Random Thoughts on Bataan Death March 102-kilometer Ultra Marathon

I’m no ultra marathon runner. Not yet. But who knows? I’m no historian either. But I love knowing our history. So, I took a trip in 2001 going to Bataan and visited Dambana ng Kagitingan also known as the Shrine of Valor. It is atop Mt. Samat in Pilar, Bataan, a shrine to commemorate the gallantry of approximately 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers. In 2005, I visited another shrine, the Capas National Shrine, in Capas, Tarlac, known to be the final destination for those who had actually survived the Death March from Bataan. Many died in Camp O’Donnell, approximately 29,000+. The shrine was built as a memorial to the Filipino and American soldiers who died in Camp O’Donnell at the end of the Bataan Death March. At least, visiting those shrines taught me something about WWII and the death march.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you about ultra marathon. It’s from a friend of mine who finished his first ultra marathon during the recently staged BDM102.

It really fascinated me to know runners who reached, crossed the finish line, and finished a 102-kilometer run. Daunting distance. Amazing feat.

Here is his story …

In memoriam: Brave Daring Men

BeRi DiP MeMoRiS (BDM) Ng NeWBIE
(Very Deep Memories of a Newbie)
by FR Hortelano, BDM 102 Finisher, Runner, Mountaineer
How can such a simple activity provide such a profound experience? How can ultra running be lesson-filled?
How was I initiated to my kilometric runs? Eight months ago, I started running my first kilometer. Kept on slowly increasing it until it reached 5, 10, 15, 21, 32, 42, 50 then 102. Never at all did I realize how low my self-trust is till I started to run. I didn’t believe in my capacity to finish every run but as I went on and on, I discovered that what I initially thought as impossible, has become possible. These mere dreams slowly become realities. There were 186 of us who registered initially, then 142 after the 50K test run, then 104 finally finished.

Last Saturday, our run started just before midnight in Mariveles [also known as] KM 0 where the infamous death march started. We were running uphill for the first seven kilometers. Afterwards, the moonlight complemented our headlamps to show the path. I took the walk-run strategy (walk uphill and run downhill). After sometime, I found myself running alone in the dark. By 2AM, I met some drank men who just came from some roadside karaoke bars. Some dogs. Some creepy feelings. But I didn’t allow them bother me.

By 4:30 AM, some more people are on the road in Pilar, Bataan. Masses must be starting early on Sundays. I would slow down in every church of different denominations to also remember God so my run is safe and secure. The buses just don’t give way to runners in this country. I even saw vehicular accident along the road.

As I was running slowly, I inquired a fellow runner, “Am I still on time?,” he replied, “Yes, but in ultra marathon, you should not even be thinking.” I pondered on what he said. Later, I realized that self doubt and worries will lead a runner to nowhere. When one is set on the road, the runner must simply enjoy every stride. Focus. Concentration. These two are very important. Anything enters the mind when it thinks that it has not yet gotten sleep. It’s hot… it’s tired… It will only convince the runner just to stop and what the heck.

I continued on my run happily after that remark. I merely focused on running and enjoying every stride. It worked. Once you enjoy what you’re doing, anything hard becomes easy. I was supported by lots of runners and support crew who are all strangers to me. I was “adopted” by many along the route. They provided water, banana, gatorade, and many more. My heart was overwhelmed with the sincere support of each one. There was no feeling of competition. The aim was just to assist each one reach the finish line. I felt a community of mutually supporting runners.

After my 50K in Abucay, Bataan, I took breakfast. Then rested. Changed clothes and thought, I can rest on my laurels. This is it. But after munching my veggie diet, I experienced a sudden wave of energy. Wow! Where did it all come from? My mind suddenly became very alert, as if I had a sound sleep the whole night. Given such a fresh feeling, I started running anew. My goal is just to reach 60KM. Later, I found out, I was already reaching more and more kilometers, from 70 to 80.

When we entered Pampanga province, Lubao town particularly, road construction is ongoing. So with the furious sun, the blinding dusts, the lahar sand that creeps into our socks, the gravels, how can one possibly run? I managed to brisk walk either on the far right or far left side of the road. After sometime, I didn’t feel the heat anymore. It may have helped that I had white pants and long sleeve shirt. But my entire body just miraculously adjusted to the sizzling heat (41 degrees Celsius). I just kept on and on.

