I know. I know. It took me so long to write about my Bataan Death March (BDM) race. Well, writing about it was kind of difficult. I so wanted to capture great moments, but every time I started to hit the computer keys, I found it hard how to begin my story. Goodness! It was a 102-kilometer run you know. Not easy. And if I would write it piece by piece, I was afraid I couldn’t finish it.
|KM 102, Old San Fernando (Pampanga) Railroad Station|
|KM 00, Where the Death March in 1942 started|
|Mr. Arnel, our able and patient driver|
Running 102 kilometers?
Mind you, I’ve asked myself many, many times, “
What did I get myself into?”
Saturday was cloudy. It rained hours before the race started. It was for this reason why I brought a wind breaker. It was windy at the zero-kilometer mark. I, together with my support crew, had a quick dinner at Jollibee, the only fast food near the starting line. Surprised to see quite a number of BDM 102 runners. I also saw some familiar faces, especially those who have finished the first 100-miler the previous weekend like Isko, who introduced me to some of his friends and wished me well. Sixth placer Totoy was also there to bid me good luck. Truly, when you’re in an ultramarathon, it’s one big family. At around 10 PM, runners gathered at the 00 KM for sign in then a short program started with the saying of a prayer and the singing of the national anthems of Japan, United States, and Philippines. Then the countdown began …
|With Race Director Sir Jovie at the starting line|
Having no specific strategy how to tackle the distance, my thoughts went back to what I’ve learned in my ultramarathon races. That is, to not start too fast (the advice I got from an ultramarathon runner based in Germany), walk the uphill and run at a comfortable pace.
From starting line up to three kilometers I considered it as warm up. I walked the succeeding kilometers up to KM 7. It was dark. And all you could see from afar were the reflectors worn by runners and, of course, those lights attached on their heads and bodies.
I could no longer remember how many times I recited prayers while walking. It distracted me from sensing that eerie feeling of being with someone when I had no one with me, or seeing something in front of me except those runners ahead of me. My imagination perhaps was playing tricks on me. I soon realized retracing the footsteps of the prisoners of war (POWs) and of those who perished during the infamous Death March in 1942 was no easy exploit.
The mood at KM 7 was somewhat festive as runners, one by one, reached the site where most of the support vehicles waited. It was here that I requested my support crew to wait and meet me every five kilometers. Running along the dark highway for quite sometime, however, had a different effect on me. I felt so alone (and somewhat vulnerable to any danger). So I requested them to wait every 2.5 kilometers.
Since I didn’t use my GF 305 watch, I had no idea of the distance I was running and the running pace I was maintaining. I listened to my body, observed my pacing and felt each breath I took. I aimed to be at KM 50 by 6 AM. If none in any of these would happen—cramps, feeling tired or sleepy, and other running-related problems—before reaching KM 32, then it would be a breeze. I thought so, but I was wrong.
I was in deep thought, thinking of nothing in particular, when I suddenly heard a shout from the other side of the road. Initially, I didn’t comprehend what the guy was saying until I crossed the road. He was one of the marshals asking me of my bib number. “359!” I shouted. I didn’t even notice that I’ve reached KM 14, the first of the three road bifurcations.
Turning right, I saw runners ahead of me. I found out later that one of them is a friend of mine, a 2010 BDM 102 finisher. He ran this year to support and pace with his friends from a well-known mountaineering group. It was also at this time when I bumped into fellow blogger Doc Toto a.k.a RunDMD8 and Wap, who were pacing well. I wondered where Dave was. Well, as far as I could remember, both Doc Toto and Dave were inseparable. Turning to the next road bifurcation, I couldn’t see any more runners. So I thought most of them were way ahead of me including Doc Toto and Wap. Man, I thought, “they were fast!” Then I heard someone calling out my name. It was Doc Toto. I really thought both of them were running ahead of me. I slowed down and waited for them to catch up. Doc Toto then asked me, “Have you joined any of the test runs?” I said, “No.” Then both of the guys told me to run with them as the road ahead would be kind of dark and somewhat risky for a lone runner like me.
