Bataan Memorial Death March: The Beginning

How Did I get Myself Into This?

After completing the Bataan Memorial Death March last year, I thought I’d be one and done. It’s an amazing, moving, meaningful race, but it’s also very challenging and very taxing. I figured, “Alright, that’s done.” In my mind, it was checked off, never to be run again.

Then I joined Wear Blue: Run to Remember. Each week we would talk about forming a team. And each week, there wasn’t much of a consensus. “Sure, I’ll do it,” I told the group knowing in the back of my mind we’d never get the 5 total people needed to make an official team. We know how this story ends – people who thought they wouldn’t be able to were able, people who were on the fence decided to go for it, and we ended up with a full team plus even more Wear Blue members going for it!

wear blue

The Morning Of

After hitting up the expo on Saturday, I was really looking forward to race day. (I had been kind of dreading it before that!) Groggy after a bad night’s sleep, I woke up at 3 am. I was ready and out of the house less than an hour after that. I wondered if the other people I saw on the road were just waking up like us or hadn’t gone to bed yet from the night before. The drive with easy with no issues, just like last year. We made great time and parked with ease. We even happened to have been parked right by Julie! Huzzah!  All of us hung out in Stephen’s truck discussing our nerves. Somehow that also included everyone else mocking my “mom” sweats. They were keeping me warm! But once Stephen referred to me as Sheila (my mom’s name), I knew I had to ditch them. (No offense mom!)

We ditched the truck and bounded out toward the starting area. Our Wear Blue crew met up before the start for a circle. We all said the names of people that we were running in honor of. This is something we always do at Wear Blue. Normally, we read the names of people who have died in action on that week over the years since 9/11. Each week, I save the names by putting them in a special box on my dresser. The day before the race, I typed them up and added the names of those I personally run for and put them on my backpack. I was honored to carry those names alongside the one I picked up from Medals of Honor. I carried their names on my back and on my heart the entire day. This was the meaning behind it all.

Bataan backpack

We shifted over into our corral. By this time, we’d already been standing outside shivering for a while, and we seemed to just get colder and colder. The opening ceremonies began, and I tried to focus on the gravity of the day instead of how temporarily chilly I was. A number of people spoke including the Ambassador from The Philippines. The most touching part was the Roll Call. The speaker said the names of any survivors present, who triumphantly shout, “Here!” The names of the Bataan veterans who have died in the last year were read followed by silence. I definitely cried. Toward the end of the opening ceremony, a helicopter flew over. Stephen was unimpressed but I thought it was badass. With that the day, the ceremony was over.

The Bataan veterans were moved to the starting line and the wounded warriors followed. Our corral was one of the earlier ones and we pretty quickly made our way to the start. It takes a while to actually cross the starting line because the Bataan veterans shake the hands of every participant. It’s a really cool honor and worth the wait. The sun was finally appearing as I made my way to the front of the line. I was able to personally thank the Bataan veterans for their service and sacrifice.

bataan start

It was 7:30. I had been up for 4 and a half hours already. I was cold and tense and tired.  All that I had left to do was walk 26.2 miles…

Wow! What a Weekend!

Between Friday and now, so much has happened! Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that much, but I’m sure tired enough for it to seem like I’ve done a million things. Here are the highlights:

Friday: We skipped out usual Grilling Friday to head over to a food truck bonanza. El Paso has a thriving food truck industry, and on this particular day 20+ food trucks joined together to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. We weren’t the only ones that thought it sounded fun; the place was a mad house! Despite the crowds, we had a fun hanging out and people watching. We both ended up getting tortas, a Mexican burger of sorts, (a first for me!) and they were deelish! Or maybe I just thought it was good because I waited in line for 30 minutes.

Fish torta courtesy of Chuchi's Tortas.

Fish torta courtesy of Chuchi’s Tortas.

Once we were full, we headed over to a neighbor’s house. We were dog-sitting two adorable wiggle bottoms: Osito and Prancer. Let this stand as my general PSA: Please as me to dog sit for you. I need more dogs in my life!

#puppyfever

Saturday: Saturday morning Stephen and I drove to post to meet up with our Wear Blue friends. A few of us were carpooling to White Sands Missile Range to pick up packets for the Bataan Memorial Death March.

