102 KM All the Way: My Bataan Death March Ultramarathon Experience

This post is dedicated to all the heroes and survivors of the Bataan Death March,
with thanks for their courage and sacrifice.


~●~●~

I know.  I know.  It took me so long to write about my 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 after all.  Not easy.  And if I would write it piece by piece, I’m afraid I might not be able to finish it. 
Like what I’ve said in my previous post, the longest ultramarathon that I did was the seventy-kilometer race in Ilocos Norte last year.  I was anxious really what would happen to me in the next 32 kilometers.  I was apprehensive of the unknown, especially, after seeing the route and the long road ahead. 
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? 
Crazy. 
Unthinkable. 
Impossible.   
Daunting. 
Mind you, I’ve asked myself many, many times, “What did I get myself into?
Saturday was cloudy. It rained even hours before the race started.  It was for this reason why I brought a wind breaker for it was windy at the 0-kilometer mark.  I, together with my support crew, had a quick dinner at Jollibee-the only fast food near the starting line.  Surprised to note a lot 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 10PM, runners gathered at the 0 KM for sign in, then a short program followed with 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 on 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 are the reflectors on the gears 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 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 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 for me every 2.5 kilometers instead. 
Since I didn’t use my GF 305 watch, I had no idea of the distance I was running as well as the pace that I was maintaining.  I just 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 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.  I shouted, “359!”   I didn’t even notice that I’ve reached KM 14 already, the first of the three road bifurcations. 
Turning right, I saw runners ahead of me.  I found out later one of them is a friend of mine, a 2010 BDM 102 finisher.  He ran this year to just support and pace with his friends, who came from a well-known mountaineering group.  It was also at this time when I bumped into 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 already ahead of me including Doc Toto and Wap.  Man, I thought, “they were fast!”  Then I heard someone calling out my name.  Guess who?  It was Doc Toto.  I really thought both of them were already running ahead of me.  I slowed down and waited for them to catch up with me.  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 will 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 did run with them.  Truly, 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.  However, running with them cost me my running strategy.  Since both of them 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 during that time.  At some point, when I saw a carenderia or eatery, I asked them to wait for me so I could do No. 1 (if you know what I mean).  It was also timely since they too took a break when their support vehicle arrived.  
I only made a sigh of relief when we reached the highway again.  Wap and Doc Toto were my guardian angels during that night.  I’m truly grateful of what they did. 
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like sleepy nor that tired while running.  As long as there were no cramps, then it means I was doing OK.  I was running alone again now since both Doc Toto and Wap went ahead of me to beat their target of reaching the town of Abucay, Bataan by 5:30 AM.  All I could remember was running steadily and sometimes outrun another female runner who, like me, was wearing a running skort.  Sometimes she would outrun me. 
My target was to reach Abucay by 6 AM.  It was again at this time that I had the chance of pacing again with my friend, Francis.  We were just both running steadily in the next 5 kilometers. 
By the time the sun was up, I was already employing (to eat that time) a fast walk.  Francis went ahead.  By almost 7 AM, I finally reached Abucay which is KM 50.  The first thing that I did was changed into fresh clothes and take a bite of what Raff prepared.  A sandwich with peanut butter and sliced banana in it and drank coffee.  Yes, it was really nice of Carmen to provide for a thermos as per my request so I could have fave hot coffee drink early morning of Sunday.  I didn’t stay long though after taking a few sips.  
Looking at my watch, I couldn’t help calculating how much time I had to be able to reach the cut-off time.  I had barely 9 hours to which at that time I wasn’t really sure.  I just told myself to deal with the next 20 kilometers.  If there were no issues, then again, everything’s OK. 
However, running slowly from Abucay though feeling fresh now, I started to feel some of my muscles tightening and my legs getting heavier.  So what I did was to walk and run slowly.  Targeted a few kilometers by running slowly and walking again if I feel I could no longer sustain my running. 
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 we predicted the day before.  I could already feel the sun’s heat on my skin that in the next stop I changed into another running shirt again this time with sleeves and took with me my white arm warmer.  At the same time changed the white cap I was wearing to that of the green cap with flap that protects the nape.  I felt a lot better afterwards.  What I took for granted though was wearing short socks.  My legs were not covered.  By the time it reached 10 AM, I could really 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 now truly understood how difficult it was for the weakened soldiers in 1942.  They didn’t have any support.  Some of them were tired from defending Bataan, may be wounded while walking and didn’t even have decent food to eat and water to drink.  What a torture that was for them! 
Back to the present … our torture was running/walking along the highway and battling with upcoming vehicles with less regard for the runners.  It was like going up the highway and going down the unpaved part under the heat of the sun, dust, and inhaling smoke coming from their vehicles.  I maintained running along the left side adhering most of the time to what the Race Director instructed us even if I saw other runners walking or running on the other side which is more dangerous since you couldn’t see approaching vehicles behind you.  At the rate I’m going the possibility of not making it to the cut-off was another “torture”.  Here you are trying your best yet nature is 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 to finish.  However, no matter how strong your will is when the body can only take so much, you really don’t have to do any except that.  But 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 like “no retreat no surrender”.  I reminded and talked to my body to cooperate.  I told my muscles not get cramps.  I told my skin to bear the heat.  Yes, sounds crazy but that was what I did while walking along the highway.  What a walk that was!  It was the longest walk I’ve ever had.  Why?  Both of my quads were already 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 traversing a highway under major repair.  It was nothing but gravel, soft red soil, portions of finished cemented roads and the rest unfinished ones.  It was hot and dusty.  But after a while, I only carried with me two empty bottles.  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 didn’t have any idea how long that walk took since I wasn’t wearing my Garmin.  But based on my calculation, if I would not run and just continue walking the possibility of making it to the cut-off time was slim.  Though I had more than 3 hours to do the next 18 kilometers but with the walking … I got apprehensive.  After almost an hour of walking I’ve finally spotted my support vehicle up on the bridge.  To know that I’ve done with Dinalupihan-Hermosa it gave me pure relief that the worst have passed.  Raff and Carmen were busy attending to me … cold towel to my legs, drinks, food, bandanna with ice cubes around my nape, etc. when suddenly a car stopped by and the passenger asking if everything’s OK.  It was Ma’am Rowena checking if I was OK.  I just said, “everything’s OK Ma’am nothing to worry about.” 
I also kept reminding my support crew to eat.  Because I was worried also of them, how they were faring considering that they too didn’t have any decent sleep from the time the race started.   They are also volunteers.  The least I could do is ask how they are.  But nothing to worry about since Carmen and Raff are also runners plus they have the option to buy food along the way.  
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 just couldn’t at that time.  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 already was slowly running.
Vener a.k.a. Run Unlimited Cheering on Us Runners (Photo Courtesy of Vener and Cristy)