I was deeply touched by their concern. These are really real gentlemen! So I ran with them. The road was initially well-lighted but as you go along, you would be passing a dark road with no houses except for rice paddies on both sides. Running with them cost me my running strategy. Since both both guys were using the Galloway method (I haven’t used that one), I had no choice but run the way they did. We were already approaching close to 30 kilometers at the time. When I saw a carenderia or eatery, I asked them to wait for me so I could do a kidney break. It was timely since they, too, took a break when their support vehicle arrived. I made a sigh of relief when we reached the highway again. Wap and Doc Toto were my guardian angels during that night. I was truly grateful for what they did.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel sleepy nor tired while running. There were no cramps experienced yet so it means I was doing OK. I was running alone again. Both Doc Toto and Wap went ahead to beat their target of reaching the town of Abucay, Bataan at 5:30 AM. All I could remember was running steadily and noticing another female runner who, like me, was wearing a running skort. She was a strong runner.
My target was to reach Abucay at 6 AM. It was at this time that I had the chance of pacing again with my friend, Francis. We ran together in the next five kilometers.
By the time the sun was up, I was already employing a fast walk. Francis went ahead. At almost 7 AM, I reached Abucay, which is KM 50. The first thing I did was to change into fresh clothes and take a quick bite of what Raff prepared for breakfast. I munched a sandwich filled with peanut butter, took a sliced banana and drank coffee. Yes, it was nice of Carmen to bring a thermos (per my request) so I could have my fave hot coffee early morning of Sunday. I didn’t stay long though after taking a few sips.
Looking at my watch, I had barely nine hours left to beat the cut-off time. I wasn’t so sure anymore if I could make it or not. I just told myself to simply focus in the next 20 kilometers.
Running slowly from Abucay, though feeling refreshed, I started to feel some muscles tightening and my legs getting heavier. It slowed me down. Targeted a few kilometers by running slowly then walking again when I felt I could no longer sustain the pace.
By this time, the sun was already shining bright. The sky was clear. It seemed it would be a hot day after all and not the cloudy one predicted the day before. I could feel the sun’s heat on my skin that in the next stop I changed into another running shirt with sleeves and worn my arm warmer. At the same time, changed the white cap I was wearing to that of the green cap with flap neck cover. I felt a lot better afterwards. Wearing only ankle socks, legs were not covered and exposed to sun hence at 10 AM I could feel the skin of my legs burning from the sun’s heat. That every time I stopped by at our support vehicle, I kept asking for Carmen to put a cold towel on my legs and spray my face.
I couldn’t imagine how the runners survived in the previous BDM with last year’s temperature at 41°C as compared to this year’s edition at 28°C-30°C. I truly understood how difficult it was for the weakened soldiers in 1942. They didn’t have any support. Most of them were tired from defending Bataan, may be wounded while walking and didn’t even have any decent food to eat and water to drink. What a torture that must be for them.
Back to the present. Our torture was running or walking along the highway, and battling with upcoming vehicles with less regard for the runners. Imagine seeing runners traversing the left side of the road, on the white line of the highway and going down the unpaved part under the heat of the sun and exposed to dust, and inhaling smoke coming from vehicles. I was running along the left side most of the time adhering to what the Race Director instructed us. I noticed though other runners walking or running on the other side, which is more dangerous since they couldn’t see approaching vehicles behind them.
At the rate I was going, the possibility of not making it to the cut-off was another “torture”. Here you are trying your best yet nature was also beating you out of your wits. For those who have known me, I really don’t talk while running. This time however I welcomed those who just said “Hi” just to take away the monotony of running alone. It’s not that I felt bored; it’s just that I just wanted it over and done with. No matter how strong your will is when the body can only take so much, you really don’t have to do any except do the best you can. The will to finish must be strong enough to propel your body to follow. When the will gives up the body follows. I didn’t want that to happen. I’ve trained for this. I’ve prepared for this. The battle cry was, “no retreat no surrender”. I reminded (and conversed with) my body to cooperate. I told my muscles not get cramps. I told my skin to bear the heat. Yes, sounded crazy but that was what I did while walking along the highway. And what a walk that was! The longest walk I’ve done. Both my quads were hurting. Any small attempt to run slowly was already an effort. To lessen the pain, I kept asking for liniment every time I stopped by at our support vehicle. I also asked my support to meet me every 2.5 km. If I remember right, I think I’ve walked the highway most of the time.
Though there were some attempts to run it slowly, but the heat beating your head and the heat surrounding you forced me to walk the next 15 kilometers. On the last stop before my support vehicle took a detour, I think this was the part in Dinalupihan to Hermosa route, I took with me a bottle of Pocari and water in each hand. This was a strong instruction coming from Raff and thankfully I heeded Raff’s advice.