I’m so glad that I went to the expo. It was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Unlike last year when I went alone, this time I had a group of friends with me. Much more enjoyable! We took our time going through the booths looking at everything. Stephen even got his certificate framed.

Julie, Jennifer, and me with the Organ Mountains in the background.

Julie, Jennifer, and me with the Organ Mountains in the background.

We spent some time at a booth covered in yellow ribbons. Turns out, it’s an organization called Medals of Honor. They link up endurance athletes and Gold Star families. For this event, they handed out ribbons with names of fallen service members. Participants were encouraged to take a ribbon, wear it on Sunday, and march in honor of that person. You can also sign up before an event (any of your choosing!) to complete it in honor of a fallen service member. Afterwards, you send in your medal, and it is given to the family. Pretty cool!

The highlight of the day was meeting the survivors of Bataan. I hung back a little (I was feeling shy!) but I was inspired just being in their presence. These are men who have seen the worst of humanity, experienced cruelties beyond imagination, and I know they value keeping their story alive. I’m happy to do my part by participating in Bataan.

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After grabbing some burritos, we hit the road back for EP. Stephen and I spent the rest of the day buying and prepping our gear, dogsitting, and hydrating!

Sunday: That 3 am alarm came all too soon. And when I finally crawled back into bed at 10 pm, I was utterly fatigued. Bataan will most definitely be a post in itself. For now, I’ll say that it was an incredibly long day, it was by far the hardest race I’ve ever done, but it was also incredibly rewarding and so much fun. I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it!

Friday Five

Today is the last weekday of spring break. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready to go back to work, but I sure will miss sleeping in. Plus, it looks like my weekend will be verrry busy (what with walking 26 miles on Sunday and all), so I’m getting all the rest of my relaxing in today. And catching up a bit with my blogging. ;)

1. Today would have been Ben’s 28th birthday. (My brother-in-law, Ben, died of complications related to Cystic Fibrosis two years ago.) I wanted to do something in his honor, a pay it forward kind of thing. I opted to donate blood.

Blood!

Blood!

Donating was super easy, and I was in and out in less than an hour. (United Blood Services makes it simple. Highly recommend them for your blood giving needs!) On a completely selfish note, my resting heart rate was 56 beats per minute, which I’m told is excellent. I’m patting myself on the back at this very moment.

2. My nightmares always seem to involve teaching and last night was no different. In my most recent dream, it was the first day back from spring break, they had moved me to a science lab (where I couldn’t find anything!), and a bunch of new kids were in my class. I couldn’t reprimand the kids because I didn’t know their names and they were all confused. There was a co-teacher criticizing all my methods. It was a very restless night. (The bad dreams may or may not have something to do with the fact that the state writing test is one week from Monday. Boo standardized testing!)

3. Stephen and I have started a tradition of grilling on Friday’s. I love the smell of the food on the grill and hanging out in the cool evening sun. My favorite foods thus far: grilled romaine and French bread grilled for bruschetta. Stephen usually opts for steak.

Don't worry, this wasn't my whole meal, just the best part.

Don’t worry, this wasn’t my whole meal, just the best part.

Today we skipped grilling in favor of hitting up a massive food truck party. We had to wait in line for a while, but in the end, our truck-made tortas were deelish. Worth it. Next Friday, though, we be firing up the grill!

4. I’m way behind on blogging about my books! Since my goal this year is to read 10,000 pages (as opposed to having a set number of books I want to read), I intended to post every 1,000 pages or so. Well, that didn’t happen. I’m not at 2,500+ pages for the year, and I’ve blogged about 0 books. I’m pretty sure no one cares about those posts but me, but I still want to write them! So expect a big ol’ book catch-up post (or two!) in the near-ish future. Near-ish because I make no promises! Maybe it won’t even happen! {Insert maniacal, book-loving, blogger laugh here.}

5. The Bataan Memorial Death March is on Sunday and I’m signed up. And I’m supposed to walk 26.2 miles. What did I get myself into?! I kind of keep trying not to think about it so that I don’t freak out, but it’s kind of time for me to start thinking about it! I guess that’s what tomorrow is for. ;)

Fort Bliss Pub Run Race Recap

Top of the morning to you and happy St. Paddy’s Day! I’m not much of a St. Patrick’s Day reveler, but when running is involved, like it was at this past weekend’s 10k, I get right on board. I had said not too long ago that I wanted to run more 10ks, and this was my first chance to tackle that distance this year. Being that the race was a pub run, it started at 3 pm. That makes for interesting fueling. Mostly, I just took it easy all day, had a sub sandwich for lunch, and drank as much water as I could stand.

