Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In Honor Of: A Bataan Death March Race Report

Last weekend I did the Bataan Memorial Death March marathon. I have been considering for a couple years now and chose this year because friends were doing it and I thought it would be good training in preparation for my 100 miler. The way I figure it was a good test of my developing leg strength and endurance. Bataan is a very difficult course; as a matter of fact Runners World has listed it as one of the most difficult marathon courses in the U.S. I have heard that you should add anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to your usual marathon time to estimate your finish time.

Of course it’s appropriate that it’s a particularly difficult marathon because it is meant to memorialize the Bataan Death March and honor the veterans who were subjected to it. The history of the Bataan Death March is interesting and there are some things about it that are important to understand. First of all the men of Bataan did not surrender, they were ordered to surrender by General Edward P. King and when the unit commanders initially refused they were threatened with court marshal. The second issue is that during the march, which was 90 miles, the men were tourtured, beaten and denied food and water and if they fell they were killed, typically by sword or bayonet. If they were lucky they were shot or beheaded.

As I have mentioned before my high school football coach, Joe Bob Tyler, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, another reason I wanted to do this race. I spent a bit of time seeing if I could find some information about Coach Tyler and came across this entry:

Joe Bob Tyler (Wichita Falls; 1979-85) Was the first Texan to both play and coach in the Oil Bowl. Inducted into the athletic hall of fame at Northeast Louisiana University. Was the first head football coach at Wichita Falls Rider High School and went from there to Haltom High School and Wichita Falls High School. Considered one of the great single wing coaches of all-time.

He was my coach from 1983 to 1985 but my family moved before I could finish off the 1985 season and I never new he retired that year. I also was unaware that he was considered one of the great high school coaches. I do remember running the single-wing though, it was the only reason I was able to be a tight end.

Anyway, back to the race. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a completely unique event in a number of ways. First of all everyone is referred to as a “marcher” and there are some very unusual divisions. There is Military Light, Civilian Light, Military Heavy and Civilian Heavy as well as teams and a couple other divisions. Military Light are military personnel running in the basic boots and camouflage uniform while Civilian Light is just Civilians running in whatever they want to wear. The people who are actually running are dressed like in any other marathon but you have a lot of people out there who are walking the entire thing and they are just as likely to be dressed in jeans and a cotton T-shirt. Military Heavy are in uniform and carrying a 35 pound back pack, ruck, ALICE pack or whatever you were taught to call it and the Civilian Heavy wears whatever but also carries the 35 pound pack. The packs are weighed at the beginning and end of the race. In this race a team is not the same as a relay. A team must finish the race together or they are disqualified so you are only as fast as your slowest runner and if one member drops you all drop. My friends and I are thinking about running as a team next year. For all practical purposes we ran as a team this time until about mile 13.

(The elevation profile distnaces here are in meters. The numbers 1 - 12 represent aid stations that were about every two miles.)

The course is probably 70% dirt and sand roads and 30% paved road and while it didn't have a particularly large amount of climbing, about 2300 feet, it mostly comes all at once with a sustained climb that lasts pretty much from mile 4 to mile 13 and then it breaks into some rollers and then a long downhill. It ends with about 2.5 miles of slight uphill. There is also an area called the sand pit that begins at about mile 20.5 and goes to about mile 22 though that is the deepest sand in the race, about like loose sand on a beach. However, in addition to the sand pit there is plenty of deepish sand throughout the course.
From the beginning of the race I was running with friends and we were all running pretty well, a 4:15 marathon pace, until about mile 16 when I made the mistake of taking a gel and washing it down with Gatorade. I did this bit of stupidity because I had recently passed an aid station and pretty much blew past it because I was running a fast downhill. Shortly after that aid station the trail turned into rollers so I slowed way down and that is when I realized that I needed to take another gel and it was too far to the next aid station to wait. I figured it wouldn’t hurt but I was wrong. My stomach became upset and I started having to limit my fluid and fuel intake, which really started hurting me later on. By mile 20 I was still running pretty well, maybe now on track for sub-4:30 marathon, until I hit the sand pit at mile 20.5. At that point the fatigue in my legs from last weekend and the inadequate fueling all caught up to me and I had to slog the entire sand pit. I was able to pick up running a bit from mile 22 to mile 23.5 but then the course turned up a very slight incline and into the wind and I just didn't have much left in my legs. I looked at my watch and realized I would not go under 4:30 so I decided to walk all but the last .2 miles thinking that I should just avoid possible injury at this time because it would have taken a monumental effort to run even a 13 minute pace. I did run the final .2 miles and it was pretty uncomfortable. I ended up being #99 out of 729 men with a time of 4:52:41, not too bad all things considered.

I am happy to have done this race because despite my struggle toward the end my performance up to that point was a real confidence builder and the blow-up was fully expected and was expected much earlier. I think that my training for the 100 miler is on target and now I’m simply nervous as hell about doing it as opposed to being totally freaked out.


  1. Congratulations on a great race in the memory and honor of some true WWII heroes. We would not be having these terrific experiences if it was not for them.

  2. Great job out there..

    I was told my grandfather was in the Bataan death March, served in the forces during the Jap occupation of the philippines...

    Would have been cool to do the race.. Didn't know it existed.. Defintly on the todo list..

  3. All I can say is wow! Good job Brian..

  4. Anonymous7:26 AM

    Great job on a very difficult marathon!

    Your high school football coach sounds like a great man. My husband was also a TE in high school, and now our older son is TE/DE on his high school team.

    We'll be going to your old stompin' grounds of Wichita Falls this weekend for my nephew's wedding.

    Good luck with the upcoming 100-miler...sounds like your on track for a great one!

  5. Good work!

    Nice reminiscence of your coach.

  6. Awesome event, Sweetness, that's great that you could take part!

  7. I was signed up for this race about six years ago for the civilian heavy division. A mix up at work didn't let me get there. Oh well.

    I would still really like to do that course. Maybe next year if need someone for a team, Andy and I could come out.

  8. Outstanding - A great performance by you and an excellent reason to run.

  9. Wonderful report, Brian. History lessons and all.

    And to have that connection through your coach definitely would have made for an intense, yet memorable, experience.


  10. Way cool! I thought about doing this race. My wife parents are from New Mexico and it would have been perfect. My mother-in-law was even willing to pay my race entry. I didn't want to take on this adventure and get hurt or feel run down. Maybe next year.