This was the part where you will be passing a highway under major repair. It was nothing but gravel, soft red soil, portions of finished cemented roads and the rest unfinished. It was hot and dusty. Armed with two full bottles, after passing Dinalupihan, I ended up with empty bottle in each hand due to heat. I could have asked for a drink from other support vehicles that didn’t take the detour, but for no reason at all I just kept walking with head down so as not to be distracted.
I had no idea how long that walk took since I wasn’t wearing my Garmin. But based on my calculation, the possibility of making it to the cut-off time was slim. Though I had more than three hours to run the next 18 kilometers, but with the constant walking, seriously I was apprehensive. After almost an hour of walking, I’ve finally spotted my support vehicle up on the bridge. To know I was done with Dinalupihan-Hermosa route, it gave me pure relief that the worst had passed. Raff and Carmen were busy attending to me-cold towel to my legs, drinks, food, bandana with ice cubes around my nape, etc. when suddenly a car stopped by and the passenger was asking if everything’s OK. It was Ma’am Rowena checking if I was OK. I said, “everything’s fine Ma’am nothing to worry about.” I also kept reminding my support crew to eat. Because I was worried of them, how they were faring considering that they, too, didn’t have any decent sleep.
Since they volunteered to be my crew, the least I could do is ask how they are. But nothing to worry about since Carmen and Raff are experienced runners plus they have the option to buy food along the way anyway.
By the time I reached the tail end of Lubao town, I could see runners ahead of me. And, I treated each one as target to just pull me out from walking. I strongly told myself, “You’ve walked enough, it’s time to run!” But with the heat, I couldn’t. For the nth time, after asking Raff and Carmen if I could still make it, after hearing Raff telling me I still have enough time, I resolved to walk fast and take big steps. I attempted to run and when I felt my quads doing well with less pain this time, I was slowly running.
Finally, seeing the kilometer markers leading to Guagua, Pampanga, I knew then that finish line is almost there. How to reach the finish line, I really didn’t have any inkling with the heat continuously draining out my energy. It seemed to be a long, long, long, endless run. When I was about to turn at the bend leading to St. Mary’s Academy in Guagua, a marshal came out from nowhere handing out another string and cheering, “Konti na lang Ma’am!” My thought was, “I wish I could.”
At this time, I asked my support crew to meet me every 1 KM or worst comes to worst, maybe stop every 500 meters because it was becoming too much of an effort really to reach the support vehicle. My targets were four runners ahead of me. I admired them for their tenacity to keep on running even slowly done. I just kept on following them. I even talked with one of them and encouraged him that we might make it. But I left them behind when they stopped at their support vehicle to hydrate and cool themselves with ice.
|Running more than 80 KMs|
Upon seeing that most of the markers are now within KM 90 or so, I had only 10 more kilometers to go for the 100th kilometer plus 2 KMs. After all it’s a 102-KM race. Given the remaining time, however, the only recourse is to run. If not, walk really fast like the other lady runner ahead of me was doing. Man, she could really walk fast. That runner became my target. It motivated me to tell my quads to work now and start to run. So I did. I believe it was my second wind. I felt refreshed (somewhat having enough energy to sustain me in the next 10 KMs). Sometimes I outran that lady runner but surprisingly with the fast walk she was employing she could easily catch up with me.
I had my final push when after seeing the last uphill part of the course I said to myself, “Wait till we reach flat part.” I couldn’t help but smile silently that when the lady runner heard my footsteps she attempted to run but she couldn’t, and I ran past her. She could only say, “Nak ng ang lakas mo!” I could only retort, “Ikaw din kaya.”
Then off I went running ahead of her looking forward to beating the next targeted runners. When I saw more runners walking, I knew then I was not really that far behind from those who started initially fast. One guy runner, whose name I didn’t know, started to shout, “Pasok na tayo!” And he started to engage me in a conversation. Goodness, if this runner only knew what I went through to reach this far. I think I responded in clip note, “Saka na lang po tayo mag-celebrate pag andun na tayo. Malayo pa ito baka di pa tayo aabot.”