It was at this time, to my surprise, to see Rico a.k.a. Sheerwill riding his bike, cheering on each runner.  The next surprise was when I saw another familiar face that of Vener a.k.a. Run Unlimited and his wife Cristy.  Amazing!  These two runners came all the way to Bataan from Manila to just cheer us on.  Vener was a BDM 102 finisher last year. 
Finally, seeing the kilometer markers leading to Guagua, Pampanga, I knew then that finish line is almost there.  How to reach 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.  That 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 4 runners mostly guys.  I admired them for their tenacity to keep on running even slowly done.  I just kept on following them.  I even talked with one encouraging him that we might be able to make it.  But I left them behind when they stopped at their support vehicle to hydrate or cool themselves with ice. 
Running More Than 80 KMs 
Upon seeing that most of the markers are now within KM 90 or so … that means I only had 10 more kilometers to finish and not to forget to add 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 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!
I really thought I was still far but some of those milling outside the bend, supporters of some runners, “Liko na po!”  And there, before my eyes not from afar, I saw the tarp with the “Finish” written on it.  I could hear the crowd clapping some shouting their cheers.  I even saw my friend Francis who looked so fresh as if he didn’t run a 102 KM race.  I was also scanning the crowd hoping to see the faces of my support crew to share this moment of victory.  I knew if not for them I couldn’t have done it alone.  I did it!  Then out of nowhere Marga a.k.a. Margalicious came out and shove the biggest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever received.  I felt like a true winner!  When Sir Jovie saw me, he gave me the required hug with the Race Director.  What a relief to finally reach the finish line.  I’ve earned finally the ever coveted kilometer marker trophy and medal.  (See Official Results here)
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 there.  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 Mountain Dew 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 from both of my legs.  The doc explained what caused it—I failed to cool down first and take liquids (which I normally do after each race).  I totally have forgotten it in my happiness to have finally reached 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. 

Acknowledgment

The well thought-out catch phrase, \”all the way\” which was printed on the shirt of my support volunteers was an initiative of Ziggy.

To capture the moment, Carmen, aside from being a support crew, took charge of the documentation.  

Rico, Vener, Cristy, and Takbo.ph friends took time out of their busy schedule just to witness the race and cheer on us.

The race course recon and familiarization was realized with the presence of a former BDM support crew, Raff.

Many, many, thanks to those whom I failed to mention here.  I\’m forever grateful.  


What Else is there to Say?
·         Prepare, plan, and train well.  Remember it’s an expensive undertaking.
·         Discover the very meaning 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 it, took anti inflammatory drugs (as prescribed by a physician) to keep the swelling down, and kept my feet elevated. 
·         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 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. 
·         Don’t forget to give thanks to those who have helped you and keep your feet on the ground.  Finishing the BDM 102 to me is no reason at all to be pompous.  After all, it is just but a “period”, a \”point\” (.) in this big universe.  As what the song Tuldok by Asin is telling us:
Ang tuldok ay may salaysay at may kahulugan

Na dapat mapansin at maintindihan

Kahit sino ka man ay dapat malaman

Na dito sa mundo ikaw ay tuldok lang

Kahit na ang araw sa kalangitan

Siya ay tuldok lamang sa kalawakan

Lahat ng bagay ay tuldok ang pinanggalingan

At kung masdang mabuti, tuldok ang uuwian


Tingnan mong mabuti ang \’sang katauhan

Maraming nag-aaway, tuldok lang ang dahilan

Sa aking nakita, ako\’y natawa lang

\’Pagkat ang nangyayari\’y malaking kahibangan


Kaya wala kang dapat na ipagmayabang

Na ikaw ay mautak at maraming alam

Dahil kung susuriin at ating iisipin

Katulad ng lahat, ikaw ay tuldok rin

·         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 cross training instead … swimming.
·         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.

11 thoughts on “102 KM All the Way: My Bataan Death March Ultramarathon Experience

  1. I never did imagined that this kind of woman could make it to running as her hobby and eventually, her passion–I think so…as I remember she could even hardly walk under the heat of the scorching sun from house to school where she works before that only takes a five min walk?! what a surprise that now, she can run and compete?! 102km is no joke I must say…CONGRATULATIONS you've made it!!! more power and more runs! she's my aunt mimi and running budz as well…weeeehhhh?!

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  2. hi runing diva!it was very good to meet you last night for our Rain4Africa bloggers meeting. Thank you for coming! Ill be reading your blogs from now on.Cheers!Raf/Lifeline Foundation

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  3. Hi Raf, thank you for visiting this blog. I hope the articles here would help you with your running (ahem!) career. 🙂 It was an honor to meet the force behind Lifeline Foundation. More power to you and your team of volunteers! See you at the starting line!

    Like

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