We arrived on post with plenty of time to pick-up my packet and talk to our Wear Blue friends before the start.

wear blue pub run

Stephen wasn’t running, so he hung back with a buddy while I lined up with 400+ runners. It was a beautiful, partly cloudy day with some mighty wind. I had my sights sets on PRing, so I made a game plan to run the first three miles at 8:26 and last three miles as fast as I could. Even with what I felt was a smart plan, I was really nervous! Nervous or not, at 3 pm, it was time to run!

  • Mile 1: 8:23
  • Mile 2: 8:24

The half mile was crowded before it thinned out. That really didn’t bother me too much because my main concern was keeping pace. I was worried that I’d run too fast! 8:26 felt surprisingly easy the first few miles. I wanted to go faster, I wanted to pass people, but I tried to keep in mind that this was the pace I needed to PR, and that I’d get to do some passing at the end. Every time I realized that I was speeding up, I’d slow myself back down. After a few miles, my nerves wore off, and I settled in

  • Mile 3: 8:24
  • Mile 4: 8:25

The race had water stops at almost every mile. I initially thought it was a little overkill, but it ended up being perfect! With the afternoon sun + the wind, I could tell halfway thought that I was a bit dehydrated. I took a cup of water at every stop for a sip and then I splashed the rest on my head. Most of the race went through the boring backside of main post. It was a lot of industrial buildings and fences. I love running in this area, but this particular course wasn’t the most picturesque. My favorite part was during mile 4. We wove our way right in front of the library (my old stomping grounds!) and along the parade field where the general and other high ranking soldiers live aka the pretty part.

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  • Mile 5: 8:28
  • Mile 6: 8:23
  • Last .21: 7:25 pace

The pace that felt so easy at mile one was feeling like a struggle at mile five. It didn’t help that there was a lot of headwind during the final two miles. I was hot and tired and beat down. I started to think that I couldn’t do it. I was glad I ran so close to my goal pace early on. I couldn’t speed up much, and instead I hoped to just maintain that same pace.

By this point, I had passed most of the women who had been near me and I caught up to one that I’d had my eye on for a while. I didn’t have it in me to overtake her, but we ran side-by-side for the final mile. I didn’t want her to take off and leave me in the dust, so that motivated me to hold on when I felt like my speed was fading.

During the last .2, both of us revved up for a final sprint. She was a bit of ahead of me and I started to concede and fall back. I knew that I didn’t have much left in the tank. I took a breath and made a play to pass her. I decided that if she wanted to beat me, she’d have to earn it! She must have felt me coming up beside her because she punched her speed up another notch and crossed the finish a hair ahead of me. I congratulated her on a race well run. Really, I should have thanked her. She kept me going at the end when I wanted to hang back.

pub run finish1

My Stats:

  • 6.21 finish time: 52:02
  • Average pace: 8:22

A new 10k Personal Record by more than 50 seconds! Woo-hoo! When the results were printed out, I saw that I came in 4th for my age group. So close to placing! I’d much rather PR than place, but, man, placing sure would have been nice, too. Looking at my splits, I’m most shocked by how evenly I ran. This was probably the smartest, most consistent race I’ve ever run. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here patting myself on the back.

Next up: Bataan! Gulp! I’m not entirely ready (or even a little bit ready, honestly), but I’m taking comfort in the fact that I’ll be taking on the tough challenge with a team and we’ll be going slow.

Reintegration, Again

I’ve been wanting to talk about reintegration* for a while, but I needed to give it time. It’s hard for me to write about a stage that I’m right in the middle of. And I’m still there, in the fog, but considering Stephen has been home for 4 months, I might as well get on with it.
Reunited after 9 months. It was a special moment, but it was only a moment and what really matters is what comes after.

Reunited after 9 months. It was a special moment, but it was only a moment and what really matters is what comes after.