What Coach John taught me as a flashback, “Selle, as long as walang bukol na namumuo na cramps, di ka pa injured nyan. Jog lang ng dahan-dahan kaysa maglakad. Maintain lang.” I just continued running slowly (jog pace) and told my support crew to meet me at the finish line. I banked on this thought. I ran slowly not stopping this time, one by one I ran past those runners who were walking. A few meters now from the bend to the finish line, two runners holding a tarp said, “Sige Ma’am mauna ka na, di na kami makatakbo, e.” I answered, “Pasensiya na pag mag-stop ako baka di na ako makakatakbo uli.”
|Woohoo! I did it!|
|The required hug from the Race Director|
|Receiving the flowers Marga gave me|
|Yes, yes! A BDM 102 finisher finally!|
|L-R: Rico a.k.a. Sheerwill, Carmen, Running Diva, Race Director Sir Jovie, Raff|
|L-R: Carina a.k.a. FlyingBoar, Cristy, Raff, Marga a.k.a. Margalicious, Running Diva, Carmen|
But the story didn’t end here.
In my excitement, while animatedly recounted some tidbits of my experience to some of my Takbo.ph friends, I suddenly felt like I was about to faint and vomit. They asked me to sit down and somebody gave me a bottle of soda but I still felt I was about to pass out. I called Marga’s attention and asked her to accompany me to the ambulance. She was helped by Cristy, wife of Vener. But when I stood up I couldn’t move my legs. I felt numbness. All I could remember Marga asking Rodel a.k.a. Argonaut to help carry me over to the ambulance. A lady paramedic arrived while I could still hear the excited crowds cheering on the upcoming finishers.
I was so embarrassed to be seen while being transported to the ambulance. I kept on rambling, “Where’s the doctor? … Please massage my legs.” The paramedic right away took a blood pressure reading and gave me a bottle of Oresol to drink while the doctor with a soothing voice asked me to relax. Amazingly, my BP was normal! I even smiled while in pain thinking how grateful I am with my body. “Whaaat? Normal blood pressure even after running for more than 17 hours?” I uttered a prayer of thanks. After a few minutes, I could feel sensation on my legs. The doc explained what caused it—failure to cool down and take liquids which I normally do after each race. I have totally forgotten to do it in my happiness to finally reach the finish line within the cut-off time.
It has come full circle. My previous visits to war memorials such as in Hiroshima, Japan at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial commonly called as Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome, Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor), Mt. Samat in Bataan (2002, 2005), Lingayen Gulf Landing in Pangasinan (2003), Capas National Shrine (2005), and Bataan-Corregidor Memorial (2005, 2009, 2010) made me appreciate more of the role of those brave men during WW II.
The infamous Death March made a name in the annals of war history. Truly, I agree with what Carmen had said in her article, “We dare say never again.”
Bataan Death March 102 Ultramarathon is not just a race but a greater appreciation of those who suffered, sacrificed, and died to defend their country.
- Prepare, plan, and train well. Remember it’s an expensive undertaking.
- Discover the very reason why you want to run a 102-kilometer race in the first place.
- Trust your support team.
- Trust God’s protection and providence.
- Do get enough sleep before the big day. It was part of my program to get a really good 8-hour straight sleep a week before the big day.
- Follow your training program but also listen to your body during the course of your training. I didn’t have any injury except for that common soreness here and there and swollen feet. I just iced them and kept them elevated, took anti inflammatory drugs (as prescribed by a physician) to keep the swelling down.
- Don’t depend much on what others can give but learn to be self-sufficient.
- Schedule a visit to any of the war memorials for better appreciation of history and understanding of what happened during that fateful day of 1942 in Bataan.
- Don’t underestimate what petroleum jelly can do. I didn’t have any blister or chafing after finishing the race. Use whatever works for you though.
- Incorporate heat training in your program including running even during the wee hours of the morning. This will allow you to get to feel how your body will adjust running even without sleep until next day. Just be sure you have companions for your own safety.
- Don’t try anything new on race day. If you’ve bought new running gears ensure to have used them during your training.
- Bring along extra pairs of running shoes and socks just in case.
- Stick to your game plan.
- Prepare your logistics well. Just like any soldier be prepared.
- It’s more manageable if you are the only one being supported by your support crew. The ratio of 1:2 (one runner: 2 support volunteers) works well.
- You’ve put your body under so much stress; learn to rest for quick recovery. After finishing my BDM, it took me a week after before I attempted to run a good 8 kilometers. I even participated during the Women’s Health Athena All Women’s Run but I could still feel my body has not fully recovered yet. I did swim instead as cross training.
- At any point in the race, when you feel exhausted and is about to surrender, just remember your situation against those gallant soldiers who have walked with no support at all. Make that your source of strength.
- Don’t forget to thank to those who have helped you. Finishing the BDM 102 is no reason at all to be pompous. After all, what you have achieved is just but a speck in this big universe. As what the song Tuldok by Asin is telling us.