Around KM95, with 7 more KMs to go, I was already thinking of my work. I didn’t want to use all my energy. I can’t afford to be absent. My mind wanted to quit. It had the justifications not to continue. I sat down, removed my socks and all the “sandy-intruders”. My mind was battling to continue or not. Then, a fellow runner told me, “come on, you are already there, just a few kilometers more then rest.” I got up slowly and since then, I didn’t entertain any other thought again. I just went on and on and on. Walked anything elevated and run as fast afterwards. Upon reaching the last 4KM, I took it slowly already. I was confident that I am in. I took it as my cool down exercise. Gently ran and walked to the finish line at 17:33 hours. Cut-off is 18:00 hours.

Looking back, how did I manage to finish? What made me do it? Why am I even doing it in the first place? Nothing mind-boggling actually, I just enjoyed what I was doing.

I enjoyed learning. And for as long as I still can learn from my activities, I will continue. The lessons are life-changing even from running, more so in ultra marathons. I admire others who are naturally patient, enduring, persevering and disciplined. I am not. Running provided me the portal to learn what endurance coupled with wisdom is all about. I am innately courageous and it was my capital, with God at my side.

Here are some random thoughts from a newbie runner who merely intended to be a paying bandit in the Bataan Death March 102KM International Ultra Marathon on March 6-7, 2010 from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. His ultra-mediocre aim could only be elevated by highly spirited, kind, and generous people who joined the BDM 2010 as runners, organizers, support crew, and plain onlookers.

1. Ultra running is about endurance with wisdom

· If one’s personality is addicted to speed and quick results, one is likely to fail in ultra running that mandatorily requires lots of patience and perseverance.

2. Complaining won’t work

· If one begins to curse the dark, it will only respond, “it’s because your headlamp or flashlight is not bright enough.”

· If one begins to scream at the stray dogs, they can only bark louder, “this is our territory, respect us.”

· If one begins to curse the sizzling sun, it will only shout, “my task is to shine, yours is to run.”

· If one begins to complain about the uphills and downhills, both will chorus, “we don’t have a choice, we were created this way.”

· If one complains on uncooperative muscles, they’ll scream, “come on, give us time, we are adjusting slowly, we are alien to this experience.”

· If one may complain about his body, it will revolt, “so do I.”

· If one complains about the sand that intrudes into his shoes, it will shout, “whoever told you to wear a highly ventilated shoes in a lahar area.”

· If one complains about the dust, all the more, the blinding dust will fly right into his face and taunt, “why didn’t you bring any mask anyway?”

· If one complains about the speeding vehicles, the drivers will only yell, “this is our work, yours is but a luxuriously hobby, give way.” The ultra marathon then ends with an ultra-complainathon.

3. Be realistic. Deal with what is in your hands.

· The sun, the sand, the road, the dark, etc. are beyond one’s control. But preparing well will definitely mitigate their adverse impact on one’s run. The body eventually adjusts.

4. You can only beat yourself

· You can only compete with yourself. If you set your eyes on others, that’s your end. You will not enjoy your run. Your ego will keep bothering you. Your pride will scream, will shout, will nag. Your muscles become stiff. You become cranky to all. You will frown all the way, aged, and then finish the race. What a race that was! Instead of victorious feelings, you are unhappy in the end.

5. Enjoy the run

· There’s no way to go but enjoy. Anything difficult becomes easier when it is enjoyable.

6. Focus and contrate

· Take each step at a time. Slow down in front of churches and pray to God for safety. Only think of uplifting thoughts.

7. Trust

· Running an ultra is initially impossible. With trust in the self, others, and God, you will be surprised how immense your physical and inner power is. You will be supported by fellow runners and their support crew. You will discover a lot of kind people. You will treasure every minute. You will value your body. You will be grateful with your life.

8. Train

· Training need not be stressful. As the body adjusts to increasing kilometers, there’ll be pain. As they say, pain is mandatory but sorrow is optional. You may train with others but never rely on them. You are fully accountable to your own training.

9. Run for a good cause

· The BDM is one good, great, and ultimate running destination for the strong yet humble runners.

10. Thank and give back

· Offer a sincere prayer, thanks, to all the organizers, your supporters, the locals, and God for making you reach the finish line.

The story above was originally the author’s scribbled thoughts. I was inspired by what he wrote that I asked him to write his experience and allow me to post it in my blog. If you’re one of those who might want to give it a “go” for ultra marathon, I hope his story and insights inspire you.


I salute the BDM finishers for your courage and perseverance!