….I wanted some cereal.
Eleven hours after we started, we crossed the finish line. I was trying to hold back tears, but even weeks later, I am not sure if they were tears of joy (being done), tears of accomplishment (my first marathon distance!), or tears of pain (everything from the ribs down hurt).
It was a hell of a day, but an incredible experience. I am so proud of myself and my team. I know I couldn’t have done it without their constant support and encouragement. Driving home, I thought about the real Bataan Death March. What we experienced that day is only a fraction of what they did. (read more about it here). I know I never want to do this race again, but it didn’t sour me on the marathon distance. I still have plans to run a regular marathon someday. But, I love that I will always have bragging rights to this one.