It started out when BaldRunner went to the United States and he was surprised to find out that they had a race to commemorate the Bataan Death March, while the Philippines, where the infamous event happened, didn’t have one. Though there is a run commemorating the Death March that started out in 1986, it was a relay and not a solo race. Because of this, BR dared to dream… an ultramarathon race tracing the exact route of the Death March from km 0 in Mariveles, Bataan to km 102 in San Fernando, Pampanga. This race was to honor those proud and brave soldiers who underwent the Bataan Death March. The seeds were laid, and after months of planning and preparation, it was finally set… April 5, 2009… The Bataan 102.
When I initially found about this, I immediately signed up on a whim. It was a new idea, and this being the 1st, I wanted to be part of history. (Also, I was thinking… how hard could this be…) However, after my ordeal at the Milo Finals, I had serious doubts if I could train well enough to complete Bataan 102. But since I had already signified my intent to join, I just sucked it in and continued to train.
Goals for Bataan
A few days before Bataan, I had set my goals for this ultramarathon. My grade on my performance would depend on what goal I would accomplish.
Goal A: to finish within 15 hours –> I’d be jubilant!
Goal B: to finish within the cut off time –> I’d be ecstatic!
Goal C: to just finish, whatever the time –> I’d be satisfied…
Therefore, the only way I would be disappointed with my performance is if I didn’t get to finish… which was a possibility.
After a few words from BR, the siren was sounded, and the 81 race participants were off. I started running with Jonel (Bugobugo85), who became my buddy all throughout the race. He graciously shared his support team with me. His support crew, composed of his sons and nephews, did a great job in providing us with our needs… cold water (both for drinking and dousing ourselves), soaked sponges, sports drinks, and most important of all… words of encouragement, especially when we needed it most.
My plan for the race was to run at my aerobic pace, which was to maintain my heart rate at less than 140. This corresponded to a pace of 6:30-7 min/km. I didn’t bring my garmin this time since I knew that the life of its battery wouldn’t last the whole race. (I expected to run longer than the 10 hour limit of a fully charged garmin.)
Months ago, Jonel told me that the ultrarunners he talked to had all advised him to walk the uphill portions of a race course as a means of conserving energy. This was an important piece of information. However, Jonel and I were quite stubborn (or stupid) that we decided to run even the uphill portions, albeit at a slower pace. We felt good running so we decided to stick to it. The problem was that the first 35 km was of rolling terrain… but we still ran, only stopping for short periods to re-hydrate or pee.
At around km 4, while going up the steep incline to exit the central area of Mariveles, I accidentally stepped on the curb of the road causing my right foot to twist a little. I felt a twinge of pain but it immediately disappeared. I’ve learned from my training that even though this would happen, I would still be able to run ~30km without any problems (even after the run) so I was really hopeful that this wouldn’t cause me any problems down the road. (I’m glad I was still able to run after that, because it would’ve really sucked if I had to DNF after only 4 kms of the 102km route.)
In spite of the undulating terrain, I was running at a good pace, as I didn’t really feel tired. However, by km 40, there was a beginning slight discomfort in my right foot everytime it hit the pavement. It wasn’t painful enough though that I had to stop. Because of this, I think my body instinctively modified its foot strike to prevent more pain from developing. However, this modification caused some strain to my knee as I was also beginning to feel some pain in the lateral aspect. I could still run, but I was starting to get nervous.
At around 7 am, Jonel and I arrived at km 50 (the farthest distance I’ve ran so far – so everything beyond was uncharted waters). The sun was already beginning to give us a taste of its power. Being the main aid station, it was here where we stopped the longest. We changed shoes and clothes, and it was here where we ate breakfast (arrozcaldo and eggs). We caught up with BR at this point, and at around 7:30 am… the three of us (Jonel, BR and myself) took off. Jonel and I were able to keep up with BR until km 63, when BR, while maintaining his pace sped away as Jonel and I were beginning to slow down. At this point, my right leg problems were getting worse. Every step I took was a bit more painful than the last one (still, any thoughts of quitting haven’t crossed my mind yet).
At km 66, I knew I couldn’t keep on running so I decided to walk. Walking felt comfortable as I didn’t feel any pain. Jonel also decided to walk at this point. Our plan was to try and run again at the latter parts of the race.
By km 75, even walking was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I tried to run some portions but my right leg just wouldn’t cooperate… it was too painful to run. So I went back to walking… and walk I did.
Listen to Your Body
I have written about this and here I was, my body sending me signals of a body in danger… so I listened. The funny thing is that it is usually my brain that would argue for quitting, this time it was the one doing the arguing for going on. My legs were the ones doing all the complaining… they were the ones who wanted to stop. It was then that I realized my cardiovascular and respiratory systems were better developed than my musculoskeletal system – I was breathing normally, my heart rate was within zone, but it was my legs that were causing me problems. My legs wanted to stop, but the rest of my body wanted to continue… so an argument ensued. The question posed was… “Did I have to stop because I just couldn’t go on anymore, or just because it felt uncomfortable?” I continued to move. I made a deal that at km 80, we would re-assess.
After walking for 14 kms, I arrived at km 80 after traversing km 60-80 in 4 hours (my previous 20 km splits were around 2hrs and 45mins). I could still walk, though with some difficulty, so my body agreed to push on. The heat of the sun was really worsening as noon was fast approaching. But because of Jonel’s excellent support team, this was greatly minimized. The cold water and soaked sponges they provided every 2-3kms kept my body cooled. The biggest problem I was beginning to face was the realization that at my present walking pace, I still needed 5 more hours before I could reach my goal.
At km 85, with the heat of the sun attacking from all sides… I continued to slog on. I don’t remember already what was running through my mind at that time. Did I want to quit, maybe… why didn’t I? I don’t know.
When I reached km 90 at Bacolor, Pampanga, a sudden surge of adrenaline jolted me back to my senses. I quickened my pace a bit… knowing it was now just 12 kms from my goal… a distance I could run in an hour… but now I had to walk for almost 3 hours. I didn’t allow that thought to linger since I knew it would weaken me.
By km 95, the adrenaline rush had waned. It was now almost 4pm. I had been walking the past 29 km and had been on my feet for almost 16 hours. At this point, every step I took was sending waves to my brain to just stop… to quit. And my brain was beginning to agree. My body felt it was being destroyed. But before I completely broke down… one final thought… one final argument crossed my mind… “A broken body heals faster than a broken spirit…” And with that thought… I moved on.
Jonel and I were now beginning to walk slowly, and though we didn’t exactly spout words of encouragement to one another… the sight of each other continually moving was enough to spur us on. Deep down, we knew we had already made that commitment… to finish… even if it meant walking 36 km. In this race, we became ultrarunners… then ultra-marchers.
Each step brought us closer to each marker… and slowly, the numbers began to tick away. 96..97.. eventually 100. I kept glancing at my watch noting how many hours had passed, and knowing that unless disaster struck, we would definitely cross that finish within the cut off time. That was what we needed to know to give us that final push.
Km 100 became 101… We were now just 1 km away from immortality. Our feat forever etched in us… As we made that final turn… we were like two old men, taking slow, small steps, fighting hard to reach our destination. Finally, with survivors and friends cheering us on… we did it, Jonel and I reached 102… side by side, with arms raised triumphantly… we were SURVIVORS!