I’ve written (a lot!) about our struggles with reintegration following Stephen’s first deployment. I avoided getting into the details, but we fought some ugly fights. With each other and with ourselves. There were so many factors:
  • Our separation was long and we’d had so little experience with time apart prior to that.
  • He went straight from Basic to deployment.
  • I wasn’t living near a military community nor did I feel like other people understood what I was going through.
  • We moved to another country right after deployment.
  • I wasn’t working while we lived in Germany.

When I think back on it, all I can say is that it was hard. It was hard for me to be happy. It was hard to sort out my dissatisfaction. It was hard to communicate. In my attempts to fix things, I would overcompensate by trying to be Super Wife. It only made me more bitter and frustrated. Everything compounded. As much as I appreciate the experience of living in Germany, I will always think back on it as a hard time. Because it was.

Eventually, our life circumstances changed (we moved again, I went back to work). We had time. We talked ourselves back to a good place. Things weren’t perfect, but they were better.

This time, however, we had experience on our side. Not to mention, a shorter separation, more frequent communication, and the support of living in a military community. The biggest difference was that we worked toward a smoother reintegration during deployment. We both focused on bettering ourselves separately and as a couple. We handled deployment with the end in mind. These four months vs. the four months after the last deployment have been completely different.

This isn’t to say that we haven’t fought since Stephen returned home. We have. But now we listen more. We are less likely to let a fight linger. We are both more supportive and attentive to each other’s needs.

Dare I say it, things have been good. I almost didn’t want to talk about it for that reason. I didn’t want to jinx it, but I also worried that people struggling with reintegration would be frustrated to see it going well for someone else. When I was treading water last time, I sunk lower and lower every time I read, “It’s like nothing has changed! It feels like not a day has gone by! Everything is wonderful!” on other blogs. I certainly don’t fault those people. Everyone’s experience is different. Even though things have been better for us this time around, that doesn’t mean it has been easy. It takes work.

The work has been worth it. And now things are better than they were last year and the year before and the year before that.

*Reintegration is the time after deployment when the soldier and family members are learning how to be together again. (And yes, it is a learning process!) I saw a definition that said: restore to unity. Sums it up perfectly.

Race Plans & Race Maybes

While I have spent the last year running regularly, my willingness to put in effort has been pretty low. I’ve been content to run purely for fun instead of PRs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now, however, the motivation is back. I thought maybe I’d never want to push myself again, but apparently that desire was simply dormant. After hours of watching runners be generally awesome this weekend, I knew that I wanted to get back into the racing game big time. I already had some races lined up, a few more solidified in my mind, and others I’m still debating.

Races I’m running fo’ sho':

pub run

St. Patrick’s Day Pub Run – 10k

I said that I wanted to run more mid-distance races, and this one is the first that I’ll be able to hit this year. I’ve been scouring the internet for more local 10ks but no dice. If I find any, you better believe I’ll be signing up. In the meantime, I know this Fort Bliss race will be a blast.

Bataan Memorial Death March – full marathon

I figured this was a one-time kind of race for me, but a gaggle of Wear Blue friends convinced me to go for round two! We’ll be walking the race as part of the team division. Even though I have no doubt that it will be tough, I don’t think that the race will be as much of a challenge this time around. I’ll have friends by my side and we will take it slow. I just hope my legs don’t hate me afterwards!

Run for the Fallen – 5k

Another Fort Bliss race. This one is non-competitive and untimed, but I might still aim for a fast finish. I don’t have delusions of a PR; I just wouldn’t mind a strong showing.

fallen

Races I’m probably going to run:

Skyline Half Marathon – half marathon

My BFF is planning to run this inaugural Dallas half. I figure that there is no better way to catch up than to spend hours running side-by-side in the humidity of the Metroplex. I’m still working out the details, but I really, really want to do it.

TransMountain Challenge – half marathon

This race goes up TransMountain Road aka up a mountain! (Thankfully, the second half goes down the mountain.) When I first heard about it, my reaction was “helllllll no!” Just call me crazy, but the idea has grown more and more appealing. I’ll definitely need to squeeze in hill training in order to not spend the entire uphill portion walking.

transmountain

Races I’m considering:

I really want to run a fall and spring marathon. I might drive myself over the edge with this idea! I definitely don’t want to burn out, but I think a fall marathon would be perfect as a goal race. (Train through the hot summer and race in the cool fall. Yes, please!) And I have my eyes on a few spring fulls that just look fun. Here are my top contenders currently –

The top options right now are Twin Cities (because it fall during my schools two-week fall break) and Austin (because it just looks awesome). Every single full marathon that I’ve considered has serious highs and a few less-than-highs. The biggest issue with those fall races is just the date. Since I do get two weeks off during the fall, the timing just makes sense to run then. Can someone talk to the people of Detroit about moving their race date? There’s certainly no rush to decide, so I’m blissfully enjoying this period of imagining every single race option. Feel free to throw out any fulls you think I should add to my maybe list! Once the race gods have spoken and I’ve registered, I’ll report back!

Watching People Run

This past weekend involved 8+ hours of running during which I ran zero miles. Instead of participating, I was a volunteer!

I started running back in 2010. (My New Year’s Resolution was to run a 5k and I just kept right on running). In all these years, I’ve never volunteered at a race ever. Not good for my running karma! This weekend just so happened to have two big overlapping events: my school’s track meet and the El Paso Marathon. I spent my Saturday with middle schoolers giving it their all and my Sunday with endurance beasts pushing through difficult miles.

Saturday:

It was sunny and cool, perfect for a track meet! I was assigned the illustrious job of being timer number 5.

track meet

All of the timers (there were 8 of us) were set up right on the finish line. As runners crossed, we were supposed to hit the buzzer for our designated place. Translation: timer number 1 hits their button when the first runner crosses. Timer number 2 hits their button when the second runner crosses. You get the idea. I was thankful that as runner number 5, even if I screwed up, I wouldn’t spoil the entire meet. Still, I took my job seriously. I know how much runners value their finish time being exact regardless of their place.

For the most part, it was easy. We didn’t have many instances of people duking it out for 5th place. The track meet involves all kinds of races, though, and some of the sprint events were closecloseclose! When the distance is only 100 meters, everyone finishes in one big clump. I was staring at the finish line counting out the finishers in super fast succession. “12345!” At one point, I wasn’t sure who my runner was and I let her wander off instead of walking her over the check-in table, as I was explicitly instructed to do. I don’t know why I just assumed no one would notice! They did. Oops! I had fun since the volunteering mostly involved sitting around and talking, two things I’m a pro at. However, I was relieved when it was over. I can’t handle pressure!

Sunday:

race volunteer

The group that I regularly run with, Wear Blue: Run to Remember, was working at a water station with a similar running group, Team RWB. In the pre-dawn hours, I pulled up to a random neighborhood intersection to find my friends. We taped up flags, set up a memorial wall, decorated tables, lined up cups, and poured water. While it was cold for those of us standing around, I think the breezy, cool temps were perfect for distance running. The sprinkling of rain sucked, but otherwise, I kept thinking about how nice the weather was!

Our location was very interesting because it was miles 6 and 8 of the half marathon (an out and back course) and mile 21 of the full (a point-to-point course). Both races are a little bit on the smaller side, which meant that we were only crazy busy for maybe an hour. The halfers had pretty much cleared out well before the lead full runner came barreling through. With a field of 400ish, they were pretty well spread out. We could practically cheer on each runner individually, and I know that at mile 21 encouragement is mucho necessario!

volunteer shenanigans

I was struck by how polite the runners were! I know that I always try to make a point of thanking volunteers, but I didn’t realize that pretty much everyone else does it, too. People were even asking where the trashcan was. I thought, “Pssh! Throw that ish on the ground and keep running!” I saw so many smiles and genuinely happy people. Can you blame them, though? They were kicking ass!

Some of the memorable moments:

  • Giving water to the gentleman who won the half (even he was polite!)
  • Holding the sign Stephen made for Flying Horse. (It says, “If this was easy, it’d be called your mom.”)
  • Seeing some really, really bloody nipples.
  • Cheering extra loud for the second place marathon finisher, a hardcore lady with killer abs.
  • All the people who asked us if we had any beer. Haha! Sorry, just water and Scratch.
  • Watching a guy go up and down the hill as he ran beside each of his friends who came through.

It was such a fun day. I loved all the time chatting with my friends, shouting encouraging words at strangers, and drinking in the joy of running. This weekend reignited my running motivation and the wheels are a turning as I think about my own running calendar. More on that to come!